HC Deb 13 November 1968 vol 773 cc407-16

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

78. Mr. SHELDON: To ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make a statement on new Government proposals to assist tourism.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 78.

Until recently, Government financial aid specifically for tourism has been largely confined to the British Travel Association which, with a grant-in-aid covering about 80 per cent. of its expenditure, has been mainly concerned with promotion and publicity, particularly overseas. The B.T.A., with co-operation from the Scottish and Wales Tourist Boards and other organisations, has done an outstanding job for the nation, and I would like to pay my tribute to them.

But Government policy for tourism is now moving into a new and more intensive phase which is characterised in particular by three developments: first, the Hotel Development Incentives Scheme, which I announced on 20th March; secondly, the intention to provide for the registration and classification of tourist accommodation; and, thirdly, a new proposal to take powers to give selective financial aid to particular tourist projects.

These new policies would not be suitable for administration by a voluntary body such as the B.T.A. On the other hand, the basic work of promotion and publicity would not be suitably carried out by a Government Department.

The Government have, therefore, decided to bring before the House legislation to provide for a new statutory organisation to carry out both the existing functions of the B.T.A. and the new functions which I have mentioned.

It will consist of three boards. First, there will be a tourist board for Great Britain, responsible for those matters on which a common policy is needed for the country as a whole—for example, overseas promotion, research, co-operation with other national organisations, and the provision of common advisory services. This British board will be responsible to, and appointed by, me.

The British Board will also have certain functions in respect of England alone. It will be responsible for research, promotion and publicity on behalf specifically of English tourism. It will administer in England the Hotel Development Incentives Scheme, any selective financial aid to particular projects, and, when introduced, the registration and classification of tourist accommodation.

One of its members will, therefore, have particular responsibility for England, and will chair an advisory committee which will be widely representative of English regional and tourist activities.

There will be separate statutory boards for Scotland and Wales. They will carry out for Scotland and Wales all the tasks and functions which the British board will perform for England. They will be responsible to, and appointed by, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales respectively. The chairmen of these two boards will be members of the British board.

All three boards will be compact and functional. The members will not be representatives or delegates for particular sectional or geographical interests, though the boards will, of course, be in close touch with regional, area and local tourist organisations and with the Economic Planning Councils. Indeed, the Government would welcome a further development of regional and area tourist associations.

Mr. Speaker, tourism is making a steadily increasing contribution to our foreign currency earnings. I hope that these substantial proposals for reorganisation will increase that contribution still further.

Mr. Sheldon

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, in particular, the part dealing with the assistance which is to be given to bring about an improvement in hotels and to secure there a classification. Is not one of the main problems at present, as the recent E.D.C. Report showed, that 40 per cent. of hotel rooms in London are occupied by foreign tourists and only 3 per cent. in seaside towns? There is a need for a greater discrimination in giving support to hotels, based on reality. What sort of consideration has been given to this point?

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend has a very important point. It is vital that our assistance to hotels should be judged, not solely but largely, by the contribution that they can make to attracting foreign tourists. I say "not solely", because encouraging British tourists to have their holidays in Britain is just as important as encouraging overseas visitors to come here.

Sir K. Joseph

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that, as we have urged encouragement of the tourist industry, we welcome the Government's belated attention to it? Is not the right hon. Gentleman ready to agree that the first step to encourage the tourist industry should be to withdraw the Selective Employment Tax and the discrimination against the tourist industry in the investment grants procedure?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we on this side will need a great deal of convincing that it is right to substitute a statutory body and a new bureaucracy for the British Travel Association, which has done such an excellent job, and we shall also need convincing that compulsory registration is right? Finally, what number of civil servants does the right hon. Gentleman expect these bodies to employ, and what is the cost of all the steps he has announced today?

Mr. Crosland

On the first and rather predictable part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the matter of the S.E.T. and investment grants has been debated again and again in the House. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well what lies behind the policy, namely, the crucial fact that manufacturing industry can make a more direct and immediate contribution to our balance of payments than services and distribution. It therefore seems right, in the short term at any rate, to differentiate in favour of it.

However, there are sectors of the service and distributive trades—hotels is a supreme example—which can also make a direct contribution, and this is why we have introduced the Hotel Development Incentive Scheme, which has had an excellent reception in the industry.

The reason for setting up the new statutory body is, as I tried to explain, that it does not seem appropriate that a purely voluntary body like the B.T.A. should be the body which is distributing sub- stantial Government and taxpayers' money. It will not be a matter of new civil servants. It will be a matter of staff employed by an independent statutory body. I see no reason why there should be any excessive increase in staff.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we had procrastinated. We inherited a situation in which the Government were doing much less for tourism than Governments in most other countries.

Mr. Milne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the tourist attractiveness of Britain rests not only in London and in the South and that three tourist boards are not enough? Will he consider the claims of the Northern Region and of the North-East of England? Will he prevail upon the Prime Minister, in view of the stress his statement laid on the benefits of tourism to Britain, to appoint a Minister of Tourism at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. I do not think that we want a separate Minister of Tourism. I am well aware of the outstanding natural beauty of the North of England, the attractions of its population, and so on. I hope that that region, like other regions, will be represented by the advisory committee which I mentioned.

Mr. Maker

What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by his statement that manufactured exports make a more direct and immediate contribution to the balance of payments than tourism? Hotel beds are paid for at once, whereas manufactured exports are often paid for over ten years.

Mr. Crosland

I meant exactly what I said, namely, that manufacturing industry makes a more direct contribution to the balance of payments than services and distribution as a whole. I said that within services and distribution there were some sectors, of which hotels were an obvious example, which, however, did make a direct contribution.

Mr. Tudor Watkins

Will my right hon. Friend tell us how the arrangements for finance will work? Will the Secretary of State for Wales give grants direct to the statutory body or will the British board vet what comes to Wales?

Mr. Crosland

The British board will not vet what comes to Wales. If the House approves our proposals, the grant in aid for the Wales tourist board will come direct from the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Costain

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that when he says that the scheme is accepted by the hotel industry he shows how out of touch with the hotel industry he is? Will he assure the House that the proposed boards will really get in touch with hotels and the tourist industry, see what is required to be done, and get on with the job?

Mr. Crosland

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's opening remark. We are, and will continue to be, in consultation with the hotel industry, but we shall be in further consultation with it and with the B.T.A. and similar bodies between now and the date when we introduce the legislation.

Dr. Gray

How will the term "hotel" be defined for the purposes of classification? Will it include private hotels and boarding houses? Further, will an adequate system of inspection be introduced?

Mr. Crosland

There is already some discussion about definition in the White Paper on the Hotel Development Incentives Scheme. No doubt, we shall have more detailed discussion during the Committee stage of the Bill. As for inspection, it seems to me that what is required in this country is a system of registration and classification of the kind which almost every other advanced country has, which enables would-be visitors to have a better idea of the kind of accommodation which they want.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

Will the Highlands and Islands Development Board still be responsible for grants and loans to tourism in its area, or will that matter now be taken over by the new tourist board for Scotland?

Mr. Crosland

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is, "Yes, Sir"; to the second part, "No, Sir".

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Does my right hon. Friend realise that tourism is not merely London-orientated and that the provision of hotels is not the only way by which tourism can be helped? Will he prevail upon the Department of Education and Science to see that the Railway Museum, which is scheduled to go to York, is not left in London as a result of London-based representations?

Mr. Crosland

I am aware of the general point to which my hon. Friend draws attention, but he must not run down hotels too much as he recently celebrated in his own constituency the completion of a hotel with considerable help from the Board of Trade.

I confess that I am not an expert on the location of railway museums.

Mr. Bessell

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it that this proposal is likely to be received well by the hotel and tourist industry as it follows broadly the pattern adopted by many other countries? May we know how the proposal to give selective financial aid will be implemented, and how the members of the boards will be selected?

Mr. Crosland

I am obliged for the hon. Gentleman's opening remark. I should welcome discussion when the Bill comes before the House on the question of how the selective financial aid will be administered. The point of inserting this provision is that there are some activities apart from hotels which make an obvious and striking contribution to tourist development, and I want the new boards to have powers to aid things other than hotels which contribute in that way.

The members of the boards will be selected with the normal process of consultation, by the three Ministers concerned.

Mr. Tinn

Without going too far along the road with the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) about the Selective Employment Tax, I ask my right hon. Friend to look into certain anomalies, some of which arise from the selection of districts in which hotels benefit from rebate being made by the Department of Employment and Productivity, thus producing such anomalies as the hotels in Scarborough and Whitby in Yorkshire having the benefit while those in Saltburn, which are comparable in terms of the employment problem and tourist potential, are excluded. Will my right hon. Friend look into that?

Mr. Crosland

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech that he would institute an inquiry into various anomalies which are said to result from the Selective Employment Tax.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The right hon. Gentleman alluded two or three times to the supposed help to be given to the tourist industry by his latest suggestion. Does he realise that so far nothing has happened and that his offices throughout the country, as recently as a few weeks ago, had no detailed information or forms to implement what he had previously announced? Thus far, his reputation in these matters is one of words, just words. If the right hon. Gentleman would remove the restrictions from the people at present looking after tourism and hotels, would that not produce the better results which, apparently, he wants?

Mr. Crosland

If the House passes the legislation, hotels will have far more help from this Government than they have ever had from any previous Government. My regional offices cannot distribute forms and give details until Parliament has passed the Bill. How soon they will be able to do that depends entirely on how rapidly—with, I hope, the co-operation of hon. Members opposite—we can get the Bill through the House.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will the new boards be given powers to prevent profiteering at the expense of tourists? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have in my possession a copy of an advertisement in The London Times in which two small cottages are advertised at £100 a week for the occasion of the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon?

Mr. Crosland

I try, as all of us do, to read with attention The London Times, as my hon. Friend describes it, but it has become rather a big paper now, and I regret that I missed that item.

Sir C. Osborne

Will the President of the Board of Trade now answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph): what will be the annual cost of these proposals? Further, on behalf of the taxpayer, I put this question: as the Government recently had to cut school meals by £4 million because of the economic situation, how can the right hon. Gentleman justify an increase in bureaucracy of this kind?

Mr. Crosland

The annual cost of these proposals will depend on two factors: one, the total public expenditure situation at the time; the other, the rate of investment in hotels which occurs as a result of the new scheme.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman has twice said that the hotel industry will greatly benefit from these proposals. Will he kindly tell us what is the value of these proposals to the tourist industry of this country?

Mr. Crosland

With respect, the right hon. Gentleman has not familiarised himself with the White Paper on the Hotel Development Incentives Scheme. That White Paper offers certain rates of grant for the building of new hotels and the expansion of existing hotels. What the total cost of this scheme will be must depend on the number of people who take up the new offer.

Mr. Rankin

As my right hon. Friend prefaced his earlier remarks by saying that the scheme would help to keep people at home here, will advertisements in London urging people to come to Scotland for a real holiday still be permitted?

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman must not put to the House proposals of this kind requiring legislation and, at the same time, tell us that he has made no estimate of the cost to the Government of implementing them. Will he tell us what his estimate is?

Mr. Crosland

Anybody can make his estimate, but such estimates must depend on what the reaction of the hotel industry to the scheme turns out to be. If hon. Members opposite are right when they say that these proposals have been ill-received in the industry, the level of spending will, no doubt, be small. If I am right in thinking that the reaction is excellent, the figure spent will be very much larger.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Heath.

Mr. Heath rose

Mr. Faulds rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have called the Leader of the Opposition, and the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) must resume his seat.

Mr. Heath

As the President of the Board of Trade is presumably acting on the basis that his judgment is right, will he tell us what his judgment is of the amount which the Government will contribute, and, secondly, what the costs of the three boards and the bureaucracy will be? At least, he must have worked that out in detail.

Mr. Crosland

I repeat that the right hon. Gentleman has not familiarised himself with the White Paper, if he is asking for the best judgment that we can make. I had assumed that he already knew that that is set out in great detail in paragraph 33 of the White Paper. I will not read it out, since that would take me five minutes. It is the job of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to read White Papers which have been before the House since May, 1968. I really must refer the right hon. Gentleman—his right hon. Friend will tell him—to the White Paper.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order.

Mr. Faulds rose

Sir K. Joseph rose

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I did understand the hon. Gentleman. I hope that hon. Gentlemen who have asked questions will allow others to ask one.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

If you were not closing questions, Mr. Speaker, I want to put my point of order, which will close questions—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Well, I should not put it as this moment.

Mr. Faulds

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that if we want to attract tourists to our seaside resorts, the way to go about it is not to close off certain sections of the restaurants or the public houses that the Leader of the Opposition happens to frequent on his yachting holidays?

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order. I beg to give notice that, in view of the most unsatisfactory answer to Question No. 78, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.