HC Deb 20 January 1970 vol 794 cc398-405

In section 11(2) of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, after the words 'development area', there shall be inserted the words 'or an intermediate area'.—(Mr. Waddington.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The object of the new Clause is to make available in the intermediate areas the larger grants towards the cost of building new hotels and improving and extending existing hotels which are available in the development areas as a result of the Development of Tourism Act. It is a great mistake to imagine that building grants in themselves will solve the problems faced by areas such as North-East Lancashire, because the main problem there is not so much unemployment as population drift and the fact that year by year people, and young people and skilled people in particular, are leaving the area.

It is an error to think that building grants in themselves will bring about industrial modernisation and equally an error to think that if we have industrial modernisation, the existing population will stay. We cannot expect new industry to move into the area when the necessary labour is not there. The crucial need, acknowledged on both sides of the House, is to improve the environment—a point made on an earlier Clause by the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp). A crucial need is to improve the amenities and recreational facilities in such areas and generally to do a great deal to make them attractive places in which to live and work. The acceptance of the Clause would be some recognition of that need.

I hope that I shall not be misunderstood: I do not feel that it is the destiny of North-East Lancashire to become a tourist area, and still less do I feel that it is its destiny to become a dormitory town for the new Chorley-Leyland-Preston new town. But the Clause is intended to make it a little more likely that in the years to come more people will go to live and work in the area and that fewer of the younger people will drift away.

I have a fair idea of what the Minister of State will say in reply to this short debate. He will no doubt say that many of the areas which benefit from the higher scale of grants under the Development of Tourism Act are almost wholly dependent on the holiday and tourist trade whereas clearly North-East Lancashire does not come within that category. But if we accept, as we must, that the provision of good, modern hotels can in itself make a contribution to industrial growth, and that industrial growth is one of the Government's prime aims, there must be a case for hotel incentives at the development area rate outside the tourist areas.

Such grants are available because there are many parts of existing development areas which cannot, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, be considered as tourist areas. Secondly, the Government will no doubt say that it remains a matter of policy that the development areas should retain their advantage over the rest of the country; as they have this advantage in manufacturing industry it is only logical that they should have it with hotels. To that I can only say that the correctness of the policy remains unproved. The Hunt Committee found it unproved and called for a general review, which we have been debating. In addition there is little logic in the proposition that if the differential is right with manufacturing industry it must ipso facto be right for services.

I hope that the Minister of State does not start animadverting on the wickedness of the Tories in calling for cuts in Government expenditure at one moment and at the next calling for more expenditure in their individual areas. We could save millions of pounds by changes in regional policy, but we have to work within the system as it is, however daft it is. As long as the present system exists I shall continue to call for some financial help for my part of the world to mitigate the distortion resulting from the Government's development area policy.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I support the new Clause. Paragraph 291 of the Hunt Report states: The South-West Economic Planning Council were concerned about the undue dependence on agriculture and tourism and advocated the encouragement of self-sustaining growth in the rural areas. We are grateful that Plymouth is now an intermediate area, but there is a need in Plymouth and other areas, for more hotel accommodation. Tourism is one of our major industries and we feel that tourism could become as useful as a factory in some areas. It would employ just as many people as factories do nowadays, with the advent of automation. One of the things that it is not easy to automate is an hotel. There have to be personnel. Why cannot hotels be considered in the same light as any other industry, particularly as they bring in great numbers of people to spend considerable sums of money and are one of our major external currency earners? One of the difficulties is providing first-class hotels.

As I understand it, it is the aim of the Government to encourage people to visit Britain and to encourage our own people to take their holidays here. S.E.T. has prevented many hotels from expanding or improving their premises. With the abolition of the travel allowance it is essential that they are allowed to do so. If we want to keep our own people here we must have first-class hotels. Otherwise, the attractions of warmer climates in European countries and better hotel accommodation, will take visitors from us. Let us face up to the fact that in the past this country has not been noted for good hotel accommodation.

The Minister of State may have seen Early Day Motion No. 59 which is concerned with S.E.T. He, like myself and many other hon. Members in this House, has probably received a considerable number of letters recently from hotel managers about the difficulties they are having because of it.

This is a special year in the SouthWest—Mayflower, 1970. We have sent a deputation, consisting of the lord mayor and the town clerk, overseas to attract tourists to the South-West. This is not just for Plymouth, which is an intermediate area, but it would help Plymouth to improve its hotel situation if the suggestion in the new Clause was accepted.

The Hunt Report has acknowledged that Plymouth is a growth area. If we can attract more people to holiday in the Plymouth area it will benefit not only the intermediate area, but the whole neighbourhood.

Furthermore, it is essential for businessmen and women to have decent accommodation when visiting their factories. This has been a difficulty in the South-West. A number of factories have had to provide flats for their visitors and managing directors when they come to visit them. That is not very satisfactory. The great thing is for them to be in hotels where they can mix freely with other business people and so help their industry.

I sincerely hope that the Minister of State will consider the new Clause reasonable. Why should not hotels be considered on the same lines as factories, as real industries? They produce a good income for this country and, in their own way, they are a type of factory. I think that the new Clause should be accepted. It will not interfere with Government policy and it will be of great benefit to the country as a whole.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) knowing, as she does, a certain amount about the South-West.

I had the experience of trying to spend a pleasant day and night in a Plymouth hotel with my wife, but finding it impossible to find anywhere to stay there. Frankly, what we saw was not as attractive as it might have been, because people have not been able to improve their hotel accommodation. The experience of trying to take a holiday anywhere in the West Country is not entirely a happy one, because accommodation of the type which will attract visitors from abroad is not available.

I share with my hon. Friend the thought and understanding that the South-West is largely dependent upon tourism and agriculture. The suggestion that light industry can solve our problems does not attract me. It will solve the problems only temporarily. Industry invariably drags people away from the hotel and holiday industry with the result that the problem is worse than before.

Dorset has a similar experience with local festivals. The Mayflower Festival in Plymouth is an international affair. But the year before last we had the Thomas Hardy Festival in Dorset, and it was difficult to accommodate all the people—even from as far away as Japan—who wanted to stay in the county. They had to stay in Hampshire instead.

I hope that the Government will seriously consider helping the hotel industry. My hon. Friend said that tourists could not enjoy a holiday in an area of great natural beauty or historic interest without somewhere to stay. She is quite right. I hope that the Government will bear in mind, too, that if the facilities for enjoyment in an area of natural beauty or historic interest are such that they destroy the area, they are self-defeating. The unattractive looking hotel, the sleazy café and the parking problems that develop from improper provisions for visitors destroy the very amenities that people go to enjoy. Therefore, it is shortsighted not to help the tourist industry by helping the hotels.

I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) about the whole system of discrimination in one area and another and the necessity for less tax and less interference. But that is a broader matter. I hope that the Government will take the matter seriously and realise that tourism is a growing and significant industry which can have a tremendous effect on the foreign exchange which we need. They have set up a new and improved British Tourist Authority to replace the British Travel Association or to enhance its functions. I hope that they will look at the matter seriously and help the hotel trade as well.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Urwin

I assure the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) and his hon. Friends that when the Local Employment Bill was being prepared the Government gave careful consideration to the possibility of extending to intermediate areas the rates of grant payable in development areas, but concluded that 20 per cent. was the appropriate rate of grant to hotels.

On listening to this rather brief debate, one would think that something was being denied to the intermediate areas, and that the Government were completely unaware of the necessity of assisting the tourist industry. It does not appear to be recognised that it is not just the intermediate areas which benefit from a 20 per cent, grant. This grant for the development of new hotels is available over the whole country outside the development areas, and this is something for which the intermediate areas themselves are grateful.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) recognised the reason for the inclusion of such areas as the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales, North Devon, and Cornwall, where there is very little manufacturing industry, and where they are heavily dependent upon the holiday trade. Clearly these areas can derive little benefit from the extensive assistance available for investment in manufacturing industry in the development areas. Generally speaking, manufacturing industry is in areas where there is no substantial tourist trade.

I recognise that the provision of good modern hotels is as important to the business man as to the holiday maker, but I believe that the new industrial investment and the additional prosperity which we expect in the intermediate areas as a result of the Local Employment Bill should provide a substantial amount of extra business for local hoteliers. The Government think it right to provide new incentives for investment in the intermediate areas, but it remains our policy that the development areas should continue to retain a large preference over the rest of the country.

A good deal was said about that during the debates on the two earlier Clauses, and about the desirability, as many of my hon. Friends see it, of continuing the preference to which I have referred, and which is represented by the Government's policies. If the 25 per cent. grant was available in the intermediate areas, as hon. Gentlemen opposite have proposed, hotels in those areas would be on a par with hotels in the development areas.

Mr. Waddington

I take the point that many places in the development areas are completely dependent upon the tourist trade, but is it not right that under the present law there are many places in the development areas which have no tourist trade, but which get a grant? What is the justification for that expenditure?

Mr. Urwin

One assumes that the rate of development there would not be as great as in the areas where tourism is a decided attraction. That is the only reason that I can suggest. It does not put the area to which the hon. Gentleman is referring at any serious disadvantage.

As regards the incentives for manufacturing industry, there remains a substantial difference between the development and intermediate areas. If we were to accept the Clause, where would we stop? Would hon. Gentlemen opposite then ask for the 40 per cent. development area rate of investment grant for which the intermediate areas do not qualify under the Local Employment Bill? When they go on to ask for the application of the regional employment premium to the areas designated as intermediate areas, to achieve parity with the development areas, it is said that on this side—and it is right—we wish to maintain the 5 per cent. differential from the national rate for the development areas. I therefore ask my hon. Friends to reject this new Clause.

Mr. Michael Shaw

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) on emphasising, by bringing forward this new Clause, that while considering the new manufacturing capacity of the intermediate areas, we must also consider the services which go with them. My experience is that one finds that many of these intermediate areas have been suffering from a slow decline over many years, and with the gradual decline in industries has gone a decline in the amenities of the neighbourhood, among them amenities connected with the hotel industry.

On the other hand, one has to recognise that there is a limit and a danger of fragmentation and of the patchwork quilt philosophy which has been mentioned in earlier debates. None the less, it is important to remember, if we are to get true recovery in the intermediate areas, particularly the areas my hon. Friend knows so well, that we must encourage the modernisation of the hotel industry, to bring up to date the amenities not only for the people living in the area, but also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) so rightly said, the amenities for visitors and business men and women visiting the neighbourhood. It makes a great difference if one can ring up a potential customer and invite him to see one's works or products and take him to a comfortable hotel for a meal or to be put up for a night, so that he can be sent away satisfied not only with the goods he has seen, but with his reception and with the hotel services.

My hon. Friend has done a great service in emphasising the need for improvement of services in the intermediate areas, and particularly of hotel services.

Question put and negatived.

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