HC Deb 28 May 1982 vol 24 cc1217-23 1.27 pm
Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

We have just heard an admirable debate on crime prevention, and the control of crime is essential to the tourist, particularly in London.

We now turn to a Cinderella industry, which I call Mr. 5 Per Cent. If the tourist industry were to have a mere 5 per cent. of the money given to British Leyland and the British Steel Corporation, it would be more than enough to bring great rewards to this country.

I am speaking not merely in an individual capacity, but on behalf of the Conservative Party's tourist sub-committee of which I am chairman. All the matters that I shall advocate have been agreed by that committee after careful consideration and I have given my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade notice of the issues that are predominant in our minds.

Certain measures are urgently required to boost the tourist industry, which currently employs about 1½ million people. At a cost of about £4,000 per annum per head, the industry could provide many more jobs, particularly for young people.

Tourism earns more than £4 billion in foreign currency alone. Foreign cash rose from a mere £432 million in 1970 to just under £3,000 million in 1980. The purpose of the measures that I shall outline is to bring prosperity to hard-hit regions, to create new jobs and to give much-needed co-ordination to the tourist industry.

My first suggestion is that in order to stimulate regular get-togethers of all the parties engaged in tourism, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary should initiate a seminar in the autumn to bring together many of the associations and bodies concerned with the promotion of tourism and involving not only his Department, but the Department of Education and Science and the Treasury. The professionals, those from the British Hotels Restaurants and Caterers Association, the Association of British Travel Agents, the BITOA, the Guild of Business Travel Agents, the Association of Tourist Officers and the British Resorts Association are some that can be helpfully co-ordinated and linked with the British Travel Education Trust bringing in the heritage centres, trails, open air museums and theme parks. In addition, the leading hotels and especially the consortia of hotels through the BRA and the leaders and chief executives of local authorities together with the BTA, the English Tourist Board and its regional areas, can be included. The difficulty with tourism is the issue of co-ordination. So widespread are the interests of tourism, covering the arts, museums, education, the open fields, the countryside and caravans, that this coordination is no easy task. It is, however, co-ordination and joint understanding that may, in the end, persuade the Government of the real needs of the tourist industry and the help that this industry will continue to give our country.

The main theme is to recognise that any grants or loans must be applied to the needs of tourism wherever this can best be done. The grants under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 will not in future be given to assisted areas but to areas designated for tourist need. The Government must designate tourist development areas after consultation with the English Tourist Board and its regions and the British Tourist Authority. These areas of tourist need will then be eligible not only for such Government funds as may be available but for EEC funds from the investment bank and the social fund.

On Friday 7 May I met Mr. Contogeorgis—I know that the Minister also saw him—the European Commissioner responsible for tourism. He pointed out that, under the present system, European finance cannot be granted anywhere for tourism except to the present assisted areas. There are five of these. All are largely manufacturing areas. None was chosen with the needs of tourism taken into account. Within these areas there are only one or two tourist towns such as Scarborough and Newquay, both of which have received substantial assistance and great benefit. One has only to visit these towns to see evidence of those benefits. In France, however, areas such as the Camargue have received tourist grants of immense value for development. So, likewise, the Government must provide some funds to match those in the future provided by the EEC to tourist designated areas. The hard-hit resort areas would at last receive the benefit to enable them to improve their environment, to provide centres to boost their conference trade and to improve their facilities for handling traffic to cite but three examples.

If that comes about, one will find that the old and, if I may say, Victorian aspect of some of these areas can be brought up to date. One would be able to enjoy the advantages already given to Scarborough and Newquay. I do not intend to argue another difficulty that faces the Department of Trade. I would only say in parenthesis, so to speak, that the Department of Industry appears to have the money and would have been better equipped to achieve what the Department of Trade, bless its heart, cannot do. The first essential is co-ordination. Just as the industry and outside bodies require co-ordination, so there is need for considerably more co-ordination involving the Department of Trade, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Education and Science and the Treasury. I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestion that the chairmanship of a co-ordinated committee for tourism involving the other Departments should come under his umbrella. Historic homes require to be fully promoted. Areas of outstanding scenic beauty need to be planned so the tourists and visitors can use them. It is no good making them so inaccessible and lacking in arrangements that they cannot be effectively used. There are many hollows and cut-off areas of great scenic beauty where one can hide the necessary caravan camps and places for people to stay when people go to enjoy areas of great beauty. We must make suitable provision for caravans with the help of the Department of the Environment.

The Department of Education and Science controls the arts and, more particularly, the Victoria and Albert Museum. Co-ordination with other museums is needed in an effort to promote tourism, so that people who want to enjoy the arts can obtain full information and satisfaction.

Then there is the matchless British Museum, the pride and joy of the Treasury. I would never suggest that we took it away from the Treasury. That would be a terrible mistake. I heard it suggested once, and I have never seen longer faces at the Treasury. It is its pride and joy, and it looks after it very well. However, I am certain that the British Museum would be only too happy to join a committee to co-ordinate the efforts on tourism. I hope that one day we shall persuade it and other museums that tourists, whether at home or abroad, should make a substantial contribution when they attend, as in other countries.

The London Tourist Board needs encouragement. After all, its task is to promote the world's greatest tourist city. It needs assistance and encouragement. My committee has tried to help with the theatres. We suggested the ticket office in Leicester Square, whereby tickets are sold regularly. The Society of West End Theatre and the regional theatre organisations are doing a great deal to help.

The licensing laws need to be changed. Anything that can be done by the other Ministries to recognise that changes need to be made in this connection, even if limited, would be a great help.

So it comes to this. We now have to consider the matter of training and employment. As I said, little money has been given—altogether about £4 million this year—on section 4 grants. Not much more is needed. Altogether, it is estimated that about £20 million for the whole industry, in tourist needs, grants, and so on, would be of immeasurable advantage, and would produce a much greater return than the sum invested.

The technical colleges and hotel schools are beginning to win the battle for the minds of the youth of this country. Hitherto, to enter the tourist industry, to become a waiter or something of that nature, was not viewed with favour. I very much hope that the Minister will take the trouble to see the Manpower Services Commission to ensure that every encouragement is given—which does not happen at present—for young people to enter and graduate from this training.

In the technical colleges and hotel schools we have a real growth industry. It is a leisure industry that has a great future, because it can provide satisfactory jobs for young people in an ever-widening range of leisure activities, both in Britain and abroad. It would not matter if we produced too many trained people, because they would be great ambassadors overseas.

I hope, therefore, that these few suggestions that I have made today will bear fruit. I hope that they will be treated as matters of considerable urgency. The Minister will know that there is a widespread feeling throughout the industry that Government action is never taken to help it. After all, it is basically a success industry. But it needs encouragement to promote and co-ordinate its activities. It could then do more to create jobs and continue to improve the financial circumstances of Britain than any other industry. If the industry is given the backing and opportunities that I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister will want to give in co-ordination with his colleagues in his own and other Departments, it can and will be the first industry to lead to a major breakthrough. That would be a great reward to tourism.

1.40 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Iain Sproat)

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) is well known for his wide-ranging and detailed knowledge of the tourist industry, its problems and its prospects. I congratulate him on using his success in the ballot to advance the cause of this important industry.

I emphasise immediately and strongly the great importance that I attach to the tourist industry—an importance that has, perhaps, not always been appreciated in some quarters in the past. I hope that the course of action that I intend to follow in the coming months, in carrying out a radical review of the workings of tourism in Britain, will leave nobody in any doubt, as to the seriousness and the importance with which I and the Government regard tourism.

In the past, some sections of the tourism industry have thought that they have not the opportunity to put their views to Government directly, and that their views, when they have been put, have not been taken seriously. I want to make certain that that cannot be said any more in this Parliament.

It is especially timely that we should be debating the tourism industry today, with the 1982 season just now getting seriously under way. In practical terms, it means that for many of the 1 million or so people whose jobs are derived directly or indirectly from tourism the months of planning and preparation now begin to take on a real existence. For example, overseas visitors alone spent some £3,000 million last year. If we add to that the equally importance domestic market, we find that in the same year tourism generated a massive £7,600 million. Perhaps even that is an underestimate. Certainly the potential is even greater.

According to the British Tourist Authority's forecasts, Britain could be earning some £6,000 million annually in foreign exchange alone by the mid-1980s at today's prices. It also predicts that there could be 15 million overseas visitors to Britain annually by 1985. Such increases have enormous benefits and implications for the industry. Of course, how far those predictions are transformed into reality is another matter. I hope to say something about that later.

I am conscious that the tourism industry has been going through a difficult time recently, that some areas that are heavily dependent on tourism have been particularly badly hit and are worried about the immediate prospects. I know that that applies to some resorts in, or close to, my hon. and learned Friend's constituency. On the whole, however, thanks to its resilience, the tourism industry generally has held up remarkably well in the face of the worst recession this country has experienced since the 1930s.

Price restraint, coupled with innovatory schemes for developing new kinds of business—for example, the promotion of off-peak bargain breaks by hotels—has done much to help the industry through this difficult time, and, indeed, mark the beginning of an entirely new marketing approach, which I am sure will hold good for the future.

As usual, my hon. and learned Friend has made pertinent points, and I shall try to deal with some of those later. First, however, I return to the claim sometimes made by sections of the industry that the Government do not care about the industry or that we simply pay lip service to it. I know that there is disappointment on a number of issues, and, as I have said, I shall turn to those later, but I am concerned that this disappointment should not obscure the very considerable help that the Government have given and continue to give directly to tourism.

It is noteworthy that, despite the current pressures on spending programmes, we have broadly maintained the level of direct financial support to the tourist boards and other statutory agencies. In the current year, this amounts to some £56 million. About two-thirds of this money is available on a nation-wide basis for promotions, publicity, research and the like. The English Tourist Board is spending £1.7 million on advertising campaigns in the current year and is providing another £1.7 million to the regional tourist boards, including £89,000 to the South-East England Tourist Board, which covers my hon. and learned Friend's constituency. The British Tourist Authority is also closely involved with the promotion of the South-East of England. For example, in 1981 it put together joint promotion schemes with the South-East England Tourist Board, the Kent and East Sussex county councils and Eastbourne and Brighton. Although a scheme was negotiated individually with each body, they were so designed that each partner worked on behalf of all the others to give the maximum benefit to the whole region. The BTA is now planning to offer to its partners a similar arrangement for 1982. All of this is tangible evidence that the Government indeed recognise the importance of tourism to this country.

I turn to some of the specific issues that my hon. and learned Friend raised in his speech and about which, as I know from reading his previous speeches on tourism, he feels strongly.

First, with regard to section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, I am, of course, well seized of the arguments for the extension of the section 4 project assistance scheme. As my hon. and learned Friend is aware, we have been considering the future coverage of this scheme for some time because the assisted areas, which are the basis of the scheme's present coverage, are scheduled to be reduced from 1 August this year.

The Government's consideration is nearing completion, and we shall be making an announcement shortly on what we have decided for the scheme. I repeat the assurances that I have previously given. The views of my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members on both sides of the House are being taken fully into account, along with those of the many others outside who have made representations to us on the subject. I should perhaps add that the British Tourist Authority, the English Tourist Board, the Wales Tourist Board and the Scottish Tourist Board have all make it clear to me personally, and in the most unambiguous terms, that they strongly oppose section 4 grants being tied only to assisted areas, and we shall give very proper weight to their views.

Another matter, which considerably and understandably excites those in the tourism industry, is the question of industrial building allowances. My hon. and learned Friend well knows and has often in the past referred to the case for ending what is often thought of as discrimination against hotels in the matter of capital allowances and placing them on the same basis as industrial buildings. Requests have also been made to extend the allowances to smaller hotels—to those, for example, with fewer than 10 bedrooms—and to other types of holiday accommodation such as holiday camps and self-catering accommodation. These, of course, are matters for my Treasury colleagues who have given assurances that the case for hotels, self-catering establishments and so on will be looked at very closely in the current general review of corporation tax which, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, is now the subject of a Green Paper. I shall certainly seek to ensure that their case is very thoroughly examined by the Treasury.

The application of value added tax is another matter that often crops up in debates such as this. My hon. and learned Friend has been a doughty champion of those who believe that the industry should have extra relief in this regard. As he will know, this is primarily a matter for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury and they are well aware of the industry's case. The arguments against preferential treatment for a particular sector have been voiced before and have so far been considered overriding. However, I have no doubt but that the industry will continue to press its point and that my right hon. and learned Friends in the Treasury will consider carefully any new aspects that may be presented to them.

One of the main themes of my hon. and learned Friend's speech was the need for greater co-ordination of the views of those engaged in the tourist industry, not least the views of those in the various Government Departments who have a relationship with different parts of the tourist industry outside the House.

One of the principal duties of the tourist boards is to advise Ministers on the effects of their policies on the tourist industry. For that reason, and because the boards also need to be in touch with the industry's thinking for the carrying out of their day-to-day activities, a consultative machinery is essential. If I may quote one example, the British Tourist Authority has established five major committees dealing with marketing, infrastructure, development, hotels and restaurants, and British heritage.

In addition, it sets up numerous working parties and specialist groups that meet as occasion demands. Participants in those committees and groups are drawn from trade associations, such as the British Hotels Restaurants and Caterers Association, carriers, and other public bodies with interests impinging on tourism. My own and other Government Departments are also represented where appropriate. Those committees report to the BTA's main board so that there is regular monitoring and evaluation of the industry's views from the whole spectrum of tourism interests.

I also consider it important that I should maintain a degree of contact with interested bodies and I am now arranging an important programme of meetings with a wide range of bodies and individuals representing the tourism industry, starting with the regional boards in England. I place great importance on this initiative. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will agree that I am right to do so. Naturally, I am also in close touch with my ministerial colleagues with tourism responsibilities in Scotland and Wales.

My hon. and learned Friend's idea of a tourism seminar that he has ventilated this afternoon is extremely interesting. It presents several difficulties, not least those caused by the variety and size of the industry, but none the less it is a most interesting and original idea. I am grateful for it and I certainly propose to consider seriously, although without commitment, how this might be brought about.

May I now turn to my Department's responsibility for tourism. I hope that it is apparent from my remarks in this debate that my Department has the interests of tourism at heart. I have said that the Department plays a full coordinating role. It works closely with colleagues in Scotland and Wales, and there is a continuous and free exchange with the Department of Industry, among other Departments, on matters of common interest. However, in the light of my hon. and learned Friend's speech, I certainly undertake to look again at whether our processes of co-ordination could be improved. I should be interested in any further comments that he may wish to make to me on the subject.

On the question of ministerial responsibility, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said in a reply to my hon. and learned Friend on 9 March 1982 that she was satisfied that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales were well able to handle tourism matters within their respective departmental briefs and that those arrangements fully recognised the importance of tourism. For my own part, I shall do all that I can to ensure that the industry's views are fully represented in Government.

I shall read carefully what my hon. and learned Friend has said this afternoon, and will follow up those points that I have been unable to deal with fully in the time available.