HC Deb 24 November 1992 vol 214 cc755-7 4.21 pm
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to encourage provision for tourism by disabled people; to establish a Council for Tourism for the Disabled; to ensure that the needs of disabled people are taken into account in the design of tourist accommodation and transport facilities and infrastructure; to amend the Development of Tourism Act 1969; and for connected purposes. As the representative of Britain's major tourist resort, I am delighted that so many of my hon. Friends from lesser tourist resorts have decided to remain to listen to my presentation of the Bill. I feel rather like an ocean-going liner surrounded by a flotilla of tugboats.

Every year, millions of people in Britain cannot manage to have a holiday—sometimes because they cannot afford one or because they are too busy, but often because they suffer from a physical or sensory disability, which makes going on holiday, or even just being on holiday, too difficult. Finding accommodation that can cater for their special needs can be very hard, especially if, like many disabled people, they are poor or old.

Getting to a holiday resort can often cause severe problems for those who use public transport. British Rail's treatment of disabled passengers is often bad, and its recent decision to scrap direct InterCity services between London and Blackpool is evidence of its lack of concern for the thousands of disabled people who visit Britain's major tourist resort every year, many of them by rail.

Despite the many problems that are faced every year by disabled people on holiday in this country, there is now much greater recognition of both the problem and the opportunity in developing services to meet their needs. My Bill seeks to establish a framework within which private and public sector efforts to service those needs can be properly co-ordinated.

Some of my hon. Friends will know that, like the President of the Board of Trade, I am what might best be described as a pre-prandial interventionist. I believe that there are occasions when Governments should intervene before breakfast, before lunch and before tea. The development of tourism for the disabled is precisely such an occasion.

Much has already been done in this sphere. The English tourist board's "Tourism for All" campaign has helped to publicise the special needs of disabled tourists, and to encourage hotels and attractions to cater for them. Building regulations have brought improvements in the design of facilities for many types of disabled people. The national and regional tourist boards, together with organisations such as the Holiday Care Service, have begun to develop a system of information about accommodation, travel and entertainment facilities for disabled people. So good are some of the British initiatives that they have even been praised by the European Commission.

Despite these worthy initiatives, there is a long way to go. British tourism is still far from meeting the needs of the disabled, and it has not begun to seize the commercial opportunity in catering for them. There are 6.5 million disabled people in this country—one in seven of the population—with some form of physical or sensory disability. In the whole of Europe, about 50 million people suffer from some disability. Apart from anything else, that is a significant commercial opportunity.

We must now build on what we have achieved and aim to turn Britain into a centre of excellence in the provision of tourism for the disabled. To do that, we need to co-ordinate action from both the public and private sectors. That is why the Bill calls for a little light intervention in the form of a Council for Tourism for the Disabled. Such a council would be able to develop further the "Tourism for All" campaign by promoting more extensively the commercial opportunities for businesses that can cater for disabled people.

The council would undertake a national disability audit of Britain's tourist facilities so that accurate and comprehensive information was available for people with every type of disability and special need, not just those who need wheelchair access.

Most importantly, the council would be responsible for the design of a national strategy for the development of tourism for the disabled. To create that strategy, the council would harness the resources of the private sector and of voluntary organisations, in much the same way as has already happened with initiatives such as the ADAPT scheme—Access for Disabled People to Arts Premises Today.

The council would work with Government Departments whose responsibilities have an impact on the disabled tourist. It would work not only with the Departments of National Heritage and Transport, but with the Departments of the Environment, Employment, Health and Social Security.

The council's aim would be to develop high standards, quality and choice. It would seek to ensure that the needs of every type of disabled person were fully taken into account in the design of everything from accommodation and transport to promotion material and even to railway timetables.

I cannot resist a little more intervention. If we are to encourage the private sector in England to participate in the development of tourism for the disabled on the scale that is necessary in the middle of a recession, the Government must allow for some grant aid or cheap loans for suitable projects.

In Scotland and Wales, grants for the development of tourism under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 still apply. Businesses that want to upgrade their facilities to cater for disabled visitors do not have such a problem there. However, section 4 no longer applies in England. The Bill would remove that imbalance specifically and exclusively in the provision of tourism for the disabled by reintroducing an element of discretionary support for suitable projects in England.

The key to the development of tourism for the disabled must be a partnership, at both national and local levels. In Blackpool, we have a range of accommodation for people with various types of disability. Much of it is good, and the quality of service provided is first class. However, there is a great deal more that we can do.

I have set up a small working group of organisations and businesses to create a partnership that could help to bring about real improvements in the service that Blackpool offers disabled visitors. I am sure that. Blackpool's experience will serve, as it so often does, as a model for other, perhaps lesser, resorts. Equally, I hope that a national Council for Tourism for the Disabled will create the kind of partnership that will greatly improve tourism for the disabled in Britain.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harold Elletson, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Nick Hawkins, Mr. Michael Fabricant, Mr. Michael Ancram, Mr. David Lidington, Mr. Edward Gamier, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. Matthew Banks, Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. Alfred Morris and Mrs. Teresa Gorman.