HL Deb 22 November 1983 vol 445 cc128-35

3.45 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my honourable friend the Minister of State in the Department of Trade and Industry. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the Government's review of tourism policy, instituted in July of last year by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade. I am grateful to all those who contributed, including right honourable and honourable Members of this House.

"Tourism is undoubtedly one of our most important industries. In 1982 its turnover, at some £8½ billion, almost matched that of the United Kingdom motor industry and it employed around 1 million people across the country. The Government recognise the great economic and employment potential of tourism and are determined to encourage the industry's development.

"The review, which was concerned primarily with the activities of the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board, and with the relationships between all the tourist boards, also produced many proposals for improving United Kingdom tourism generally. Details of same, and of how they will be pursued, are in a paper which I have placed in the Vote Office. They include improving hotel standards, new training initiatives, proposals for computerised reservations systems, signposting policy, revitalising the traditional resorts and dealing with the tourism needs of London. The review has also pointed to other tourism issues which are the responsibility of other departments. I intend to invite them to consider further action.

"The Government's main instrument for encouraging tourism is the statutory tourist boards. In recognition of the widely accepted view that the boards need to improve their own co-ordination, the Government have decided that new organisational arrangements are required.

"I am therefore inviting the British Tourist Authority to transfer wherever possible its remaining United Kingdom activities to the national boards, so that it may concentrate on its prime responsibility: to promote Britain overseas. I am asking the BTA and the ETB to seek shared accommodation, to merge certain common services and, in consultation with the Scottish Tourist Board and the Wales Tourist Board, to eliminate duplication in their publication programmes. The review has shown that a revised approach is also needed to planning the British Tourist Authority's overseas promotions so that full account is taken of the requirements of England, Scotland and Wales in the main marketing programme. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has announced separately improvements agreed with the British Tourist Authority for the promotion of Wales overseas.

"None of these important changes requires legislation. However, the Minister of State at the Scottish Office last week introduced in another place a Bill containing proposals for limited overseas promotion by the Scottish Tourist Board which will require some amendment to the 1969 Development of Tourism Act.

"Sir Henry Marking, the present Chairman of the British Tourist Authority, has agreed to leave his post at the end of March 1984, some five months before the end of his appointment, to permit a new chairman to begin carrying through these changes at the BTA as soon as possible. I should like to record the Government's sincere appreciation of Sir Henry's tireless and valuable work as a promoter of tourism. As the successor to Sir Henry at the British Tourist Authority, my right honourable friend is appointing Mr. Duncan Bluck, currently chairman of Cathay Pacific Airways and of the Hong Kong Tourist Association, with effect from April next for a period of three years.

"The Government believe rationalisation of the British Tourist Authority and English Tourist Board activities could best occur under a single chairman. My right honourable friend therefore intends to ask Mr. Bluck to serve also as chairman of the English Tourist Board when Mr. Michael Montague finishes his current term there. Mr. Bluck will examine possibilities for further collaboration and the possibility of a merger of the two bodies.

"Mr. Montague, who has also done much valuable work at the English Tourist Board, will play an important role for the rest of his term in helping to bring the two boards closer together. I have asked him additionally to report to me urgently on how the non-statutory regional tourist boards might take on additional responsibilities, particularly in marketing. The important role of the regional boards in English tourism has been emphasised by this review.

"I place great importance on attracting private finance to tourism and I am therefore pleased to be able to inform the House that the English Tourist Board has been instrumental in setting up a new equity fund for tourism, financed by the private sector but with access to advice from the boards. Full details will be announced at a later date. In the meantime, however, I plan to maintain grants for Section 4 expenditure in England at about the current level over the four years to 1986–87 giving a total of some £35 million for the period.

"These moves towards closer co-ordination, clearer objectives and better use of resources by the boards should be to the benefit of the tourism industry. But the review confirmed that the main task of realising tourism's potential for growth must rest with the industry itself."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement, and I might add that copies of the supplementary paper referred to in the Statement are available in the Printed Paper Office.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. May I say first of all that the tourist industry will welcome the fact that the Statement has been published. The industry has been on tenterhooks to a greater or less extent since July 1982, when the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary instituted this review and promised a Statement within three months of the institution of the review. In fact, as your Lordships will see, it has taken almost 18 months for the Statement to see the light of day, and the fact that it has been published will allay a great deal of uncertainty which has been felt in the industry and within the statutory boards during that period of time.

I think the first question one asks oneself is: Has the Statement been worth waiting for? Certainly it includes some constructive proposals, but one is bound to ask whether they are the right ones. One will need to study the Statement in detail and to look in particular at the papers which have been placed in the Printed Paper Office before one can come to a final conclusion on this. I have certainly been a constant critic of the duplication of the activities between the various statutory boards and regional boards, and if the proposals do away with some of that duplication, to that extent they will certainly be very welcome.

I noted with interest that the Statement has avoided the need for any substantial amendment to the 1969 Act, by using the device of appointing the same person to be chairman of the British Tourist Authority and of the English Tourist Board. Can the noble Lord say whether it is proposed that Mr. Bluck will be a full-time chairman? One would have thought that a full-time appointment would be necessary, bearing in mind that he will be doing a job which Sir Henry Marking currently does in four days a week and which Mr. Montague does in three days a week. Therefore a full-time chairman would seem to he very necessary.

Also, can the noble Lord tell your Lordships what salary is envisaged for this new supremo chairman of the two hoards? Previously the salaries of the chairmen of the national boards have been very much—what shall one call it?—at second-rate nationalised industry salary level. Therefore I wonder whether the noble Lord could give us some indication on that matter.

Last week the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, introduced a Bill into your Lordships' House to enable the Scottish Tourist Board to market overseas, as was mentioned in the Statement. This proposal, of course, to enable the Scottish Tourist Board to market overseas arose out of the devolution Bill, which did not in fact come into force because of the referendum not gaining a sufficient percentage of votes, I also noted that the Secretary of State for Wales is shortly announcing improvements for the marketing of Wales overseas. Could the noble Lord give your Lordships some idea of whether the Secretary of State for Wales will be announcing similar arrangements for marketing Wales overseas as are envisaged for marketing Scotland overseas by the Bill that was introduced into this House last week?

It would seem overall that we are moving towards a situation of three national boards: the Scottish board, the Wales board and the English board/British Tourist Authority, and that each of the boards will in time be doing their overseas promotion. Could the noble Lord say whether he thinks that is possibly the long-term aim contained within this Statement?

The noble Lord paid tribute to the work of the regional tourist boards. One of my concerns about their work is that over the past few years the grant paid to the regional tourist boards in England by the English Tourist Board has grown smaller in percentage terms each year, with a greater percentage of the Government grant to the English Tourist Board being used by the English Tourist Board itself. One would hope that the financial arrangements—and the noble Lord in repeating the Statement talked about the Section 4 arrangements, but not about the general support for the work of the statutory boards and the regional boards—would ensure that a greater amount of Government money is available for the work of the regional boards, and that there is some alteration in the split of the grant between the national boards and the regional boards.

The noble Lord also mentioned the question of tourism in London. I regret I have not had the opportunity of looking at the paper he has placed in the Printed Paper Office. Could he tell us whether there are any new financial arrangements proposed for the London Tourist Board?

Finally, the noble Lord mentioned the question of the establishment of an equity fund for tourism. I am not quite certain how large this fund is intended to be. I think your Lordships would like to know a little more about it, and in so far as this fund may encompass the idea of joint marketing activities between the private sector and the national boards, I am sure that would be a success. But if it is a fund to which the private sector is to contribute, leaving the national boards to spend as they will, then I do not think the same success would attend an activity in those senses.

Again, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I hope that its contents will be something which will benefit the tourist industry as a whole, because I think we are all very much aware that it is one of our most important industries.

3.59 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, on behalf of my noble colleagues on these Benches, may I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement which has been made in another place. We are particularly grateful that the role of tourism and its importance in the economic affairs of the country has been recognised. We shall be interested to see these other measures which are in the paper which has been placed in the Printed Paper Office. I wonder whether they include rate relief or low interest loans to small hotels, and so forth, for some of the statutory improvements which are imposed upon them from time to time. I wonder whether the review, which points to the other tourism issues which will be the responsibility of other departments, deals with questions of regional airports and transport generally. I am interested to see the transfer of powers to Wales and to Scotland and I particularly welcome the transfer of powers to Scotland to promote overseas.

I do not propose to debate this subject at this stage, because I do not think that that would be appropriate in the consideration of a Statement. But I should like to ask the Minister how it is that he hopes to reconcile the merging of the British Tourist Authority with the English Tourist Board, and then giving separate powers to the Scottish and Wales Tourist Boards, with the job which it is stated at the beginning is the job of the British Tourist Authority—that is, to co-ordinate all of them. I do not see how an authority which is meant to co-ordinate three independent and equal authorities can satisfactorily merge itself with one of them. It seems to me a very curious Statement at that point and I should like a little more explanation of how the Government think that that will work.

The final point which I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships is the importance of attracting private finance to tourism. I should like it said that most of the finance which goes into the promotion of Britain at home and overseas comes from private sources. It comes from the hotels and the tourist organisations and enterprises of the country. By far the greatest part of the money spent on tourism comes from the tourism industry. I hope that this will be recognised and that the Government will give help where help is needed to measures which are already being taken by the tourist industry to promote tourism overseas. I thank the Government for realising that tourism's potential growth is a matter for the tourist industry, but please continue to help them.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, may I swiftly thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for their very forthright welcome of the proposals in the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is a professional in this field and therefore his comments, his perspicacity and his questions are of particular value. We hope that, after the gestation period, this Statement will remove some uncertainty. Indeed, we trust and hope that the proposals are the right ones. We also hope that they will reduce unnecessary duplication.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me a number of questions to which I hope I have the answers. If I miss any or do not cover them in sufficient detail, I promise to write to him. The noble Lord asked me about the appointment of the new chairman, Mr. Bluck. I understand that it will be part-time only. Secondly, the noble Lord asked me about Mr. Bluck's salary. I have to tell him and your Lordships that this is currently under negotiation. Thirdly, the noble Lord asked me about Wales and the Wales Tourist Board. I am able to put his fears at rest. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales made an announcement in the form of a Written Answer in another place last week.

The noble Lord also raised the question of Section 4 assistance. Of course, any sums which are forthcoming under Section 4 over the next four years will depend, to a large extent, on how many applications come forward. As the noble Lord will appreciate, this will not necessarily be the same amount every year; and, indeed, the provisions will be approved each year in Parliament. But if we gave a somewhat broader indication of any of our intentions over a longer period, that would enable both the industry and the English Tourist Board to plan their development strategy. We hope and trust that that will be more satisfactory.

The noble Lord asked me about regional tourist boards. I can tell your Lordships that, if regional tourist boards take on any additional responsibilities, it will be very important to consider their financial arrangements for them, and we shall take great care to do that. The noble Lord raised the further point of the equity fund. I hope that he, as a professional and someone with knowledge of the industry, may be able to await the publication of fuller details which, maybe, I or one of my noble colleagues will give to your Lordships later.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for his welcome for these proposals. As a good Scot, he raised the suspicion, about which I also felt a gentle tremor before I studied all the details, that there might be grounds for thinking that the English Tourist Board would be obtaining an unfair advantage through merging with the British Tourist Authority. Of course, the noble Viscount will appreciate that the role of the British Tourist Authority is—and we intend it to be—to promote Britain overseas. Any of us who travel overseas find Scotland, England and Wales promoted very vigorously under those three headings, but of course under the overall umbrella of the British Tourist Authority.

The noble Viscount also mentioned private finance and, of course, we remember that. We salute all those who invest in the tourism industry, which is of such value. The noble Viscount raised a query about the merger of the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board. I would stress to him that this is not a merger. We are intending to bring them together physically, but it is not the British Tourist Authority's role to co-ordinate the work of the national boards. I am delighted to add a touch of humour to the lengthy deliberations to which I hope we shall be coming very soon. As regards the powers of the Scottish Tourist Board, these are intended to supplement the work of the British Tourist Authority and they will be undertaken in consultation with the British Tourist Authority.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, can the noble Lord say when he expects that these changes, mergers or not, will be completed?

Lord Lyell

No, my Lords. I shall inquire and write briefly and swiftly to the noble Lord.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. May I ask him whether he agrees that the greatest boost which the Government could give to the tourist trade would be a reduction in VAT, especially as regards overseas visitors? May I also ask my noble friend to confirm that the original intention of the tourist board was to close some of the information offices in our channel port towns? I shall quite understand if he cannot answer now, but can he say whether that policy has now been reversed?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, in reply to my noble friend's last question, I do not think so. If I am wrong, I shall certainly write to my noble friend. As regards my noble friend's main proposal about a reduction in VAT for overseas visitors, I shall certainly pass on his forthright point to my right honourable colleague in another place. My noble friend is, perhaps, seeking special treatment for Scotland or the Isle of Mull, but I will pass on his comments anyhow.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend one short question, which should have a very easy answer? Having been president of one of the regional boards at the very beginning of this organisation, I am naturally interested. May I ask whether or not there is to be any change in these local boards?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I do not think that there is any change in the composition or the functions of the local regional boards. I presume that my noble friend is referring to England.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, would my noble friend bear in mind that those of us who have been concerned with tourist boards for many years and who will welcome measures to prevent duplication in this country will find it very puzzling that now there is to be total duplication abroad, since it must only fragment the efforts of this country to sell Britain abroad if there are four boards all trying to do so?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I have stressed, and I stress once again to my noble friend who is pre-eminent in England and, I hope, pre-eminent in the efforts of the British Tourist Authority, that the function of the BTA will be to co-ordinate the efforts of England and also, I hope, of Scotland and certainly of Wales. My noble friend will know when he goes overseas that it is the function of the BTA above all to stress, "Come to England", "Come to Scotland" and "Come to Wales".

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, when we discussed this problem some years ago in the House the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the noble Earl, Lord Amherst, and I moved an amendment which was accepted, whereby each of the national boards had equal membership on the BTA. In that way the national boards controlled the overseas marketing of the BTA. I should have thought that that might be a more sensible solution than the one which the noble Lord has suggested.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I shall bear in mind the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. If I have anything to add in reply, perhaps I may write to him.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, for the purposes of clarification, may I ask the noble Lord whether there is to be any fundamental change in the position of the Scottish Tourist Board? There have been suggestions of one sort or another but in some cases they lacked precision as to what was intended.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend to have patience. As I am sure he is aware, a Bill which is before your Lordships received its First Reading last Thursday. I would not wish to comment at the moment on the actual details of the Scottish Tourist Board. I wonder whether my noble friend could contain himself until we debate this matter at Second Reading.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, on the question of overseas expenditure, may I press the noble Lord to say whether the advertisement of England, Scotland and Wales will be separate or under one umbrella? It is very important to know the answer to this question not only in New York but throughout the world. Can the noble Lord indicate whether there will be a concerted effort to advertise Great Britain as a whole, although the tourist boards here now enjoy devolved powers?

Lord LyeIl

My Lords, I repeat what I said in my earlier answer: we understand that the main function of the BTA will be to co-ordinate the efforts made to sell Wales, Scotland and England. I hope there will be no fragmentation. As I said earlier, I understand that it will be under the umbrella of the BTA. Indeed, the noble Lord used that term.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, will the English Tourist Board have the power to sell England overseas?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I understand that the position is as I have spelled it out three times: that it will be under the aegis and umbrella of the BTA.