HL Deb 17 July 1991 vol 531 cc237-68

5.58 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to support and encourage the tourist industry, particularly in London.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to bring the subject of the tourist industry and in particular tourism in London before your Lordships' House today, and to ask the Minister what steps the Government are taking to support and encourage the industry. I must declare an interest. I am now vice-president of the London Tourist Board in succession to the late Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede whose loss we all bemoan. His loss to London was very great indeed. The London Tourist Board is one of many organisations in London for which he laboured.

Becoming vice-president of the LTB has enabled me to discover the difficulties under which the board labours. When I discovered that the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, was the Minister responsible for tourism I considered that a discussion in your Lordships' House was appropriate. I am grateful to the usual channels for giving us that opportunity. I am glad that so many noble Lords have declared that they would like to take part. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has chosen this opportunity to make his maiden speech. I look forward with great interest to hearing him and wish him every success. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House a satisfactory Answer.

There is no doubt that tourism plays a significant part in the economic life of Britain. Although it represents only 3.7 per cent. of the country's gross domestic product, more than 30 per cent. of Britain's service exports come from the industry. That is greater than the service exports from the City. Six per cent. of Britain's employed labour force have jobs which are tourism related while almost 5 per cent. of consumer spending is the result of tourism.

In London the economic factor is even greater. As London is our capital city and gateway to the country, perhaps that is not surprising. Tourism represents between 4 and 5 per cent. of London's GDP; a greater percentage than in the country as a whole. In stark financial terms it means that last year more than £5,040 million came from tourism, 80 per cent. of which was in foreign exchange. A higher percentage of London residents—some 200,000—work in tourism. That is 7 per cent. of its population as against 6 per cent. in the country as a whole. It has been discovered that in 13 per cent. of homes in London lives someone who works in tourism. The industry also supports and fosters a large number of small businesses; for example, bed and breakfast accommodation, small restaurants, boat operators and sightseeing tour companies. Indeed, more than three-quarters of the members of London's official tourist board fall into that category.

Tourism is important for Britain but even more important for London. But stark statistics and economic imperatives do not provide the whole picture; we must look behind the figures. To the casual observer, London as a business and leisure destination has few rivals. It is one of the most highly regarded, frequently visited and best loved cities in the world, not least because of its culture, heritage and pageantry which are such intrinsic parts of the city. The visitor has a choice of five world-class symphony orchestras —more than in any other city—or can see art galleries and collections which rank among the world's finest. London has twice as many museums as Paris and twice as many theatre-goers as New York. Arguably London is also the financial and commercial capital of Europe. Last year, more than 17 million people from Britain and abroad were drawn to London. It is estimated that by the end of the year nearly 16 million people will have visited London for business or for pleasure. That is in spite of the dampening effect of the Gulf War and the recession.

Having set all that information before the House, your Lordships may ask what has prompted me to address the subject tonight. Indeed, noble Lords may ask whether there is a subject to address. As with statistics, so with the picture that I have just painted of London; it shows only part of the scene. Sadly, if one looks closely one can see cracks appearing in the varnish. Those cracks must be addressed before they become so severe that a little remedial touching up will be insufficient and our landscape of London will require full scale restoration.

We should be proud of London, and I am sure that most people are. However, if London is to maintain the pre-eminence that I have described it needs more than just pride; it needs an injection of money, time, care and action. If not it will stagnate and eventually succumb to competition. I do not want your Lordships to believe that the competition will come simply from abroad. Increasingly, it is coming from within Britain itself. However, it is important to note that the imminent introduction of the Single Market will have major ramifications and that Paris is a usurper across the Channel.

I do not want anyone to believe that I begrudge the development of other British cities. One cannot but applaud the rejuvenation of Glasgow and the entrepreneurial spirit of Birmingham, to give only two examples. Our other major regional centres must grow, improve and thrive. That this is happening is excellent for Britain: that it is happening to the detriment of London is not. I said earlier that not only is London our capital city but it is also the major gateway to the United Kingdom. Approximately 80 per cent. of visitors arrive in London and just less than two-thirds stay here. It is important for Britain and for the United Kingdom as a whole that the gateway role should be assured and that London should retain its drawing power. That is important not only for London but for Britain as a whole.

Unfortunately, many of London's institutions and symbols are under threat. Birmingham has already snapped up the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company and the D'Oyly Carte Company. As most of your Lordships know, the Royal Opera House lurches from one financial crisis to another. We are on the verge of losing London Zoo and if bus deregulation goes ahead we shall also lose one of London's most potent symbols —the red double decker. Cuts in the Army could mean a reduction in, and even the loss of, some of our pageantry.

More importantly, there has been a proliferation of new exhibition and conference facilities throughout Britain during recent years. In each case the facilities are heavily subsidised by the local authority concerned. That is not merely a manifestation of civic will but a recognition of the prestige and extensive economic benefits which accrue to the town or city as a result. The same is true of similar facilities throughout Europe and indeed the world. However, it is not true of London.

The majority of the world's capital cities have tourist boards which receive a high degree of municipal funding. Many other cities' tourist boards, particularly in Europe and North America, are also heavily subsidised. When set against the pinnacle of Rome's 85 per cent. subsidy or America's 63 per cent. average, London's 9 per cent. is a major stumbling block to effective promotion. Also, the London Tourist Board's case is worse because the grant has been cut by 25 per cent. for the second year running. That is a total reduction of £160,000 since 1990.

The board receives money from its members and pursues every avenue of commercial activity and income generation. However, the grant remains an important part of the board's budget because it amounts to one third of its core funding. Further cuts would threaten its very existence, making it impossible for the board to carry out its basic remit.

LTB receives its grant from the London Boroughs Grants Committee. This year it did not set its budget until May, thus delaying the LTB budget. That is not a circumstance designed to facilitate long-term planning, financial stability or confidence. What is more, members of the LBGC believe that it is an inappropriate channel through which to fund the board. The committee does not believe that that should be its role.

Your Lordships may say that London can do what other cities —for example, Birmingham, Chicago or Paris—do; namely, provide the grant from central municipal funding. That is the problem. What is central municipal funding or what is the central municipality? There is not one. London is a factionalised and fractionalised kaleidoscope of separate boroughs and cities, all pulling in different directions. Indeed, the LTB itself is one of London's few unifying factors, linking as it does the private and public sectors with the boroughs. That is why the financial integrity of the LTB is so important and why every effort must be made to find the proper source of municipal funding for it.

For how much longer will London's conference and exhibition centres remain competitive without proper support? The present system of municipal fragmentation removes any economic imperative and militates against success.

Business travel is an important part of tourism revenue. One- third of what overseas visitors spend falls in that sector. But let us face it: why should the City subsidise the Barbican conference centre when the majority of the economic spin offs, through expenditure in hotels, restaurants, shops, theatres and so on, benefit other boroughs? I am sure that that is the question which the City asks.

Many boroughs are unaware of the extent to which their citizens benefit from the tourist industry and feel that they do not need to contribute to its administration. In fact, many citizens may be working and earning a living from tourism—working in one borough but living in another.

The effective promotion of London as a destination for both business and leisure is imperative. No other organisation at this moment is as well placed to promote that as the LTB. It is ludicrous that London's official tourist board is forced to lurch from one financial crisis to another. That prevents it doing its proper job. Something better is needed, and needed now, if we are to stop the slow but inexorable undermining of our capital city.

When the GLC was in existence it provided one-third of the board's core funding. Its abolition left the board to the mercy of the London Boroughs Grants Committee and, as I said, the committee is unwilling to support the board financially and demonstrated that by reducing the grant by 25 per cent. in 1990 and by a further 25 per cent. this year. If that continues, the board will be severely handicapped. It is up to the Government to see that municipal core funding is safeguarded.

When the GLC funded the LTB, the money came from the business rate. Some of the rate was paid by the businesses connected with the tourist industry and, therefore, the LTB was entitled to that grant. The business rate is now centrally controlled. Therefore, it is up to the Government to see that an adequate portion of the London business rate goes to the London Tourist Board to support its work. I await the Minister's reply.

6.16 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, began by referring as he did to the late Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who was a great friend of many of us and who did an enormous amount for tourism in London. I am glad also that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is making his maiden speech. I too wish him well. His late father was a great friend of many of us.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, asked whether there was a subject for discussion. I am sure that there is. It will be seen from this debate that it is very important. The noble Lord quoted some statistics and I believe we should go on from that because the same extension of those statistics, as published by the British Tourist Authority, shows that by 1995, even by simple extrapolation, there will be 22 million visitors to this country, spending something like £11 billion, and that 60 per cent. of that will be spent in the London area. Therefore, we are talking about a vast industry.

Some of us prefer to extend tourism. It is better represented by the word "Hospitality" because hospitality combines hotels, restaurants, leisure and tourism. In the area of hospitality the situation is not all bad, and, in my view, will not be solved solely by money. In fact in London alone in the hospitality industry something like 1,000 new jobs are being created per month at present.

In the short time available this evening I wish to mention two subjects. One is very satisfactory and the other is a problem on which I hope the Government will give an opinion. The first concerns the London Tourist Manpower Project, which has been set up to encourage job seekers to think positively about hospitality. The most important action that that has taken, as I see it, is the Springboard Initiative, which was launched in July last year to promote job and career opportunities available in London. I have already mentioned the large number of available jobs. This is a remarkable combination of the public and private sectors solving a common problem.

With its premises in central London, staffed and supported by industry and government, Springboard is therefore a "one-stop shop" offering career advice, actual jobs and training, all under one roof. Thanks to the dedication of those involved with the London Tourist Manpower project and Springboard, plus their sponsors and supporters, the Minister, and indeed the country, have an asset of which they can be justly proud.

The second issue with which I wish to deal is more complicated. It was brought to my attention by the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain, of which I am Honorary Patron. I have spoken about the organisation before. The issue concerns the muddle regarding service charges.

Fortunately there is a growing tendency to publish menus with prices, as is the almost universal practice in continental Europe, where the prices are all inclusive of taxes and service and there is no additional tipping. Unfortunately it is a grey area in the UK. If some menus are all inclusive and some are not there is a disparity in prices. Catering is a competitive industry. Some restaurants either pretend that service is not included when it is. or leave the credit card open, which implies something and leaves the customer in doubt. All that is unsatisfactory.

When one buys shoes or clothes one tries them on and obtains advice from the sales staff. The cost of the garment or whatever one wishes to buy includes the cost of the serving staff. There is no additional charge. The same should apply in restaurants, as it does in France. I realise that we often quote France, but it is the high point in the catering industry, although I am glad to say that the UK is fast catching up in standards and quality. In some cases it definitely exceeds French standards.

The ideal would be for service to be included. The leaders of the restaurant industry believe that anything is better than the present muddle with customers confused and competition distorted. A code of practice does not work and regulation is essential. That would make a level playing field; it would be respected by all people and all parties and bring the practice into line with that in continental Europe. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will be able to respond positively on that point.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, it is with great trepidation that I rise to speak, realising that there are many in this House who are far more knowledgeable on this and many other subjects than I. Tourism in London earns more for Britain than North Sea oil. In 1990 foreign visitors spent £4,360 million. Tourist service industries employed 200,000 Londoners—7 per cent. of the working population.

The success of the industry is in no small measure due to the work of the London Tourist Board and its effort to promote the capital abroad. As the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, illustrated, the problems faced by the London Tourist Board are basically associated with a change in the provision of funding. I shall avoid that issue in view of the traditions of this House concerning controversial maiden speeches. But I would like to congratulate the board on its success in attracting visitors to the capital.

London draws so many visitors because of its rich cultural, architectural and historical heritage. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe; almost two-thirds of the foreign visitors who come to England venture no further than the confines of the capital, trapped by seeing the obligatory landmarks that are synonymous with London. Considering that, it would be inappropriate to suggest further promotion of attractions that are already so popular. However, there is one area that has enormous potential to attract tourists away from the major sites, and that is archaeology.

York has shown how popular archaeology can be through the success of the Yorvic Viking Centre. That exhibition, set up by the York Archaeological Trust, is based around a natural excavation that is on display along with a reconstruction of a Viking village based on the interpretation of that excavation. Of the 2.5 million people who visit York, almost 900,000 visit the centre. Indeed the centre has been so successful that it is no AT in a position to fund further archaeological activity in the city.

A similar project, the Tower Hill Pageant, backed by private investment with consultations supplied by the Museum of London, is being planned for the capital and hopefully will be equally successful. The success of the Viking centre clearly shows that one of the major attractions of many tourist sites is their history. The archaeological sites in London should be seen as potentially profitable tourist attractions that must be preserved. The Rose Theatre is the most obvious example of a site that, with access, could become a major tourist attraction.

Archaeology in the city faces a time of crisis. There has been a gradual decrease in the commitment to the funding of archaeology. The grant to the Museum of London from English Heritage for archaeological work has remained constant at £1 million per annum while the grant that used to be supplied by the GLC has fallen steadily. An indication of the drop is shown by the funding supplied to the Greater London Archaeological Survey. Its grant for 1990 was £1,440,000 as against the grant for 1991, which fell to £682,000, while there has been no corresponding drop in the work needing to be carried out in that period.

The drop in funding also led to a fall in the number of archaeologists employed by the Museum of London. A peak of over 400 employed in 1990 has fallen to the present level of 180. The fall is largely due to the collapse of the building industry caused by the recession, funds for excavation being mainly supplied by building contractors. It is unfortunate that many sites can only be explored as a prelude to their destruction. Realising that, it would be unfortunate if the state of the economy could affect the quality of work carried out, which, as Yorvic has shown, is of interest and educational value to so many. As almost half the visitors to the Museum of London are from overseas, the interest in the archaeological heritage of the capital is hardly in doubt. Investment now could reap rich rewards in the future.

The, profitable nature of the tourist industry can hardly be in question. Though the industry is vulnerable to outside influences such as the Gulf war and the recession, which caused an estimated loss of earnings of around £500 million, the industry is quick to recover. It is therefore seen as unfair in some respects that, as tourism is so profitable, funding for services used mainly by tourists should be provided by local and central government. One way of defraying the cost of services such as the financing of the tourist board, the upkeep of galleries and the maintenance of public buildings or even the funding of archaeological activities would be to introduce a 1 per cent. hotel tax to be paid by the visitors who use them. Although I realise that hotel prices in the capital are some of the highest in Europe, the extra charge would be minimal. The money generated, if used to fund the arts, could help them to combat the financial stringencies that many institutions suffer.

I have tried to draw attention to an area that has potential for tourism. However, without wishing to be controversial, I should like to point out the dangers to the tourist industry posed by the proposed cuts to the Army's ceremonial commitment. One figure used to promote London abroad, underlying the city's historical and ceremonial heritage, is the guardsman. It would be difficult to calculate the effect on tourism that would be caused by a reduction in the scale of the Army's commitment to such events as the Trooping of the Colour or cuts to the massed bands. The loss in revenue to the Treasury arising from a fall in tourism could make such cuts a false economy.

I have tried to stress the potential importance of archaeology in the tourist industry. I thank noble Lords for their patience.

6.30 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I commence on behalf of the whole House in warmly congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on his most impressive and authoritative maiden speech. The noble Lord is well qualified to speak on the importance of archaeology in Britain after his recent graduation in 1989 from Newcastle University with a degree in archaeology. The noble Lord is playing his own important role in the promotion of tourism in Britain in his involvement with the launch shortly of "Argo", which is a reconstructed Greek vessel. That is to be used by children in London for educational purposes as well as for the promotion of archaeology.

I understand that the noble Lord is the youngest Member of your Lordships' House. As one who took his seat at the age of 21, I an well appreciate his nerves. I could not have been more nervous when I first took my seat. The way in which the noble Lord effected his maiden speech was with calmness and serenity. We certainly look forward to many more speeches from him. It is also worth mentioning that the noble Lord has an interest in the environment and mental health. We hope he will speak to these subjects in your Lordships' House soon.

It is perhaps opportune that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, has introduced today's debate within the peak period of the tourist industry of July to September. Clearly tourism has emerged as one of Britain's most important industries providing work directly for nearly 1.5 million people and contributing almost 4 per cent. to Britain's gross domestic product. Statistics from recent tourism surveys on the growing numbers of overseas visitors to Britain, and the increases in revenue derived, make impressive reading.

While I welcome the valuable contribution that tourism makes to the creation of jobs and to our balance of payments, I also believe that attention needs to be paid to the effects of tourism on the environment. I want that to be my major theme today. The former Archbishop of Canterbury bemoaned last year the wear and tear caused by visitors to Canterbury Cathedral. I support the guidelines issued last year by the English Tourist Board to both domestic and overseas tourists to behave more politely and responsibly when visiting popular attractions. Apart from the serious threat to the state of repair of the major tourist attractions around Britain, the consequences of clogged roads, dirty streets and long queues at popular sightseeing locations pose a major challenge to the local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, has raised the important issue of government funding for the national and regional tourist boards, particularly the London Tourist Board. It appears that Government policy towards tourism over the past few years has been to cut the amount of state support and to encourage private sector finance. Nevertheless, I hasten to add that the Government should be congratulated for the grants made earlier this year to the British Tourist Authority, as well as to the national and regional tourist boards, of £1.6 million following the sharp slump in tourism during and after the Gulf war.

I welcome the campaign aimed at ensuring that United Kingdom residents are aware of the opportunities of taking their holidays in Britain rather than abroad. I hope that national and regional tourist boards will concentrate on endeavouring to redirect tourists from the major tourist attractions, such as Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, to other areas in Britain. Clearly the spreading of the load to other areas and at different times of the year will involve an intense marketing approach. One area which I feel has a huge potential growth is the waterways around Britain. I understand that there are several thousand miles of waterways which could provide enormous tourism benefits to many overseas tourists.

Perhaps the Minister can outline the findings of the national taskforce which the Government set up last year to look at ways in which the effects of tourism on the environment can be minimised. On a more specific environmental question, can the Minister say what plans the Government have to improve the state of the beaches around Britain?

A common sight on the streets of London is puzzled tourists asking policemen and passers-by for directions. Considering the huge growth in Japanese and oriental tourists visiting Britain, and London in particular, would it not be helpful, and money well spent, for the tourist boards and local authorities to provide signposts both in English and foreign languages? I also believe that, apart from Westminster Council, there is a massive deficiency of refuse bins around London. It is vital that Britain sustains international confidence as a tourist destination. I believe that the authorities in London should be congratulated on how efficiently they have managed to co-ordinate the security arrangements for the G7 Summit.

As the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. mentioned, despite the massive attraction of London with its many museums, world class orchestras, theatres and art galleries as well as its pageantry and heritage, it cannot hope to maintain its position as a magnet for commercial, leisure and business travel interests unless there is investment in its infrastructure with properly planned and co-ordinated developments. To that end, it is essential that the tourist boards are properly funded to promote the capital both at home and abroad. I look forward to what the Minister has to say as regards the Government's plans for future funding of the tourist boards. I am a firm believer in the growth of the tourist industry in Britain.

6.38 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, one in eight Londoners is dependent in some way on tourism for his employment. That has never been clearer to us than at the present time. The chairman of the London Tourist Board comments in the annual report: Without tourists, many of our theatres, historic attractions and museums would close, our restaurants and hotels would go out of business. and the traditions and vitality of London that we take pride in would be lost". I believe that to be very true. The London Tourist Board has been doing a very good job in maintaining standards and the awareness of people. No doubt the House is familiar with the main aims of the board. but I shall summarise them. They are: to influence the development of London's infrastructure and facilities for the benefit of residents and visitors alike; to promote tourism to London from the UK and Overseas; to provide an information service to Londoners and British and Overseas visitors". At this point perhaps I may say that my husband served as a member of the London Tourist Board in his capacity as a Westminster councillor and member of the London Boroughs Grants Committee—the controversial body that has been mentioned many times today.

The London Boroughs Grants Committee is not the body which should be funding the London Tourist Board. It was by chance that when the GLC was abolished and the funding of many voluntary bodies was transferred to the London boroughs there was quite a large amount of money that was not immediately earmarked for anyone else. Therefore, in the early days the London Tourist Board did quite well in obtaining what was almost a surplus fund at that time. But, of course, as time has gone by the pressing needs of other voluntary bodies have become much greater. Nowadays demands are great and I can understand the London Boroughs Grants Committee cutting the grant to the London Tourist Board. The money is needed for other projects. The tourist board does not fit well into a social services type structure of funding. I should like to see the board funded more directly.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said that he would like the Government to see municipal funding continued. I think I quote him correctly. I do not favour municipal funding. I believe that it should come from central funding. This is in the interests of the whole nation. As has been said by other speakers, it is not merely a matter for London; London is the gateway to the whole of the United Kingdom.

However, there is a love-hate relationship in London between the people who live here and those who visit. As has been said, we all need tourists. However, when we get too many they become an inconvenience. No one finds tourists inconvenient at present because there are not enough of them. We are crying out for more—until it gets to the point when one has to queue in one's bank! I can remember the famous is journalist George Hutchinson writing an article years ago, when he had to wait too long at his pub or his bank, asking where all those dashed tourists were coming from. They were ruining his life in London. George is no longer with us, but the same feelings are still quite strongly held by a number of people today. Yet the income from tourism is enormously valuable. As I said, one in eight Londoners is directly dependent on tourism for continued employment.

We are seeing a very difficult situation in London at the moment, apart from the funding. London is almost pricing itself out of the market. I have spoken to friends who have come from America to visit London. I have asked their views on what is happening here. They say, "We are stunned by the price of London hotels". Yet I know through other sources that major hotels in the centre of London are still discounting their rates even now. One can get a room in a very good hotel in London for very much less than the published rate. However, tourists arriving in London do not know that, unless they come on a package tour.

I spoke to a friend who arrived today from the United States. Last time she visited us she brought her two children with her. This time she is here on business. She said, "Frankly, if I were looking for a vacation with the children I would not consider comic g to London because there are so many alternatives available where I can get much better value for my children and myself. I am here on business this time so the rate doesn't matter so much, but the hotels are extremely expensive". The hotel industry must bear that in mind. Whatever service one is supplying, if that service gets to a point where it is uncompetitive people will only use it if they have to, and not as a matter of choice.

I make one other point. London has always had a reputation for having bright and breezy, cheerful Londoners. That has had a special appeal to visitors. Gloomy faces are not acceptable. I am sure many of your Lordships will remember the time in New York when things were desperately bad. Everyone in New York thought they were going bankrupt. That was when they introduced "Have a nice day" and "Wear a big smile". For a year or two that worked very well, but I cannot comment on the present situation. We have certainly been going through a bad patch here. But it is time to show that British spirit, so valued throughout the world, of smiling when things are not so good. That will help us to attract more people because that is the British spirit which is so admired throughout the world.

Last week another American friend visited the British Museum on a Sunday. He made a mistake in the opening hours and arrived at the museum at 12 noon. However, he was glad because that meant that he was at the head of the queue. By the time the museum opened the queue was miles down the street. He said, "That means you've got it wrong in terms of your opening hours, because when the museum eventually opened I did not have enough hours to see what I wanted to see. I would have been prepared to pay more to have had a whole day in the museum, or at least much longer than I did. With that short opening time and that great queue, the people at the end would barely have had time to see anything". That obviously needs thinking about. My friend was surprised that we did not charge for all our museums. He thought that the British Museum could have charged more and that those same people would still have queued because they desperately wanted to see the museum.

Mention has been made of the number of people who trek through many of our special attractions. Three million visitors a year visit Westminster Abbey. The point has now been reached where the 13th century Cosmati pavement has to be covered because it is so much at risk from visitors. Sadly, I did not get to see it myself during the very short time it was uncovered earlier this year. I should like to have seen it and I hope to do so next time it is uncovered. A conflict exists between the tourist and the environment. The more tourists there are, the greater the strain on the structure of buildings. That also applies to our open spaces and the environment.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, referred to the need for multi-language signs. I was impressed last week to see in one of the famous London stores a multi-language guide. One pressed a button indicating the language required. Information was then flashed up on a computerised screen in the chosen language, advising the customer where to obtain the items required. I was very impressed. We must see more of those aids for visitors.

The work done by the London Tourist Board is effective. As Londoners we must do everything we can to welcome people to this country; not least, as I said, by looking happily rather than unhappily upon them. However, we must get our own house in order and be sure that we do not price ourselves out of the market. The Government could do a great deal to help by ensuring that the London Tourist Board carries on the good work that it is doing. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, for bringing this matter before the House.

6.49 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, at the outset I must declare an interest as an adviser to and a pensioner of the British Tourist Authority. Also at the outset I should like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to our discussions. I found his speech particularly appealing in that, as so often happens in this House, he mentioned a point that no one else had thought of. He broadened our debate by rightly pointing out the role that archaeology can play in developing tourism.

We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, for giving us the opportunity tonight to debate tourism, particularly tourism in London. The noble Lord made the point extremely well on the contribution that tourism makes to employment, to the balance of payments, to the economy and—as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes said—to our lifestyle as Londoners. Those arguments were put so well that I need not repeat them. The noble Lord stressed that visitor numbers are important. I should like to add that what visitors spend is paramount.

While the British Tourist Authority and the London Tourist Board both have a major role to play in promotion, I believe that there is hardly a government agency or even government department, if one overlooks the departments of state for Wales and for Scotland, which does not also have a role to play in ensuring that London is a tourism success. Their roles may not be direct but they have an important part to play in ensuring that London is visitor friendly—another point made by my noble friend Lady Gardner—or perhaps I should say user friendly.

At the end of the day, no matter what we do for the London Tourist Board, the British Tourist Authority or any other statutory body in the tourism business, the satisfied customer is our best marketing tool. The Government have recognised that over the years and have helped our path in a number of welcome ways, not just through support for the authority and the board. More specifically, they have helped through the reform of our licensing laws, with the optional extra opening hours, and through the Tower of London being opened on a Sunday, although admittedly not until next year. That is an extremely welcome development, as is the plan announced by the Department of the Environment to make the tower a more tourist friendly place. I share the view expressed by the friend of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that it is a great pity that other institutions do not open for longer periods on a Sunday. I have in mind the Tate and the National Gallery.

One must welcome the Government's ongoing support for the transport undertakers, British Rail and London Transport. One does so partly for what it does for tourists and partly for what it does for Londoners. One must also welcome the provisions in last year's Environmental Protection Act in respect of litter which are of the utmost importance in counteracting London's reputation as a dirty city.

There are other things that the Government, the agencies and industry can do in the future to achieve even greater user friendliness. If we follow a typical tourist through his holiday in London we can see that there are still things to be done. I realise that not all of them lie within the remit of my noble friend the Minister.

Let us look first at airports. I was shocked last week to read the MMC's recommendations on BAA's future pricing structure. From reading the report and the press coverage next day, one could not but be worried that the MMC's recommendations could prejudice BAA's ability to invest in terminal capacity, particularly the eventually needed Terminal 5 at Heathrow, which is itself already the world's busiest international airport. I hope that my noble friend will convey my concerns to the Department of Trade and Industry, which I understand has the final say.

Inside the terminal we need to look at immigration and how friendly that is. As United Kingdom citizens we have a pretty easy ride. European Community citizens, such as my wife from Holland, have a pretty easy ride too. In fact, UK and EC citizens had the little known privilege in the old days of being able to switch channels. If there were a lot of Brits one could pretend that one was an EC citizen; my wife being an EC citizen could hang on my arm and say "He is British". But that has now disappeared. While it does not affect the EC citizen very much, we know when we arrive on intercontinental flights how long it can take a non-EC customer to get through immigration at Heathrow.

Also we not only need signs for our tourist attractions but better signposting in our terminals to make them more user friendly. The noble Lord, Lord St. John, and other noble Lords touched on that. There may well be an international standard.

While there is a problem in immigration, I do not think there is a problem at Customs. The red and green channels are universally understood. I hope that we can find a way of having a slightly more flexible manning policy so that if there are long queues on one side of the immigration hall and no queues on another, the immigration officers themselves can be given short-term transfers from one desk to another to alleviate the problem.

Once through immigration and Customs a visitor needs to reach London. One hopes that, by 1995–96, we shall have the Heathrow Express link. We already have the Gatwick Express. We also have the Stansted Express service connecting to that quite superb airport which has done for international airports what the Forth Bridge did for railway bridges a century ago. However, we still have terrible road access problems, particularly to Heathrow. It was a consultation exercise by the Government in the mid-1980s that eventually came up with the idea of the Heathrow Express. That consultation exercise also recommended road improvements in HASWQAD—the Heathrow and South Western Quadrant access. The Government seem to have gone quiet on that front, yet those noble Lords who motor towards the M.4 will know how desperately difficult it is to get beyond Heathrow, let alone to reach it, during many periods of the day. If my noble friend cannot respond on that point, perhaps he will ask one of his colleagues elsewhere to write to me to explain what is going on.

My visitor has reached London. His first requirement is a bed. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, mentioned the bed-and-breakfast industry. There is a desperate shortage of this popular and appealing product. It is user friendly, which I want, and value for money, which my noble friend Lady Gardner wants. Yet we are in danger of killing the business by inflicting upon it over-zealous hygiene standards in terms of kitchens. I fully appreciate that there have been food problems such as listeria. I appreciate that hotels, public houses and other sectors of the hospitality industry have had these problems. However, to apply to a bed-and-breakfast operation the standards that one applies to the Savoy is overdoing it, not least because the people who cook the food in the bed-and-breakfast establishment will eat it with their guests. They have a vested interest in keeping the kitchen clean.

At the same time I hope that the hotel sector will take account of our visitors' language requirements, a point raised by several previous speakers. They do not all speak English. It is important that the hospitality industry should do its best to ensure that its staff not only have linguistic skills but what one might call a degree of cultural knowledge. I had the pleasure at a garden party last week of meeting a diplomat from southern Africa. He was somewhat shocked to be offered cucumber sandwiches because in the country from which he comes cucumber, being a vegetable, is regarded as the lowest form of life. He wondered why he could not have different food. One needs to be aware of that kind of problem when entertaining foreign visitors. When we entertain at home we know our visitors' requirements. The hospitality industry needs also to take steps to ensure that it is aware that our culture is not all-prevalent.

Our visitor will obviously require transport. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, mentioned deregulation. I am not afraid of deregulation for the operation of buses, although I agree that we should protect the big red Lone on bus which is a powerful marketing tool. More importantly, what concerns me about deregulation is the effect it could have on travel cards. We know from events in Tyne and Wear that deregulation of buses caused something very close to a collapse of the area-wide travel card and inter-line ticket schemes. If we deregulate, we must take steps to ensure that travel cards are not lost to our visitors.

At the same time our visitor requires information. Another problem arising from the deregulation of buses is that it becomes increasingly difficult for the visitor, or indeed the Londoner, to obtain information about the transport products on offer. One can take the point wider. There was a time when the British Rail timetable held a good deal of bus information relating to places where its trains did not run. British Rail has had to take out a good deal of that information because it could no longer guarantee its quality. The information could be out of date by the time it was printed. If we deregulate I hope that we shall defend the travel card, the inter-line ticket and the information service as we defend the London Transport map, a major visitor tool in its many language version, its London visitor guides in a number of languages and its excellent telephone inquiry service.

We must continue to seek an acceptable form of Sunday trading reform not least to take account of the ever-increasing number of our visitors who are weekend visitors. As I said in my opening remarks, spend is paramount. One cannot spend if the shops are shut. I hope that the Government, who I know are working on this, will not be disheartened by some of the negatives they hear and will seek to pursue a compromise that is acceptable to everyone.

We must also address the problem of ticket touts, not least because our visitors often come from countries where ticket agencies in particular are much more regulated than they are here. It is a major problem, as one can gather by just looking at the British Tourist Authority's complaints and correspondence files, the London Tourist Board's files and even those of the Society of West End Theatres. People feel that they are being ripped off. They go home and tell their neighbours; and we do not then have satisfied customers but dissatisfied customers. The satisfied customer is our greatest marketing tool; the dissatisfied customer is our greatest marketing threat. I hope that the DTI and the Home Office, which I know are pursuing the subject, will address the problem.

There are many other problems too. There is the possible privatisation of the Royal parks. I hope that that will not reduce their attraction, because they are a major attraction. There is then the ongoing problem of coach parking which has been talked about for as long as I can remember. There is the use that we do not make of our river behind us, which has a role to play as a transport artery and as a tourist attraction.

But whatever the problems that we address, I still believe that the tourist boards and the industry must work together to resolve them. I have welcomed support from the Government for the tourist boards. Here I come back to the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. The financing arrangements need not necessarily be changed—although I believe that change is needed—but the problem is one of long-term financial planning. The noble Lord mentioned that the London Tourist Board did not get its budget until April or May. I can remember an occasion when the British Tourist Authority did not get its grant in aid specified until October; so the London Tourist Board is doing quite well.

To enable my friends in the tourist industry to do a better job, I hope that the Government will have an ongoing commitment to finance the boards and also a commitment that enables them to plan their finances two or three years ahead. I believe we are almost all in agreement on that.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I find myself at something of a disadvantage as I approach this debate from a general interest point of view. I have been bombarded from all sides by a great deal of knowledge in particular areas. However, something that occurred to me before the start of the debate was that the problems of tourism are not far removed from the problems of a London citizen who never sees a tourist. He would probably have to be living in one of the outer suburbs and wearing thick sunglasses to manage such a feat, but ultimately the problems that affect tourists affect everyone else in the city.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, mentioned signposting. It is a ploy, I presume, of map-makers to make sure that everyone is totally dependent on maps the whole time. One can go round any suburb playing hunt the street sign. It is a game that everyone plays in London. One sees people staring blankly at walls and thinking, having just entered a new road, that there should be a sign there.

The problem is difficult enough for someone who speaks English. Those who speak a foreign language or who come from nations with a different letter structure, for instance, from the Orient, find the task virtually impossible. The same is true at bus stops. I have stood at bus stops and wondered whether it was the bus stop in X road. There is no street sign and no sign on the bus stop. "Where am I?" The public transport system is not being efficiently used.

To pick up something said by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, people feel like killing tourists at times. Yes, but it is not very easy for a party of 30 school children desperately trying to be transported across London who do not know where they are, or when to get on or off a bus. I have seen these parties in total confusion, losing various members as they travel along, and knocking over pensioners or whoever else happens to be getting on to the bus. It is total chaos. Some form of sign telling people where they are would be a good start to any transport policy.

The noble Baroness spoke about the problem of accommodation in London. We have a reflection of the insane spiralling of prices for rented accommodation and housing. That has undoubtedly been a contributory factor towards the situation in the hotel and bed and breakfast industry. People face such high initial costs that they have to charge high prices. The matter must be addressed. If we allow the free market to take its course we may find ourselves, at the end of a recession, especially in the lower end of the market, having virtually no accommodation available for people. Then there will be a rocketing of prices again.

This is an area where the London Tourist Board possibly has a co-ordinating role, if nothing else. If there is to be a board, it must be able to plan in advance, as the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, said. If you stagger from one crisis to another, you will only deal with a few problems at the front of the queue. Unless you can make some form of long-term plan, you are ultimately only going to deal with the thing that is directly in front of you, regardless of what is pushing it from behind, so that we will never deal with all of the problems. It is like going to a house that needs underpinning but has a new coat of paint to cover the cracks. It will fall down eventually with or without new paint.

In his excellent maiden speech my noble friend Lord Redesdale pointed out that we have to invest in those things that make people want to come to London. London is a city and an area that is swamped in history. Historically, it has been the magnet for most of the wealth in England and now the United Kingdom, and, one hopes, in future the EC. As a result, it is greatly blessed with galleries and theatres. The fact that we have so many theatres with such a variety of plays is a result of the traditional wealth of London. But the fact that they still exist is largely due to the tourist.

Tourists come to London to visit our theatres and museums. Thus, there is a sort of circular flow keeping them together. Unless we ensure that there is enough input to make sure that theatres and museums exist, we will ultimately break that circle and there will be a downward instead of an upward spiral. We must invest in people who are able to maintain our museums and historical monuments at their current high level. We must also exploit all those parts of the system that have not yet had their full potential examined.

The idea of archaeological sites is one that I should have thought would be only too apparent. If only as a short-term attraction, they will still bring in tourists and relieve some of the pressure on historical monuments such as Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. That will make going around these great historical centres a more pleasant experience; once again they will be user friendly.

We have to try to tie in all these areas. We must have a good transport system that is easy to use and that allows people to reach outlying parts of London. That will cut down congestion in the centre of London, enabling people in the centre to use what is there. That will directly affect and improve the quality of life of those who live in London.

It is something of a joke that if you want to see a play and you live in London, you go in the autumn or on a nice, wet day in February when tickets are available. If we find ourselves totally dependent on certain tourist attractions which are guaranteed to bring people in—say, for instance, the Shakespeare productions, the straight plays—we will find ourselves with a Broadway type of production with a few long-running plays where you have to book about 15 months in advance. We must look at the whole problem and draw everything together.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, for drawing our attention to tourism. He could have expanded the debate to tourism in the whole of England and tied it in with general living conditions in London and other areas. He did not do so: the subject is too wide. Unless we have an overview of the whole problem, we shall miss major parts of it.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, with his characteristically clear speech the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, has given your Lordships an opportunity to discuss an important topic. This is the time of year when tourism is at its height. It is following a world recession which has hit not just tourism and catering in this country but the whole world. As a former chairman of the then London County Council, he is well qualified to speak on a subject such as this.

I have one or two indirect interests to declare. My brother owns a hotel in Scotland in what was my grandparents' former family seat. My son has worked in hotels in Australia and Southern Ireland. Relatives of my wife and myself have been involved in the hotel and catering industry. At the end of the war, during my demobilisation leave, I worked in a hotel for a short time. Despite that, the hotel survived! I am also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Tourism Committee. Some of its members recently visited the London Zoo. The London Zoo attracts many tourists. I am not pleading with the Government to bail it out, because I do not think that that is a matter for the Government. The London Zoo is making tremendous strides in re-establishing itself as a tourist centre. I speak as someone who has never had great enthusiasm for the zoological gardens. Its catering and private amenities bring in a great deal of revenue.

The Motion applies primarily to London. One cannot quarrel with that, because London is the Mecca—if that is the correct word—for many tourists. I was one of a number of parliamentary guests at the British Hotel and Restaurants' Catering Association annual lunch today at which my noble friend the Minister made an excellent speech. I met a number of friends and acquaintances from the hotel industry.

Although a Scot, I was at a table with the chairman of the Wales Tourist Board and a number of Welsh hotel owners. I do not know Wales well, but I was nevertheless bombarded by questions, especially when they knew that I was to speak in tonight's debate. Their cri de Coeur was that the Wales Tourist Board is underfunded compared with the Scottish Tourist Board. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take note of that.

Although, as I said, I do not know Wales well, I have sampled Welsh cooking. Years ago uncomplimentary remarks were made about Welsh cooking, but times have changed. British catering as a whole has changed. Many of London's leading hotels now have chefs, male and female, from this country; whereas 30 years ago, when I first took my seat in your Lordships' House, irreverent remarks were made about hotels with British chefs. People would run a mile from them. It was said that the British cannot cook. How wrong that now is.

I have links with New Zealand. A number of New Zealand chefs spend some time at our hotels. I wonder how many of our chefs, and others, go to Commonwealth countries to learn from their expertise, because that could help our tourist industry considerably.

Much has been said about the cost of hotels. What hotels charge is not a matter for this or any other government. I meet a number of visitors who are here on business or pleasure. I, as do other noble Lords and Members of another place, take parties around the House. I have had a number of visitors from America, New Zealand, Australia and Finland, to name but four countries. More and more complaints are now made about high prices. A certain amount of what, in the vernacular, is called wheeling and dealing takes place over hotel prices. That should not be necessary. Why do London hotels charge £170 and £180 a night, including continental breakfast. I am not talking about the full English breakfast, but about a cup of coffee, a roll, muesli and fresh orange juice. We see that priced at £7 or £8 per person. It is not difficult for a hotel to provide such a breakfast. It does not need a chef. It can easily be provided. I hope that someone will take the hint that that type of pricing is a positive disincentive.

During the Gulf conflict, when hotels were desperate for clients, prices were lowered considerably. They have returned to their high levels. Although, as I said, negotiation can take place, that should not be necessary.

I wish to say a word about signposting. I walk from Waterloo station to your Lordships' House every morning. At this time of year I meet a number of tourists. I am asked four or five times by tourists how to get to Buckingham Palace, St. James's Park and so forth. I try to be as courteous and helpful as I can, because if I am in America, Australia or Denmark and I become lost, I ask someone the way. Signposting here is not helpful. In some parts of London, especially around Regent's Park, a great deal of signposting has been done. For all that, much needs to be done.

Now that the litter bins are being replaced on railway stations, Victoria and Waterloo stations are looking smarter. However, until recently some stations were depressing places. There is a lack of assistance for people from overseas when the indicator boards break down. All such problems discourage tourism and I hope that the Government will take note of them.

My noble friend Lord Mountevans mentioned airports. One has to do a great deal of walking to get around Gatwick and Heathrow. Stansted is an example of a well-planned airport, but I have strong links with the Commonwealth and as one who is keen on it, I find it depressing that Commonwealth citizens have to go through a separate entrance. EC citizens take precedence. Surely, even after 1992, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand citizens should not have to face that. If one compares our signposting with that of some Scandinavian airports it is apparent that ours could be considerably improved.

As a nation we have much to offer tourists. Our hotels are improving considerably, particularly in the rural areas. Attractions like weekend breaks exist not only for our own citizens but for tourists, and they are extremely useful. This is an interesting subject. We are not only asking the Government to help the tourist industry but hoping to persuade others to do so. At a time of financial stringency it is not right for the Government to pour money into the industry but they can encourage bodies like the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association of which I, like many noble Lords, am a member. When such bodies come here, we should persuade them not only to go to the London hotels and the large hotels elsewhere but also to the smaller ones, many of them family-owned. They not only give excellent meals with courtesy, but do so at reasonable prices. It is not just the large hotels that need assistance at times of recession but also the small family hotels. That is an aspect which this, or any other government, must take on board.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I begin by acknowledging with appreciation the kind remarks made by many Members of your Lordships' House at the sad absence of a figure prominent in debates on tourism over many years—that is, our late and much lamented colleague, Lord Ponsonby. I am sure that his son, Fred, who has taken his place in your Lordships' House, will very much appreciate the warmth of the comments that have been made. I have taken over Lord Ponsonby's portfolio for tourism for the Labour Front Bench and I echo those words. Like all other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, for seizing the opportunity for the debate and for introducing it so well. I believe that it has been genuinely welcomed by the Minister since it provides him with an all too rare opportunity for departing from the briefs with which he deals with distinction and concentrating on tourism.

I am delighted to have heard the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Many people said not only what a fine speech it was but how wonderful that at a young age he will clearly make a contribution to the proceedings of your Lordships' House. I am certain that that contribution will not be restricted to tourism but will cover many other subjects.

I begin with words used in another context: we have come here not to bury tourism but to praise it. Not a Member of your Lordships' House would not wish to acknowledge and be proud to proclaim that there is a great deal in our British heritage and in London's heritage and its commitment to tourism that we applaud. However, we shall not improve tourism either in London or in the country by simply acknowledging that we have a wonderful culture and heritage. We must be free to advise the Minister. I am grateful to him for being here this evening so that we may advise him on where we believe the current situation can be improved.

I wish to say a little about the state of the tourist industry. I hope that the Minister has come here prepared to tell the House of the strategy that he and his colleagues have. One of the disquieting comments made to me time and time again when colleagues have been kind enough to advise me of their views on the matter has been—I do not know whether the Minister and his colleagues believe this—that there is a perception that we have no co-ordination in government or outside it of the disparate groups which have responsibility for promoting tourism. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us shortly what is his strategy. I wish him to inform us what is the importance of tourism to the Government. A number of comments have been made about the extent to which government action in recent years through the reduction or termination of grants and in other ways, has been detrimental to tourism.

I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, about prices in London hotels. He accepted that this had nothing to do with the Government but, with great respect, if prices in hotels in London which are detrimental to visiting tourists and to hotels obtaining business have nothing to do with the Government, who is responsible for them? If the London tourist hotels are greedy enough to charge £180 per night with extra for a muesli breakfast, where does the money go? It is not going to the employees because, although I do not wish to disparage it, the industry does not have a record of paying high wages. The Minister must tell us what he and his colleagues are thinking of doing to improve the quality of service given to customers by those who work in the industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, served us well by giving us a great many statistics. There is no need for me to repeat them, especially those relating to London. I was interested in his comment that tourism represents an income to London which is greater than that generated by the City. The City is an entity which can almost be seen, but tourism is disparate. When we talk about what is happening to London tourism we must bear the size of that income in mind.

We must also find out what incoming tourists complain about in London. We have been given a number of illustrations of that. I hope that the Minister will deal with funding for the London Tourist Board. I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, wishes to see greater funding for tourism in London, but not necessarily through this mechanism. I accept that point of view. Those of us who have criticised the mechanism as a way of funding bodies throughout London certainly appreciate the argument that it is not the right means. We are looking at the impact upon London tourism. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he will encourage someone—I say it should be the Government—to give more money to the London Tourist Board to enable it to do its job.

My noble friend Lord Pitt correctly stated that the body charged with promoting tourism in London receives municipal funding to a far lesser extent than those bodies charged with promoting tourism in other countries. The London Tourist Board receives 9 per cent. of its funding from the London Boroughs Grants Committee. The tourist bodies in Copenhagen receive 13 per cent. of their funds from municipal funding. In Paris the figure is 32 per cent., while in Munich it is 41 per cent. and in Madrid 60 per cent. Those figures show us that London has a long way to go as regards such funding.

I echo the views of the London Tourist Board when I say that we lack a voice for London. We lack a body that is charged with trumpeting the cry that London is great. By itself the London Tourist Board is not big enough to undertake the task. Many bodies try to undertake that task. What are the Government doing to fund such bodies, which are in effect doing the job of government in promoting London as a major tourist city?

I shall now turn to the matter of standards. This aspect has been referred to by a number of speakers. Who does the Minister believe is responsible for ensuring that high standards are maintained in our tourist industry? I am not referring to bodies that are willing to be vetted by an in-house organisation. Literally hundreds of thousands of people in this country are part of the tourist industry. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that standards are adequate? Is it the responsibility of local authorities, environmental health officers, tourist boards or some other body? Is it the Government's responsibility? I do not believe that the Government take sufficiently seriously their responsibility to ensure that the standards of the myriad of bodies that make up the tourist industry are monitored. I refer particularly to hotels and restaurants in this connection.

The Government have acted by default in allowing tourism in London to be underfunded. The Government have also withdrawn grants to the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board. The English Tourist Board states: While wholeheartedly endorsing the Secretary of State's aim to improve efficiency and effectiveness, the Board regrets the loss of staff necessary to achieve this objective. Altogether 54 headquarter posts were lost from a total of 174". Does the Minister believe that such action improves our ability to maintain a good tourist industry?

There is also the matter of the prices that are charged in London hotels. I have been told that many firms find it cheaper to send their employees to London by bus, train or air and bring them back the same day than put them up in overnight accommodation in London. Those facts are known to the Government, but what are they doing to redress that silly state of affairs?

The Lothian authority in Scotland has told me that one of its officers has revealed the disparities in the rates of commission charged in the exchange of currency. I am told that the commission which is charged for exchanging currency can vary from as low as 0.5 per cent. to 8 per cent. What do the Government intend to do about that?

I hope that I may make a plea for BTA. That body has 250 members that are concerned with attracting tourists to this country. It is dismayed at the situation over VAT. VAT is charged at 17.5 per cent. in this country. However, many other countries that wish to encourage their tourist industries levy a lower rate of VAT in hotels and restaurants. The Minister is aware of that. I respect BTA as I know that it does a fine job. It has informed me that Belgium charges 6 per cent. VAT in its hotels and restaurants. Greece also charges 6 per cent. Ireland charges 10 per cent., while in the Netherlands it is 6 per cent. again. In Portugal it is 8 per cent. But in this country it is 17.5 per cent. Is the Minister prepared to suggest to his colleagues that the Government need to introduce a different rate of VAT for restaurants and hotels to make their prices as attractive as those charged in other countries? Other countries market themselves more aggressively and far more effectively than we do. New destinations have also opened up as tourist destinations. Eastern Europe is one such; and Euro-Disney is coming on stream.

I am told that the British Tourist Authority lacks credibility with much of the British tourist industry because it has signally failed to produce an effective policy and strategy either for the development of the British product or in marketing it positively either at home or abroad. To what extent do the Government examine not merely what is reported to have been done but what could be done in those areas?

I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the plea made by those involved in the incentive travel business in this country. I declare two interests. I have a long-standing commitment to the Co-operative movement and I also have an association with an incentive travel company. Some weeks ago I invited one of the officials of that company to discuss matters amicably with the Minister. That official has told me that neither the Government nor the British Tourist Authority are doing their job in trying to focus on the international needs of tourism. Can the Minister say whether there has been any improvement in the professionalism of the British Tourist Authority in ensuring that Britain is an attractive venue for incentive travel?

The Minister will appreciate that in the main the recipients of incentive travel have their holidays paid for by their companies. Those people probably have far more money to spend than other tourists who come to this country. The incentive travel business should be encouraged and supported. We believe that the Government could do a great deal more for that business.

Will the Government discuss the directive on package holidays? Shortly they are to issue a consultation paper. The travel industry is waiting to hear more about that. When precisely will that paper be issued? Will the Minister also comment on the licensing body for tour operators? He will know that ABTA has its own problems at this time as regards its ability to continue in its present role. ABTA is worried about the Government's intentions. Will the Government propose the licensing of travel agents? Where do they stand on this matter? Do they have another body in mind to carry out ABTA's work? How is the consumer to be protected in the future?

The Minister is aware that the travel industry has suffered body blows. There have been instances of fraud and companies such as the International Leisure Group have collapsed. I know that the Minister has enjoyed the debate. He recognises that with 10 speakers there are probably more in this debate than there will he on the Finance Bill on Friday. That indicates the extent of the interest stimulated by the Unstarred Question brought forward by my noble friend Lord Pitt.

The Minister is knowledgeable and sympathetic to the needs of the tourist industry. I drew to his attention a plea that has been made to me by a company called Lakewoods which is frustrated by the planning procedures in this country. The company wishes to invest £½million in this country in order to develop holiday villages, which would be welcomed. However, it is being frustrated by the planning procedures, irrespective of the decision. I know that the Minister is sympathetic. Can he say what co-ordination there has been between his department and others concerned?

I conclude by saying that I strongly support tourism. I also very much support the elevation of tourism so that instead of having a tourism Minister we have a Minister for Tourism and a Department of Tourism. That is what we have to compete with in other countries. I believe that we ought to learn from what other countries do successfully. A colleague of mine once said that it is far better to follow a good example than to set a bad one. I believe that the example that we have been set tonight by my noble friend Lord Pitt is to the benefit of the whole House.

7.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, I must begin by expressing my gratitude—and, I am sure, the gratitude of all noble Lords present —to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, for giving us the opportunity to discuss tourism this evening. I welcome his recent appointment as Vice President of the London Tourist Board. I should also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to his predecessor at the board, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. His contribution to the work of the LTB, to London, to tourism and to this House was considerable; he will be sorely missed.

The quality of the contributions to the debate tonight also pays tribute once again to the experience, knowledge, and wisdom vested in this House. I very much welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. He brings with him his own experience and his expertise in archaeology. I made my own maiden speech when I was 24; the noble Lord makes his at the age of 23—just; his birthday is tomorrow. I hope that we shall hear a great deal from him in the future.

Many topics have been raised, and I cannot hope to deal with all of them in the detail which they deserve. I shall try, however, to pick up the main issues as I respond to the debate. I shall, of course, write to noble Lords on the many points and questions which have been put to me.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, asked at the outset what the Government were doing to support and encourage the tourist industry, particularly in London. My answer is very simple: a great deal. And as Minister for tourism, I am very proud of our record.

Tourism contributes over £24 billion to the United Kingdom economy—nearly 5 per cent. of the UK gross domestic product, rather higher than the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, suggested. The United Kingdom is fifth in the world in dollar earnings from international tourism. In 1990 we welcomed some 18 million visitors from overseas to our shores, the fourth record year in succession. They spent £7.7 billion—11 per cent. more than in 1989. Add to that the £10.9 billion our own residents spend on domestic tourism, the £5 billion they spend on day trips and the money our carriers receive from overseas visitors, and the industry's importance to the economy is clear to all.

Tourism is a money earner. It is also a major provider of employment, the third largest sector in the economy, behind financial services and retailing but ahead of the health services and construction. We have seen a 30 per cent. increase in jobs in tourism in the decade to December 1990 —nearly one and a half million jobs, and over 190,000 self employed in the sector. That is a real success story, and one which I am sure will continue.

The value of tourism to London is equally clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said, tourism is worth over £5 billion to the capital, more than 85 per cent. of which comes from overseas visitors. Around 200,000 Londoners work in tourism, and the income from tourists supports many services which benefit London's residents. Also, of course, the business travel sector makes a considerable contribution to London's role as a commercial and financial centre.

The Government have certainly played their part in supporting the industry. In 1990–91 we spent some £530 million on tourism and leisure-related activities in Great Britain, and that excludes the cash injected by local government. A major element was, of course, the money we made available to the national tourist boards, and our commitment to them is clear and continuing. The British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board, supported by my department, will receive £44.2 million this year. Included in that figure is an additional £800,000 for the BTA in recognition of the particular problems the industry faces following the Gulf War. Funding for the BTA and the ETB has risen from £16 million in 1978–79 to the £44.2 million in 1991–92. The amount of grant in aid the boards are receiving this year is 20 per cent. up in real terms on the level of grant they received in 1985–86.

Perhaps I may mention first some of the work of the BTA, for the work of the BTA is of course crucial to the promotion of London overseas as well as Britain as a whole. My noble friend Lord Mountevans has drawn our attention to the good work of the BTA. This year we have given the BTA a grant of £29.5 million which it will augment with £15 million from the private sector. The BTA will use that money to run campaigns to advertise Britain, to run joint marketing initiatives with carriers, hoteliers and other commercial partners, to mount conferences and trade missions to inform the overseas trade and consumer, to publish an enormous variety of print, and to run its 22 overseas offices providing information about Britain direct to the overseas consumer.

The BTA is a very successful organisation. The USA is our biggest tourism market—in 1989 we earned £1.5 billion from US tourism. Last year American travel agents voted the BTA the provider of the best service and sales literature of any national tourism organisation in the US. There is undoubtedly a connection between those facts.

The BTA is not, however, just a marketing organisation. It realises that Britain is trying to hold its own in a tourism market which grows more competitive all the time. To do that we need not only to market our strengths but to correct our weaknesses. It is a vital part of the BTA's role to help the industry to do that. Two recent BTA initiatives illustrate what I mean.

The "Britain Welcomes Japan" campaign aims to increase Japanese visitors from the 600,000 in 1990 to 1,000,000 by the end of 1994. It has involved trade missions and a ministerial visit. The campaign aims to inform British hoteliers, restaurateurs, and tour companies about Japanese tastes and requirements, and disseminate experience and good practice. It has produced a wealth of material about how to welcome the Japanese visitor, his—or more probably her— taste in food, and the facilities they both like in their hotel rooms. All those are things we need to know if we are to attract this very discerning customer.

"Winning Words" is an initiative of a similar type. We suffer because of our insularity. Our European neighbours all speak each others' and our language. How many British receptionists or shop assistants can get by in French or Italian like their continental counterparts? "Winning Words", jointly sponsored by BTA and Thomas Cook, aims to address that by proposing systematic measures which companies can take to improve the language skills of their staff and their future recruits.

As well as providing funds for BTA, I and my colleagues in government also try to make a personal contribution to the selling of Britain aboard. As I said, I went to Japan earlier this year and had very fruitful meetings with both the Japanese Government and airlines and tour operators involved in arranging tours to Britain. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment also made a special visit to the United States this spring, immediately after the Gulf war, to lend his weight to BTA's campaign. He particularly sought to reassure United States markets that Britain was a safe destination and to emphasise that with more favourable exchange rates and the many good deals around it need not be an expensive one either.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister telling the House of the initiatives to improve, for instance, the quality of receptionists and other staff. However, does anyone monitor to what extent such initiatives permeate through the industry? If the recipients of those benefits are volunteers—in other words, they can take it or leave it—are the Government aware that there may be whole swathes within the industry which are not preparing themselves to be good competitors?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government are concerned about the competitiveness of the industry, but it is for the industry and employers to train their staff. It is through encouragement and the setting of good codes of practice—BTA, for instance, has adopted the "Winning Words" initiative—that the industry's perception of itself will be improved and the necessary training carried out.

Perhaps I may now turn to the domestic scene, to the English Tourist Board and to London. Tourism is of course affected by the prevailing economic circumstances and the industry has experienced more difficulties in 1990 and 1991 than it did in, say, 1989. But I have faith in the underlying strength of the industry—an industry which has achieved spectacular and sustained growth, which has attained a pre-eminent position in the national economy and, above all, which has shown the ability to shrug off the effects of previous crises. That faith gives rise to a real commitment to the industry, a commitment which is showy in the extra £800,000 that I made available to the ETB earlier this year for its "Britain's Great" campaign and in the £14.7 million that I am granting to the board in the current year to promote tourism in Englald.

Investment in London has held up particularly well during the past two years. To take one example, major investment in new hotels during the second half of 1990 totalled £377 million, compared with £273 million in the second half of 1989. Among recent major hotel developments were the opening of the Langham Hilton and the refurbishment of the Dorchester, while currently under construction are a number of prestigious new hotels, including the London Metropole and the Windsor. Several exciting attractions have also come on stream recently such as the restored Queen's House in Greenwich, the re-opened Courtauld Gallery in its new home, Somerset House, and brand new developments such as the Beatles Revolution in Piccadilly and the Rubber Works in Covent Garden. Investors therefore still show a great deal of confidence in the future of London as a tourist destination.

Noble Lords will recognise that I have no specific powers to promote tourism in London or elsewhere. Those powers lie with the tourist boards. It is for the ETB to decide how much of its grant should go to the regions and to London. The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, is rightly concerned about the funding of regional boards. I am pleased to say that ETB funding to the regional boards has doubled to £6.8 million in the past two years. This year the London Tourist Board will receive at least £730,000 from the ETB—an increase of 68 per cent. in the last two years. London needs a strong and effective board and the level of funding shows that I and the ETB recognise that need and support it.

I fully understand the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord Pitt and Lord Addington, and of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes about the present arrangements under the London Boroughs Grants Scheme. He may know that I had a meeting just this afternoon with the chairman and director on this very issue. I have proposed that a meeting be convened to bring together all the interested parties, including representatives of the boroughs, the London Boroughs Grants Committee, the English Tourist Board and government departments, to discuss how best to ensure long-term and continuing support for the London Tourist Board by the local authorities.

I hope though that the noble Lord is not advocating a return to the days of the GLC. As he will no doubt be aware, the structure of local government in London and the metropolitan counties does not fall within the scope of the review set in motion by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, although the Government are happy to receive views and proposals on the matter and will give them full consideration.

Having said that, I point out that the local government review consultation paper makes it clear that certain aspects of the current two-tier system are unsatisfactory and that the Government believe that there should be a move towards unitary authorities where they do not already exist. Against that background, therefore, we are not keen to see proposals for a return to a GLC-like tier of bureaucracy placed over the London boroughs, which would simply lead to confusion and inefficiency.

I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, to the excellent example of the work of the LTB and its partners in the Joint London Tourism Forum which it set up to bring together all the major players in the capital's tourism industry and to formulate and implement a strategy for tourism in London. Despite the difficulty of the tasks that the forum has set itself, it already has some notable achievements, including the formulation of an environmental charter for the tourist industry and, as my noble friend Lord Montgomery said, the creation of the Springboard job, training and advice centre. I am pleased that my department, through the Employment Service, is making a contribution to the success of Springboard, alongside the LTB, the Hotel and Catering Training Company and the many sponsors and patrons in the industry. I welcome too the support which the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain has given to Springboard.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Viscount for intervening again. I listened carefully to what I think was his answer to my question, what is the Government's strategy to promote tourism? If I understood him correctly, it is that other bodies such as the London Tourist Board must conceive a strategy for their regions. Is there such a thing as a national government strategy to support the British tourist industry?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, as I indicated, it is through the work of BTA and the ETB that the Government undertake their promotion of tourism, both abroad and in this country. We are firmly convinced that the people in the regions are the best people to know what is good for their areas. That is why, after the results of the tourism review that took place a couple of years ago were known, more funds were devoted to the regional tourist boards. The various regions, including London, if I may be so bold as to call London a region, were therefore enabled to undertake the promotion of tourism in their areas. That is the Government's strategy.

Perhaps I may now deal with some of the points that have been raised by noble Lords.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I was surprised at the way in which the Minister dismissed the idea of a council such as the Greater London Council. I should have thought that the problems of the London Tourist Board suggest that there is a need for some kind of co-ordinating body for London. I should have thought that that stood out.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I sought to answer the noble Lord's disquiet by drawing attention to the Joint London Tourist Forum. We are talking here about the promotion of tourism. The noble Lord has something completely different in mind.

My noble friend Lord Montgomery highlighted the problem of pricing and service charges in the restaurant industry. I think he said that the ideal was service included. I should like to draw his attention to the Monitoring Committee on Misleading Price Indications set up in 1989 by the DTI to monitor the effectiveness of Part III of the Consumer Protection Act and the code of practice. I understand that the committee is due to present its report and recommendations very soon to my honourable friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs. It would be wrong for me in the meantime to pre-empt the committee's findings by saying any more at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, drew attention to the Government's funding for archaeology. English Heritage administers the grants to over 70 agencies and local authorities throughout the country. A total of £6 million has been distributed this year to various projects. As the noble Lord said, the Museum of London received £1 million this year towards the provision of an archaeology advisory and digging service. Grants have also been given to other projects in historic cities. The Museums and Galleries Commission also provides funding to archaeological projects. A total of £201 million was given to help finance national museums this year. A number of them, for example, the British Museum and the National Museum and Galleries on Merseyside, have specialised archaeological units.

The noble Lord also mentioned the possibility of the introduction of a hotel tax. That is not a new idea. It was considered by the tourism and the environment task force. However, there are many problems involved in the introduction of such a tax. I remain to be convinced that the burden of regulation and the extra costs involved would be supportable. He also referred, as did the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, to the possible effect of the reduction in the Army on the array of pageantry offered to visitors. I remind noble Lords that decisions in that area have still to be made. The Army is primarily a fighting force but I am sure that it will still have a ceremonial role to perform.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, drew attention to the problems of tourism and the environment. In response to that concern, which is shared by the Government, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State last August set up the task force on tourism and the environment. It was charged with examining the nature and scope of the problems caused by the pressure of visitors on environmentally sensitive locations. It was to consider how visitor management techniques might be used to ensure that tourism develops in harmony with both the host population and the environment on which tourism's future success so largely depends.

I do not have time to go into the detail of the task force report, which was launched by my right honourable friend at a major conference held on 1st May. It contains a large number of conclusions and recommendations which I am sure will be of great value to everyone in the tourist industry. It must be up to the tourist industry itself to take those on board, to ensure that its activities do not conflict with the need to conserve and preserve the environment.

The noble Lord also mentioned the importance of clean beaches. In line with the European Community bathing waters directive we have made considerable progress in improving water quality through a substantial remedial programme which has resulted in 77 per cent. of the identified bathing waters meeting the European standard in 1990, compared with 51 per cent. in 1986. The Government attach high priority to bringing all our remaining bathing waters up to European Community standards and are investing over £3 billion in a further programme for remedial works, which should ensure that over 95 per cent, of our designated bathing waters meet European Community standards by the mid-1990s.

I should mention another programme that is being run by the European Community. The Blue Flag scheme is a great incentive for local authorities to make certain that the cleanliness of the beaches is maintained, let alone the quality of the bathing waters. It is that which will ensure the future success of the resorts.

My noble friends Lady Gardner and Lord Auck land and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, alleged that London is a high price destination. There has been some anecdotal evidence to that effect. However, the British Tourist Authority has carried out detailed cost comparison research over the past 10 years and its findings simply do not bear out that allegation. Its most recent figures for May 1991 place London only tenth in order of costs compared with other major capitals, and for international shoppers in particular London is the second cheapest city in the table. The industry must always be aware of the importance of offering value for money and maintaining competitive prices. But the evidence shows that, while there is always room for improvement, London is keeping abreast of the competition. Of course we must always keep smiling.

My noble friend Lord Mountevans brought to our attention the problems of immigration. He will know that my department and BTA are in discussion with the immigration service and indeed Customs and Excise about improving the welcome to overseas visitors by curtailing queues and ensuring that staff are always courteous. The policy on immigration control is a matter for the Home Office.

In summary, my noble friend stressed that we should improve the user friendliness of the industry. I note his remarks about the immigration service and the communications from London Heathrow. I shall pass on his concern, which I know is shared by many other noble Lords in this House, to my right honourable friends.

I am not sure that I can help my noble friend with Sunday trading. Unless we have a consensus among all the major parties and the representatives from the Churches we shall not go forward on that matter.

I was keen to take note of my noble friend's views on food safety. The safety angle must be our first priority. However he will also know that Ministers at MAFF have listened to the industry's worries and tried to be sympathetic to its needs.

The noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord St. John of Bletso, highlighted the requirements for good signs riot only in London but elsewhere. I referred to the need for information in a number of languages. We already have the benefit of pictographs incorporated in the brown and white signs which are now common around the countryside. I hope that continued imaginative use of symbols will assist in assuring visitors, irrespective of language, that they can find their destination speedily.

I thank my noble friend Lord Auckland for his compliments on my speech at today's BHRCA annual lunch. I was interested to hear the reports of his Welsh friends. The funding given to the Wales Tourist Board is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales. However, I should point out that this year the Wales Tourist Board will receive £7.75 million, which is 7 per cent. more than in the previous year.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, put many points to me. I shall need to read very carefully what he said in Hansard and I fear that I must reply to a great many of his questions in writing. He made a point about standards. He asked where the standards were being set in the industry. There are the food safety Acts and the environmental health Acts which control a great deal of what happens in the hotel and catering industry. But the English Tourist Board uses its influence in running projects such as the crown scheme in serviced accommodation, in which we are dictating the standards for the industry where we can. The BTA, the industry and the Government are well aware of the value of the business and incentive travel market. They are promoting Britain as a destination as hard as they can. They see the growth in that sector of the industry as being very important, and an area that we must foster.

Noble Lords brought many other points to my attention. However, in the time that I have to address your Lordships it would be wrong to continue. I have referred to the importance and the success of the tourism industry over the past 10 years. I have highlighted the significant levels of support which we in government provide to the industry, and the excellent work being done by the national and regional tourist boards. I hope that I have also been able to pick up most of the issues raised in today's debate.

If the tourism industry is to continue to grow in a fiercely competitive market, I believe that there is one particular key which will unlock success. That key is quality. The industry must provide quality service and quality products. That does not mean a Rolls-Royce every time. It means the right product at the right price. It means good food, well cooked and well presented. It means clean and comfortable accommodation, right across the range, catering for all tastes and all pockets. Above all, it means politeness, civility and friendliness. It means smiling. It means making visitors welcome and taking pleasure in providing them with what they want.

What I am talking about is a culture change in our attitudes to service. That is not something which government can bring about. We can help, through the boards, through the training and enterprise councils, and training programmes, and by keeping out of the industry's hair. But only the industry can deliver. I am confident that the will, the initiative and the enterprise are there, that the industry will deliver, and that tourism will go from strength to strength in the 1990s.