HL Deb 20 February 1992 vol 535 cc1434-42

7.30 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This is a simple, straightforward Bill. It was taken through the other place by Mr. Keith Raffan as a Private Member's Bill. It has the full support of all four political parties in Wales. It is strongly backed by the Wales Tourist Board. In a parliamentary Answer on 15th January, the Secretary of State for Wales confirmed that the Government support the Bill's intentions. In Committee in another place, the Minister of State, Welsh Office, Sir Wyn Roberts, who has special responsibility for tourism, welcomed the Bill.

The Bill completed its Committee stage in another place in 40 minutes, without amendment. If the Bill is to become law in this Session, it is important that its progress through the House should be equally speedy and that there should be no amendments. I fear that the consequence, if any amendments were passed, would be that the Bill would be lost.

Clause 1(1) would allow the Wales Tourist Board to deploy resources in order to supplement the work already undertaken by the British Tourist Authority. Clause 1(2) would ensure the co-ordination of the activities of the Wales Tourist Board and the British Tourist Authority, thus meeting the Secretary of State's requirement that the board will not exercise its powers unless it has undertaken full consultation with, and obtained the agreement of, the British Tourist Authority before undertaking any overseas marketing activity, and also that it will not open separate offices overseas.

Under that subsection the Wales Tourist Board has to have the consent of the Secretary of State who has, in his turn, to consult the BTA. Under the terms of the 1969 Act, the Wales Tourist Board is not allowed to incur expenditure overseas in order to market Wales. Its role is that of a co-ordinator: to bring together industry funds which enable overseas marketing schemes to be then undertaken through the BTA.

The Scottish Tourist Board was similarly confined until amending legislation was passed in 1984 to allow it to undertake overseas marketing. The Northern Ireland Tourist Board is also allowed to do so under legislation passed by Stormont, and the English regional boards, which are not statutory bodies, also market their regions abroad, although the English Tourist Board is still confined by the 1969 Act.

The Bill therefore removes an anomaly so that the Wales Tourist Board can use some of its grant-in-aid to support BTA activities abroad, with the object of increasing the Welsh share of the market, which, historically, is low—about 2 per cent.—compared with Wales's share of the UK market, which is about 10 per cent. The Wales Tourist Board believes that the change will give it greater leverage in co-ordinating the overseas marketing activities of the tourist industry in Wales. It has been told by some representatives of that industry that they would then be in a position to put in additional funds; that is, so long as the Wales Tourist Board can support supplementary marketing activities in the way that will become possible if the Bill is passed.

The Bill is drafted along lines similar to the Tourism (Overseas Promotion) (Scotland) Act 1984. The Scottish experience is encouraging. The Scottish board says that it has been able to sell, through the example of its own activities, the real benefits of overseas promotion to the industry, and especially to the smaller operators which had to be convinced of the value of such promotion. Even more important, it has been able to offer them the opportunity to take part in joint ventures and programmes which have given businesses the confidence to develop their own overseas marketing strategies.

The board has also been able to concentrate the activity of Scottish companies on markets which have special potential; for example, Japan. Wales has attracted more overseas investment from Japan than any other part of this country or, indeed, any country in Europe. The links with Japan are close. It follows that the potential for similar initiatives by the Wales Tourist Board in that country is obvious, but it is by no means the only possible target.

The Welsh share of overseas business has, for many years, been disappointingly low: under 3 per cent. of overseas bednights, and under 2 per cent. of expenditure. During the time that I was at the Welsh Office, we gave urban development grant to the Holiday Inn in Cardiff. One of our reasons was to secure a major new hotel, well connected in the international booking circuit. It was something that had not previously existed. Hotels in Wales had not been linked into that vital marketing organisation which most overseas tourists find so important. Since that time, Wales, I am glad to say, has attracted more such hotel development. Other new hotels of a high standard have been opened in the Principality. I am sure that improved hotel facilities, combined with better marketing, are an obvious route towards increasing the contribution of overseas tourism to the Welsh economy.

Clause I would allow the board to pump-prime trade sales missions to key markets; to initiate direct mail campaigns; to target markets; and also to work with the Welsh Development Agency and other Welsh organisations in raising the profile of Wales overseas. There are some obvious recent examples of where that would have been possible. For example, the Welsh National Opera has, in recent years, had successful overseas tours in Japan, the United States and Italy. Linked with those successful activities, the Welsh Development Agency and others launched important programmes to raise the profile of Wales, to tell other countries about Wales and the attractions that Wales has to offer. It would obviously be valuable if the Wales Tourist Board could take part on such occasions.

I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, could not be with us tonight. Before the debate, he told me that he regretted that he could not be here. I am sure that as a former chairman of the Wales Tourist Board he would have confirmed the importance of tourism for Wales. It is a major industry, employing some 95,000 people (about 9 per cent. of the workforce) and it brings in £1.5 billion a year. The importance of overseas visitors is that when they come they tend to stay longer and spend more than visitors from the rest of the United Kingdom.

I am delighted to hear that the Government have increased the resources of the Wales Tourist Board by over 20 per cent. for the coming financial year to £13.529 million, and that will, no doubt, allow the board to increase its expenditure on marketing, and to do so in this especially exciting year, when the National Garden Festival will take place in Ebbw Vale. It is not just because I selected the site for that festival that I believe it will prove to be one of the most dramatically exciting of all the garden festivals that have been held; it is a site quite unlike any of the others. There has been time to prepare it better than in many other cases. I believe that it will be an especially exciting festival which will attract a large number of visitors.

It will not be the only event in Wales this year. The Secretary of State has launched "Valleys Live" which is an extensive, ongoing programme of arts events in the valleys of Wales which will take place in a sense linked to the National Garden Festival. Thus the year opens up good prospects and it is absolutely appropriate that this year we should seek to strengthen the powers available to the Wales Tourist Board.

I have referred to Clause 1 subsections (1) and (2). Subsection (3) confirms that the granting of additional powers to the Wales Tourist Board does not prevent the BTA from exercising independently its power to promote Wales overseas. Clause 2 is the normal finance clause in such measures and Clause 3 sets out the Short Title and provides for the commencement of the Act.

This is a useful Bill, it has long been desired by the Wales Tourist Board and it has all-party support. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Crickhowell.)

7.41 p.m.

Lord Ogmore

My Lords, from these Benches we give the Bill the warmest possible welcome. It deals with a longstanding grievance in Wales, and as I understand it it has the support of the majority of Welsh people. I am pleased that the Government have offered it their support. My only plea is that the Bill should find its way on to the statute book, despite the increasing pressures of parliamentary business.

As has already been mentioned, the current position means that the Wales Tourist Board is unable to incur expenditure overseas, with its role limited to raising funds from local authorities and the tourist industry for schemes then undertaken through the British Tourist Authority.

The Wales Tourist Board tells me that when a specific project arises that it wishes to pursue, 66 per cent. of the project's cost must be found. Contrast this with Scotland which gained its right to market itself abroad in 1984. The Bill seeks parity for Wales with Scotland, which must surely be right. It seeks to supplement and complement the work of the British Tourist Authority with additional resources for promotion. That too is important.

The benefit will be there to see. One is not suggesting a Welsh tourist office in every capital of the world. I know that the Wales Tourist Board is happy with the present arrangements, working through the British Tourist Authority, for example as in New York. We do not suggest an excessive budget for the board. Instead, we want it to have the power to project Wales in a favourable light by means of targeted resources.

The "Wise Wales" scheme currently running in the United States is yielding results. The Welsh Sales Executive in New York, paid for jointly by industry and the Development Board for Rural Wales, can legitimately claim credit for the fact that over 100 additional American travel agents now specifically include Wales.

The tourist industry is vital to the Welsh economy. It is a growing feature of our economy, employing 9 per cent. of our workforce against 6 per cent. in England. In 1990, the income from domestic tourism for Wales amounted to £900 million against £117 million from overseas visitors. That represents some 9 to 10 per cent. of the domestic share of tourists against only between 3 to 4 per cent. of foreign tourists.

Too many overseas visitors get hooked on to the London-Oxford-Bath-Stratford circuit. Too few visit Wales. Tourism remains essential to our rural areas, the border country, Dyfed and Gwynedd. Without tourism, there is often little left, so we must get this right.

I am confident that Wales has the right product—some of the most scenic countryside in these islands. But to date it has been unable to market it correctly. The Bill remedies that and we on these Benches welcome it wholeheartedly.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, as the Bill clearly has all-party support, I think it right that I should speak briefly from the Cross-Benches in its support, although I need hardly add that, as always, I speak only for myself and not necessarily for any of my Cross-Bench colleagues.

In a recent debate on the Welsh economy, I concentrated my small contribution on the tourist industry. I pointed out, to the pleasure of some and the amusement of others, the great delights of the Welsh countryside and the pleasures that await people who visit my country. I also mentioned the achievements of the Wales Tourist Board and that the only matter that worried it at that time was the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, drew our attention this evening in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. It was that, unlike the board's opposite numbers in Scotland and in the English regions, it was not entitled to market Wales overseas.

As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, pointed out, the Bill puts that right. It is not an attempt by the Welsh to steal a march on the English or the Scots —which we are frequently accused of trying to do and sometimes succeeding. The Bill attempts to catch up. There is no question of any clash with the British Tourist Authority or any confrontation with it about responsibilities. Whatever the Wales Tourist Board does will be done in consultation with the British Tourist Authority and with the consent of the Secretary of State.

In moving the Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, mentioned one aspect of special interest. That is the investment by foreign countries in Wales, perhaps more notably and spectacularly the Japanese. When the Bill reaches the statute book, it will enable the Welsh and the Wales Tourist Board to capitalise on the relations and associations that exist between the Welsh and the Japanese for the purpose of marketing tourism in Wales overseas.

As I said at the beginning, since the Bill clearly has all-party support, there is no need for passionate advocacy on my part or that of anyone else. Therefore, I express my warm support for the Bill and gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for moving its Second Reading.

7.49 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I have great pleasure in welcoming this short but useful Bill. I hasten to assure the House that we are anxious to see the Bill on the statute book as soon as possible. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for his contribution in introducing the Bill to your Lordships' House.

It seems to me that in Wales the tourist industry starts with many advantages. It is a singularly beautiful country with its mountains, moorlands, valleys, lakes, rivers and its long coastline indented with attractive bays and small harbours. Nowhere in Wales is one too far removed from the heritage of the past or from a bilingual landscape. I refer to Cymru, Wales. As we have heard, today tourism in Wales is making a powerful contribution to the Welsh economy. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, it employs about 95,000 people, mainly in a mixture of small or medium-sized businesses whose facilities have been improved and promoted by the Wales Tourist Board. The board has long sought the overseas marketing powers which this Bill will provide.

I have checked the wording of the Bill with that of the Tourism (Overseas Promotion) (Scotland) Act 1984 and the wording is textually identical. I noted that the latest order concerning tourism in Northern Ireland—that came before the House about a month ago—empowered the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to undertake overseas activity. This Bill does not therefore break new ground. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, the Bill removes an anomaly. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the Bill enables the Wales Tourist Board to catch up.

Yet, when I first read Clause 1(2), I wondered a little whether the arrangement in that subsection would work effectively and smoothly in practice. On the one hand, I wondered whether it was too restrictive; and, on the other hand, whether it might lead to unnecessary duplication or competition. However, I have been assured by both the chairman and the chief executive of the Wales Tourist Board that they are satisfied that the arrangement set out in the subsection is working well in the Scottish context.

This evening the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has emphasised—this has also been emphasised in another place—that the power contained in the Bill will be used to complement and supplement the work of the British Tourist Authority. I assume from that statement that the Bill will have implications for the budget resources of the Wales Tourist Board but that it will have no such implications for the budget of the British Tourist Authority. When the noble Baroness replies to the debate, I hope she can confirm whether those are valid assumptions. Will the Government specify or confirm that the financial and staffing resources now applied by the British Tourist Authority in promoting Wales overseas will not be diminished as the result of the passing of this Bill? That assurance would be comforting.

I should mention, too, that I have discussed the Bill with my noble friend Lord Parry who is a former distinguished chairman of the Wales Tourist Board. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has said, the noble Lord, Lord Parry, greatly regrets that he cannot be present in the House this evening to express his hearty support for this Bill. Finally, it is proper that I should take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who have served the Wales Tourist Board since it first came upon the scene. To them I would say, Diolch yn fawr.

7.54 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, on behalf of the Government, I join in the all-party welcome to this Bill. Tourism with its 6,000 businesses and 95,000 employees generating over £1 billion of earnings is of vital importance to the Principality, and its significance is certain to grow.

The industry currently deals with 9 million customers a year and it has to deal with them as individuals in an increasingly competitive market.

The credo of the Wales Tourist Board, which reflects government policy, is to seek to develop and market tourism in ways which will yield the maximum economic and social benefit to the people of Wales. Implicit within this statement is the essential need to sustain and promote the culture and language of Wales and to safeguard the environment and heritage. Our approach is to develop the industry in a way which will provide on-going benefit to Welsh communities and Wales.

In the past decade or so, the quality of the tourism product in Wales has matured with new and improved attractions, significantly better hotels, customer care training, improved standards of cooking and more focused and cost effective marketing. The principal architect has been the Wales Tourist Board with its carefully considered and sympathetic strategies in different market sectors which have acted as a catalyst in encouraging and assisting these improvements.

We are particularly fortunate in Wales that so many of our public agencies, local authorities and the vital private sector are working towards the same goals. None of us can fail to be impressed by the massive environmental clearance schemes undertaken by the Welsh Development Agency, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation together with the Countryside Council for Wales, the Sports Council and the Development Board for Rural Wales. All of them realise just how important tourism is to the local economy and environment.

The 1990s will not be an easy time for those involved in tourism and none of us can fail to be aware of the opening of Eurodisney, just outside Paris, or of the Channel Tunnel and the increasingly easier travel to previously remote parts of the world. The customer has never been so sophisticated, so demanding and so discerning. But I believe that in Wales we are in the 1990s more fortunate than ever before. Never before have there been so many attractions, man-made or natural, which have been so accessible. Never before have there been such high standards of care, choice and value. Already the benefits of that position are manifest. A few weeks ago, Cardiff, one of 17 cities surveyed around the world including Madrid, Tokyo, Frankfurt and, dare I say it, London, was awarded the accolade of being the best city in terms of value for money tourism, thus scoring top marks. That is good news.

I hasten to comfort the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. It is not envisaged that the Wales Tourist Board will require additional resources for overseas promotion activities during 1992 to 1993. Although the Government do not envisage supplementing the Wales Tourist Board's budget for that specific purpose, in future years the Secretary of State for Wales will retain his discretion to work within the block arrangements should circumstances change. The Wales Tourist Board already has a substantial budget from which to fund marketing and promotional schemes. It already identifies preferred allocations within that budget for specific purposes according to determined and agreed priorities. Future budget provision will be a matter for consideration at the appropriate time in the light of developments in tourism and of competing demands from other programmes. As usual, resource allocations will need to be fully justified in value for money terms.

This Bill is intended to supplement the good work of the British Tourist Authority in promoting and marketing the United Kingdom overseas. There will be no reduction in the BTA's activities as a consequence of this measure and there will be no plans to reduce staff or resources. There is no intention to reduce the budget of the BTA as a result of this Bill; rather this Bill will complement its work. There is no reason to look to the BTA for offsetting savings.

The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, raised a point which I hope my noble friend Lord Crickhowell will agree that I should answer. The WTB was involved in 37 joint marketing schemes promoting Wales oversees in 1990–91. Some £347,496 was raised by the industry in Wales and matched by the BTA with some £137,100. It is a considerable achievement on the part of the WTB to lever that money from the private sector. It indicates the opportunities which exist for the private and public sectors to work together to help promote Wales overseas.

The Government are fully confident that the Bill will succeed. We are grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for taking it through this House. The Bill carries our full support.

8 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to all noble Lords in all parts of the House who have spoken tonight and who have so warmly supported the Bill. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and the point about the Wales Tourist Board not seeking to open offices in every capital, I understand that the board has specifically undertaken not to open any overseas offices. That forms part of the conditions which the Secretary of State has laid down. There is no case for doing so. It can use effectively the offices which are already available under the auspices of the BTA.

I am very appreciative of the support of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who has perhaps been more instrumental than most in bringing overseas visitors to Wales through the tremendous part he has played over the years in encouraging and presiding over the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen—another very good reason for visiting the Principality.

I have only one other point to make, which is again to express the hope that no amendments will be put down before Committee stage. That is the one outstanding threat to the successful passage of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.