HL Deb 29 April 1998 vol 589 cc295-338

3.7 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

rose to call attention to the case for a balance between the conservation of our cultural and environmental heritage and the commercial imperative of tourism; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the Motion suggests—some may disagree—that a balance can be struck between tourism and the national imperatives of getting income from tourism and the conservation of heritage, whether nationally or globally. It is probably difficult to maintain that balance, but in this debate I am seeking to suggest that the scales of that balance now swing frighteningly towards the imperatives of tourism to the cost of conservation.

This matter has been in the news lately and has caused much concern in many quarters, nationally and globally. It is timely that I have been successful in persuading the leader of my party on these Benches—I did not really have to persuade him—to allow me to have this debate today because the Government have recently come up with some initiatives about which we shall hear further from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

Most of us who were born before the end of the Second World War find the changes that have taken place in tourism remarkable. Nowadays young people take it for granted that at a young age they will go away on foreign holidays or take years off to prepare themselves for their time at university. Air, rail and road travel have all improved to such an extent that we all take it for granted that we can travel great distances quickly to visit other countries.

When I was a young man there was a currency limit. I recall first travelling to France at the age of 17—it is very old by today's standards—when there was such a limit. I hardly spoke English during the time that I was there which meant that I was able to learn French rather more rapidly than might have been possible today.

Nowadays, global tourism is growing to a point where it is becoming a threat to the very attractions to which tourists travel. It has become a real problem. The problem extends as far as the Himalayas, the Caribbean, the less populated coasts of South America and the Indian Ocean. I read in a recent article that it had become such a problem on one of the main trails in the Himalayas that it had become known as the "Andrex trail" because of the amount of litter upon it. Its real name is the Sagamantha Park. That is an example of the kind of problems faced by governments.

The Galápagos islands will become extremely difficult to reach if tourism continues at the level that has been maintained for the past 10 years. None of the rare species and other attractions of those extraordinary islands will be available for people to visit in future. The same holds good for islands in the Indian Ocean, rain forests and other global attractions.

The counteraction to the awareness of global pollution caused by tourism, if I may use a rather emotive expression that has been used usefully in the past to draw attention to the problem, is the introduction of the concept of eco-tourism. That is a term that I do not particularly like. To me it sounds like a marketing man's slogan to get over a problem by maintaining the present level of tourism under a different label in the hope of making as much money as possible quickly before it is stopped either by attractions being closed by governments or by those attractions no longer being there.

I was made aware of some of the disadvantages of inconsiderate travel in the early 1970s when I went to Africa. People travel to parts of East and West Africa in particular because they seek the sun as well as other attractions like game parks, and so on. When I went there in the 1970s on business—I had to take control of a small business in which my company had an interest—I had an office in Mombasa. Your Lordships will be aware that Mombasa is on the coast of the Indian Ocean very near a well known resort called Malindi. In the early 1970s German travel agents began to pay a great deal of attention to the east coast of Africa, to the extent that tour companies began to invest in hotels and so forth. One day I saw a German brochure. I spoke sufficient German to understand what it said. The front cover carried a very attractive photograph. The photograph showed the dim figure of an African on the beach in the moonlight. Under that was written, to my horror. "Come and meet your African Adonis". This was an invitation to German women—I hope on their own—to go to Africa to find Africans. This is the kind of sex tourism to which perhaps noble Lords do not normally give much thought.

We are all aware of the terrifying growth over the years of visits to the Far East for the purposes, unhappily, of procuring young people for sex. In this House we have good reason to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who I see in his place today, for fighting long and effectively against participation in this appalling trade. Every country has its own view about what is and is not acceptable. But in this case German ladies were emboldened to find these men who were usually waiters in hotels. The African may be perfectly willing in a friendly way to agree to any arrangement, in particular if it involves a rise in his pitifully low standard of living. It is easy enough money. It was reported to me, accurately I believe, that one of these German ladies was so emboldened by her success on the beaches of Mombasa that she attempted to make the same arrangement with a Masai tribesman but was not successful. I do not believe that that is to be recommended even for the most intrepid tourist. That is one of the disadvantages of travel apart from the effects on game parks and animal life in Africa.

In countries with more cultural attractions (if I may put it that way) the potential damage to great monuments is considerable. About 10 years ago the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, made a speech, which was widely publicised. He was accused, unjustifiably, of over-stating his case. He referred to tourist pollution. That expression, which I have used in the past, had been used previously by the Mayor of Venice. The noble Viscount, whose writings on Venice are probably well known to noble Lords, was particularly concerned about that city. But he extended his remarks to other problems including those in these islands. He drew attention not to my story about Africa but to other areas of tourist blight.

As far as concerns European tourism, I remember first going to Spain in about 1960. I went with a film company to Alicante which greatly impressed me. I wanted to go back there. Your Lordships will know that it is an ancient town with very attractive mosaics in the streets skirting the sea, with a dusty old bull ring, and so forth. It was a favourite place for film location companies. It was next to a village called Benidorm. Soon after that Benidorm was developed. Similar development took place in a large area of Spain. That development was the only way that Spain could dig itself out of extreme poverty. It was done quickly and effectively. However, the damage caused by indiscriminate building and infrastructure for tourism along the coast of Spain was, I suggest. a model for other countries which followed in a more discerning and discriminating way. This is an example of the kind of damage that can be caused by ill-considered tourism.

France has been quite successful in its tourism. After all, like most other European countries tourism makes an important contribution to the economy of that country. France is twice as large as the United Kingdom and has a similar population. It has an enormous number of attractions, many of which were, coincidentally, listed in Le Figaro yesterday. But France is beginning to have the same concerns as the United Kingdom.

I turn quickly to the British problem. The problem is quite evident if one simply walks across St. James's Park at midday. I do so frequently. As I have said in previous speeches, I am a great admirer of St. James's Park. If one stood on the bridge in St. James's Park on most days it was one of the most beautiful places in England. However, I suggest that it is not now one of the most beautiful places in England, even though the tulips are out in the magnificent gardens and the weather is with any luck quite good. One now has floods of tourists coming through the Channel Tunnel. In the old days tourists met under the clock at Victoria Station. Now they tend to meet on the steps of Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey has been under a great threat for some time. That was something, again to which the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, drew attention. Westminster Abbey has introduced charges to try to lessen the threat to the fabric of the abbey caused by the sheer number of people visiting it. Of course that is a threat not just to Westminster Abbey but to other cathedrals.

My part of the world is Devon, and I think of Exeter. It is a wonderful, ancient city with a beautiful cathedral. Its fabric is particularly vulnerable as it is built of a soft stone. In my view—other noble Lords may dispute this—too much assistance has been given to those who wish to develop our towns for visitors and tourism to provide injudiciously sited car parks and shopping centres which are, to say the least, down market compared with examples in other European countries.

Your Lordships' House has had debates about Stonehenge. I waxed long and, I hope, eloquent, about the disgraceful state of Stonehenge with its terrible fencing, and so on. I am now beginning to think that it might be better to leave it like that, because if we attract great numbers of people there, do we have the ability to protect those great stones and monuments against the kind of damage which we can expect?

Many noble Lords have houses which are open to the public. Everyone knows that if you open something to the public you have to take careful note of what needs to be protected and where you are going to allow people to go. You have to take out insurance. There are all kinds of problems associated with it.

The subject is an interesting one, and I could go on for ever. Noble Lords are probably glad that I cannot. I am hoping to open the subject to your Lordships. I am grateful that so many noble Lords have put their names down to speak, because we shall hear a number of views—perhaps divergent views. My noble friend Lord Thurso will put another view from mine. The view for Scotland will be put by my noble friend Lord Glasgow. I cannot cover Scotland within the limits of the time allowed me.

Adele Biss, former chairman of the British Tourist Board, said, quite rightly, and I should have done the same had I been in her position: Much needed revenue for conservation comes out of tourism. So don't let's knock it". It is not forthcoming from other sources, I say pointedly to the Government Front Bench. The balance needs to be taken into account. I look forward to hearing other noble Lords and to the Minister's response. If we do not succeed, apart from everything else, what shall we leave behind for our descendants? I beg to move for Papers.

3.22 p.m.

Lord Montague of Oxford

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on choosing this subject. It could not be more timely. Just this past week I read that the number of tourists expected to travel the world is anticipated to double in the next 20 years. With their 635-seater aeroplanes, the airlines are now getting ready so that we can all get around with the minimum of discomfort. That is important, because it is already beginning to become uncomfortable to get around.

We should not worry about that. We should realise that market forces respond to all those pressures, and I would expect them to. We in this country have always been enlightened about what will happen in tourism. In 1969, we had more foresight than many countries when we passed the Development of Tourism Act which enabled us to build a great many hotels in London, which were welcome.

It is time for us to have another deep look at the subject, because of the numbers involved. We should try to get out of the numbers game and get into the money game. It is the quality of tourists that is important. Although it may sound indecent, what we want is the spend. It is all very well to be packed to capacity with people who only have enough money to send a postcard saying that they have arrived safely; we want those who will get out and about to see our lovely country and wonderful heritage, take advantage of it and pay for all the wear and tear that they cause.

Having said that visitors should pay, I am puzzled that in this present IT age, when we can have freedom passes for so many things, we do not seem to be able yet to provide them for our children, all those in education, all those who, for one reason or another, cannot afford to pay, and those who are suffering hardships, or make some arrangements for families. It is not a question of whether or not we charge, the issue is what we charge.

During the Recess I was in Russia. I went first to Moscow and then to St. Petersburg. I hasten to tell your Lordships that I am not here to spread propaganda about Russia, but I found it safe. I found the thoughts that I have voiced echoed in the way that they behave towards tourists. We all had to pay to see the priceless attractions in Moscow and the wonderful, magnificent things that there are in St. Petersburg. How necessary that is in St. Petersburg, because they do not have our London problem. They have the earlier problem. Their income is in a parlous state. It is safe there, but not if one is driving a vehicle. That is due to the state of the roads. They do not have enough money to maintain the roads. It is important for them to have tourists. It is an example of where tourism needs to be encouraged, because we have heard examples of where there are sufficient tourists.

We should be nervous about the prospects for London. We should have a firmer policy of seeing London as a gateway. A decision has just been taken which makes me a little sceptical as to whether we are thinking these things through. The sum of money which the English Tourist Board makes available to the London Tourist Board is no longer going to go to the English Tourist Board; it will go directly to the new authority which is being set up to run London, which will be responsible for its own marketing. I have no doubt that it will do a great deal to bring more and more tourists to London. We must see London as the gateway to the rest of our country. The British Tourist Authority, of which I am a past member, and the English Tourist Board, of which I am a past chairman, had a policy of dispersing the tourists to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. That is something we should look at again.

I live in Oxford. Tourists are a problem to Oxford. They are on their way to Blenheim and Stratford-upon-Avon. They come in all their coaches. The coaches park. Out the tourists get. They are absolutely everywhere. They have barely time for a cup of coffee, and perhaps not even for that postcard to which I referred. So we should not be surprised if Oxford City Council starts talking about what it can do to curb tourists. They are an inconvenience for the people of Oxford, and offer no compensating reward. We shall find that in other cites of great historic interest.

Where do all those extra tourists come from? One wonders whether we shall travel more and more. All the forecasts say that we will. We all take it for granted that it is no surprise to find a great number of Japanese tourists on our streets, but we can expect great numbers from India, China, and other places with large populations, including South America. Someone needs to sit down and seriously think about how we are going to accommodate great numbers of tourists; how to avoid any inconvenience; and how we can obtain substantial earnings from them.

The London Convention Centre is doing a marvellous job. The American Bar Association is to have its next meeting in London. That means that more than 20,000 lawyers will come here to confer and will spend a great deal of money. That is an example of the good work which the convention centres are doing. There are many markets to tap, apart from the coachloads of people who come here but do not spend much money.

We have magnificent treasures, but our greatest treasure is our language. It is one of our finest assets. It enables people to come here in comfort to enjoy our theatres, to read the newspapers and to visit all the sights which can be explained to them in English. However, I wonder whether the exhibits in our museums are sufficiently visitor friendly. Many people who come to this country cannot readily speak our language and may be put off by the small signs which are difficult to read. There is a case for museums showing more sensitivity towards the people who are sufficiently interested to come here and explore.

The prospects for tourism are great and they will sustain our heritage. That is a good reason to nurture tourism.

3.31 p.m.

The Earl of Bradford

My Lords, first, I would like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for bringing this important subject to your Lordships' attention. Secondly, I must declare an interest as president of the Wrekin Tourism Association, owner of Porters Restaurant, chairman of Weston Park Enterprises, a committee member of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain and president of the Master Chefs of Great Britain. I would also like to express my appreciation for the common sense attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, in his approach towards tourism.

What is mainly flat, mostly green and contributes around £26.2 billion to the Exchequer every year? Answer: tourist Britain. The major draws are heritage, history, business, shopping and the countryside—though not necessarily in that order. Yet, heritage and landscape can be literally "loved to death"; threatened by the very multitudes which come to appreciate them.

So how can the conflicting demands of tourism and the environment be reconciled? I will attempt to set out some of the problems and suggest some of the solutions, not forgetting that almost literally our country's economic future is at stake, as tourism is Britain's second largest and fastest growing industry. In fact, by the start of the next millennium, tourism will be the world's largest industry. Britain, particularly given its relative size and lack of consistent weather, has been performing reasonably well. But by comparison with Europe and the rest of the world, our figures have been gently slipping for some time.

The fact is that spending money on tourism promotion is not like other forms of government expenditure. It is an investment that demonstrably pays off. But even with the present figures for incoming visitors there are very real problems. As a consequence of increased numbers, it is becoming blindingly obvious that in certain areas of Britain some constraints are required.

Tourism must become environmentally sustainable, sensitive to the problems that can be created, both for the locality and the people who try to live normally in it. Examples of unsustainable tourism are now legion; for instance, the traffic nightmare in London, sometimes approaching a near gridlock situation outside the most popular attractions at the busiest times, caused mainly by the huge seasonable influx of coaches full of day trippers.

Another simple case is the erosion of the paths in some parts of the Lake District or the Peak District National Park. Many historic towns—Canterbury, Oxford, York, for instance—are finding that severe strain is being put on their infrastructure and services, thereby causing inconvenience and annoyance to native and visitor alike. The fact is that the majority of foreign tourists visit Britain for a slice of authentic history and tradition. Therefore, if what they want has to be the genuine article, it is inordinately difficult to recreate that in any way.

Most leading attractions like the Tower of London or St. Paul's have finite maximum numbers that they can accommodate at any given time, first, to control damage but, secondly, to ensure that all the visitors enjoy a happy rather than an overcrowded experience.

A major drawback with ever greater numbers coming to London is trying to differentiate between those who bring positive economic benefit and those who merely clog up the streets. It is interesting to note that whereas there used to be plenty of free attractions in London, now most have started charging. Surely, this must be considered a positive step, as we must not merely raise numbers but concentrate more on increasing those that fall in the higher spending category. Coaches full of day visitors from across the Channel, arriving with their packed lunches and an itinerary of mainly free attractions, could actually end up costing the country more than they bring in. Possibly airport tax should equally be applied to those entering through the ferry terminals and by Eurotunnel, then at least the country would be assured of a contribution towards the infrastructure costs generated by the influx of "cheaper" travellers.

Certainly, it is also important in this context to ensure that visitors are more evenly distributed throughout the country. Many places are currently tackling the difficult dilemmas created in environmentally sensitive locations or simply where existing facilities are under strain. By effectively, but fairly, limiting the numbers of visitors while increasing the amount that they spend they not only maintain funds for upkeep but also manage to reduce the consequent rate of deterioration.

Cambridge City Council, for example, has persuaded accommodation providers to offer a considerable discount to people who are staying for more than just one night. This encourages them to provide a more significant financial yield, instead of coming merely as day trippers or overnight and therefore contributing little to the area.

We must continue to concentrate on one immensely important and fast growing sector of the market; the business or incentive traveller. There are two main reasons why we should target them; not only are they less seasonally oriented—most valuable for spreading the load—but also their spend tends to be higher, often substantially.

Now that we have added to our range of available facilities for the business traveller—for example, the National Exhibition Centre and the International Convention Centre, both in Birmingham—we are better placed, but we should certainly not be complacent as we are lagging well behind many of our leading competitors.

While it is critical to boost the business travel market, we should also try much harder to persuade normal visitors to look at moving around the whole of the British Isles, and particularly to reduce their concentration on staying solely in London, which unfortunately is perceived as being "Britain" by so many.

It is particularly vital, therefore, that we find effective ways to attract more people to parts of the country which actually have plenty of room to entertain and indulge them. Immediately we come up against a logistical problem as all the major gateways into Britain are in the south east; and where you commence your trip has an enormous influence on where you go. Heathrow and Gatwick are so dominant among the airports, while Dover and Folkestone occupy a similar standing as ferry terminals. Now we have the significant effect of Eurotunnel, too.

There is a constant—and I feel misguided—call to expand the size of the two main airports, with many fundamental reasons being cited. America enjoys a much happier position, where throughout the eastern seaboard there are many different, widely spread airline hubs providing a superb choice, and meaning that their reliance on New York is much less than ours on London.

Unfortunately, until we evolve and develop perfectly viable alternatives—for instance, Birmingham, Manchester, Prestwick, Cardiff and Belfast—and get them to the critical size where they can provide a similar range of services, the situation will continue to influence the geographical mix of tourism very strongly and put ever greater strain on the south east.

Despite this concentration on the south east for ingress to Britain, there are numerous examples of extraordinary regional success. Commentators are mightily impressed by the achievements of Yorkshire. Incidentally, before any possible accusations of parochial self-interest are levelled at me, I am not choosing Yorkshire or Bradford as an excellent example of effective tourism promotion because of any family connection. My title "Earl of Bradford" is taken from the Hundred of South Bradford in Shropshire, where we still live.

When Bradford decided to enter the holiday market in 1980, it was treated as something of a joke. What could a northern industrial town, with declining traditional local industries, possibly have to offer the visitor? Yet Bradford was actually blessed with a number of natural attractions—Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters; Saltaire model mill village and other fascinating Victorian industrial buildings. Its economic development unit initially targeted the travel trade by launching two themed "short-stay" holidays, which generated—partly because the whole premise seemed so unlikely—considerable publicity and sold very well. Bradford had made its mark. The Bradford area now draws more than 6 million visitors a year, worth somewhere around £120 million to the local economy, all created in such a comparatively short time by an imaginative approach.

As president of the Wrekin Tourism Association for the last 16 years I have seen first hand the enormous impact that success in attracting more tourists—created mainly through innovative promotion and unselfish co-operation, aided by a consistent and progressive attitude from local government—can have on a region. Tourist expenditure in the Wrekin has leapt from around £3 million in 1980 to £54 million in 1995.

What has helped in the tourist sense is bringing old buildings into use. The Landmark Trust and the National Trust have brought old buildings back into use and have created a tourist facility while protecting the old buildings.

In conclusion, my summation of the overall position is that we must attempt to ensure that we are not left out of the boon to our economy generated by tourism, by guaranteeing continued and increased investment in international promotion. We must look at developing more gateways into Britain. At the same time, in certain very popular locations, we must take care that tourism is to the advantage of both the local population and the environment as well as the Treasury.

We cannot afford to create a position where the patient ends up on the critical list because our efforts at tourism promotion have achieved such resounding success, purely in terms of numbers without the accompanying—and most necessary—increased spend, that our limited amount of "real history" suffers at the hands (or more probably the feet) of the trampling hordes.

3.41 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Viscount for raising this important topic. As he said, it is a problem of an increasingly affluent society with more time on its hands—a five-day week, longer holidays, earlier retirements. If one adds to that the two technical revolutions of incredibly cheap air travel and the flexibility of the motor car, it makes a fairly potent brew.

Commercial imperative or not—and I see it as much more than a problem of the commercial imperative—people want to travel. They want to visit, and it is now very easy to do so. We should welcome that. We should welcome it because it means that it brings economic activity to places, and hence communities, which would otherwise not have much going for them. Many stately homes are kept going only because of the visitors. Many rural areas depend on tourism.

But it can be overdone. I believe that it was Professor David Bellamy who coined a notable phrase when he referred to the danger of somewhere being loved to death. Therefore, we are back to our old friends: sustainable development, the problem of externalities—hidden costs which are not paid for by anyone—and the problem of demand management.

The Minister kindly drew my attention to a recent document issued by his department, Tourism—Towards Sustainability. It is a consultation paper which takes the form of asking 16 rather searching questions. I suspect that some of them are not readily answerable. I should like to have seen some questions asked which were not asked. Nevertheless, it is an important step forward and I congratulate the Government on it.

The first question referred to: How we should measure progress towards achieving sustainable tourism. Which specific indicators can be used most effectively within the UK for this purpose? Therefore, we are back to some more old friends: targets, monitoring, performance indicators and so on. I am afraid that the answer to that may be rather messy because some things which are important cannot be quantified. There is then the old problem that concentrating overly on the quantifiable can mean that we miss other factors which are much more important. Then again, there is the problem of adding apples to oranges. And on other occasions, the problem is not really one of sustainability.

In my view, an important way forward is the concept of "carrying capacity" or critical load; that is, how much pressure a particular place or thing can take before it becomes seriously damaged. It seems to me that that is a useful starting point in determining balance. Problems tend to be rather ad hoc and site specific so that careful judgments are usually required. One returns to the difficulty, or even impossibility, of meaningful measurement or aggregation. Moreover, the problem is often not one of commercial pressure; it is often one of conflicting but desirable objectives. When I was with the National Trust, I found that the problem with open spaces was not just access versus the farmer but a whole range of factors: access, farming, nature conservation and often archaeology.

Access itself is a far from simple issue, and I am not just thinking of the right to roam. Some years ago, the trust set up a working party on the problem of access. I thought that it was a question of dealing with farmers and walkers. But that turned out not to be the case at all. We listed 31 different uses of our National Trust properties for recreational purposes. Some of those purposes are quite incompatible with each other. Therefore, that is the sort of issue that I suspect the Minister's department will have to tackle but on a much wider canvas.

I mention briefly three examples which illustrate those more general points. First, I refer to the use of time-ticketing systems which we introduced at Sissinghurst Garden, which is a very delicate property. It was not just to deal with the total numbers of visitors to the property but to deal with the peak numbers on a Sunday afternoon when quite disproportionate damage was being done to the garden. We successfully introduced time-ticketing to regulate the flow.

Two lessons can be learnt from that. The first is that if there is a time-ticketing system which involves people waiting, you must provide some other attraction while they are waiting, otherwise you will have a dissatisfied public. Secondly, in many cases, if you can manage the peak, you can accommodate more visitors throughout the year.

Secondly, in the national parks, considerable damage is done—and the noble Earl referred to this—by the sheer volume of feet. Footpaths have to be prepared and new ones created. The National Trust now spends £0.5 million per year just on footpaths.

Then there is the provision of car parks. How big should they be? Should they be used to ration numbers visiting a particular attraction where there is a critical problem? The answer is often yes. But coupled with that is the problem of providing a car park which is acceptable on landscape grounds. It can be quite helpful to provide park-and-ride facilities. That has been very successful in two areas of the Lake District. Those are all ways in which one can manage load.

What general conclusions can one draw from all that? I would list four. First, in determining carrying capacity and striking a balance, one can only be pragmatic and work on a case-by-case basis. The key principle is to determine in each case what is important; what is the distinction of that property. As the poet Pope said, Consult the genius of the place in all". Secondly, if there is conflict between access and conservation, the latter should always prevail. That was the trust's conclusion and is effectively written into the Environment Act 1995 in relation to national parks.

Thirdly, subject to all that, one must try to accommodate as wide a range of experience as possible. Finally, although there are a variety of ways in which to manage demand, the real problem is rather different. It is relatively easy, for example, to control access to houses, gardens and parks. But open space property, and especially uplands, is a very different kettle of fish.

I mentioned in my opening remarks that the consultations did not fully cover some areas. Access was not properly covered and the role of government, both local and central, needs to be considered. The objective of sustainability needs to permeate much more thoroughly the whole planning system at all levels. At least two PPGs need to be revised in this respect—No. 17 on sport and recreation and No. 21 on tourism. Is the Minister able to tell us whether there are any plans on that front? We are soon to have regional development authorities. They will take a great interest in tourism. That is all to the good, provided their actions and policies are properly informed by the principles we are discussing this afternoon.

3.51 p.m.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Viscount for initiating this debate, which draws attention to the case for a balance between heritage and tourism. Of course there must be a balance, but we need to discuss in what way that balance needs to be changed in the future. I will talk about the balance between heritage and tourism, especially with regard to the national parks.

I live within sight of the Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I had the honour of representing in another place for almost 33 years the southern part of the Lake District National Park. My references to the Lake District are relevant to other national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty throughout the country.

There is a conflict at times between the heritage and tourists. The noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, have already referred to one of the most notable conflicts in the Lake District where one finds an ever-widening of footpaths caused by the sheer weight of numbers of tourists, to say nothing of the litter that they leave behind. That is one of the most obvious cases of damage which is caused to the environmental heritage.

One only has to visit in the Lake District some of the honey-pot tourist centres like Windermere, Ambleside and Keswick to find that at times tourism is causing almost total traffic, pedestrian and maritime indigestion. This indigestion happens only relatively few times during a year. It is over perhaps 16 of the busy summer weekends that it becomes apparent and, at times, intolerable. The problem is far less apparent, and almost non-existent, at other times of the year. Even during the 16 busy weekends of the year, it is still easily possible, if one wishes, to escape from the crowds and to wander lonely as a cloud through the fells and valleys. It is only the main thoroughfares, population centres and some of the most popular walks and climbs which are overcome by tourists generally.

The first lesson in dealing with this balance must be to curb the instincts of some of the over-exuberant planners and to resist some of the dottier solutions which they have put forward over the years. I shall give your Lordships some examples. A few years ago in the Lake District a great scheme was proposed to charge everybody who was not a resident to enter the Lake District National Park. More recently there was a scheme produced to impose low speed limits on all the roads, however major, however wide, however well-constructed and at all times of the year. That would have only served, outside the busy periods, to infuriate the local population, particularly doctors, vets and those carrying out important local services. Further, what I regard as a dotty idea was to seek to ban sports based on power boats on Lake Windermere, particularly water skiing. With proper and vigorous controls there is room enough for everyone on that lake, which is the only lake left where those sports are permitted. All these schemes have been rightly thrown out. I hope that the Government will not seek to revive them in the future. The problems such as they are can be dealt with in a much less draconian way.

With regard to this balance, there is one aspect of the culture to which I would particularly like to refer. The culture of the Lake District in recent years has been hugely improved and strengthened by the growth of wonderful museums, which depend for their survival and prosperity on the tourists who go there. I shall give your Lordships some examples. The Wordsworth Museum at Grasmere, which has been massively expanded under Dr. Robert Woof; the Ruskin Museum at Coniston; the Beatrix Potter Museums at Hawkshead and Sawrey and the. Steam-boat Museum at Bowness. Those, together with a number of historic houses, all contribute to a far greater understanding of the wonderful culture of the Lake District. All those museums have made their contribution and they could not exist without a vibrant tourist industry.

While it is always right to he prepared to create and bring in new controls to curb the excesses and the damage which follow the weight of vast numbers of tourists, one must never forget the interest of the local population when one is bringing in these controls and changes. We must remember that our national parks are not wilderness areas as are the national parks in the United States. There is a major difference in the nature of our national parks. People who live outside these areas must remember that, to the farmers, to the massive numbers of people employed in the tourist industry—it is the biggest industry in the Lake District—and to the thousands of people employed outside farming and tourism, the national parks are their workplaces and the sites of their livelihood.

We must strive to arrive at this difficult balance. There are two principles. First, you cannot seek to reinstate, for instance, the Lake District as William Wordsworth left it, although there are people who try to do so. Secondly, as the noble Viscount said when opening the debate, you cannot allow those who come to admire and enjoy the area to destroy it by sheer weight of numbers. The balance is a very delicate one. I fear that over-aggressive, blanket controls could be introduced which are neither necessary nor fair on the local working population. In achieving this balance, I plead with the Government, and all those who have responsibility for maintaining that balance, to show the greatest delicacy in making any changes.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, with all due deference to my noble friend Lord Falkland, I do not believe that there is any commercial imperative in tourism. In my book, an imperative is something which you are bound to follow: we are not bound to follow the way of tourism. However, my noble friend has done us all a great service by drawing attention to the threat to our heritage—a threat which we must take very seriously. But the way of caring for our heritage in a sustainable world is by decreasing tourism. From time to time, I attend, as do other noble Lords no doubt, conferences on green or, as my noble friend said, eco-tourism. Like my noble friend, I note that they are usually sponsored by some body such as British Airways whose object is clearly to maximise the number of travellers while not incurring too much opprobrium from the growing green public opinion.

Sustainable tourism is an oxymoron—a contradiction in terms. Air travel, which is the main way in which people now proceed around the globe, is one of the great polluters and one which is virtually untaxed. The untaxed gas increasingly guzzled by larger and larger aircraft decreases our non-renewable resources while destroying the ozone layer. When we/they arrive at the destinations, there are all the problems which will be deployed by other speakers in their speeches today. Am I being hypocritical when I say these things? Yes, I am. I travel abroad. What is my defence? I have no defence; only the usual excuses, most of them straight from Oscar Wilde. First, I can resist anything except temptation; secondly, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue; and, thirdly, unlike most of your Lordships, I am a socialist and am proud of it. A libertarian socialist, but a socialist nonetheless. I know that the evil of sustainability-wrecking tourism can only be combatted by society as a whole. That society is not ready to do this yet, I can see. That society will come round to it I have no doubt, because, for various reasons to do with my understanding of the meaning of life, I do not think that this planet will commit suicide, which is what unsustainability will mean.

My message is not one of total gloom. The fact is that tourism is increasing at the same time as we are being treated to increasing virtual reality. There is no need for tourists to go and see the great places of the world—and, incidentally, destroy them—when they can see them virtually every night on their television screens. That answers the argument about education and broadening the mind. It is true that you lose something on the way. I myself get a great authentic frisson from regarding in actuality the ruins of once great empires, but I can gratify that lust by staying in this Chamber and gazing on the Conservative Party.

There was a time when sustainable tourism was possible: a time when people could ship on banana boats or not very environmentally-destructive liners. It is now almost impossible to cross the Atlantic by sea, except on a special voyage at special times in a luxury cruise liner. I know that because I tried at a time when I thought that it was more than usually nauseating to be travelling by air to a conference on saving the planet.

Today's debate is an interesting one on an interesting subject. But basically what your Lordships are discussing is how most aesthetically to site a brothel on the "Titanic". And there are probably no Oscars being awarded for that.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Crathorne

My Lords, the case for a balance between conservation and tourism is surely overwhelming. I am sure that we all agree with that view. Happily, there is a great awareness of this which has developed in recent years. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, mentioned the Government's initiative in that respect with the consultative document, Tourism—Towards Sustainability. However, what the noble Lord did not mention is the fact that we all have one more month in which to make representations to the Government about what is in the document.

One of the predecessors of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as chairman of the National Trust in the 1920s said that preservation enables you to permit access but, without preservation: access becomes forever impossible". That has really been a guiding maxim for the National Trust ever since. It is interesting to note that, although it was said so long ago, it is even more relevant today when visitors to National Trust properties number 10 million.

I think the most difficult aspect of the preservation versus tourism problem is quite an intangible one; namely, how to preserve what is often referred to as, the genius of the place". It is that elusive quality which is the essence and spirit of a garden or building or indeed a combination of both. It is that intangible spirit that can easily be lost under the weight of commercial pressures and the resulting number of tourists.

Having touched on things of the spirit, I should like to raise two mundane but important points. First, there is the old chestnut of VAT on listed buildings. All of us involved in the heritage never lose an opportunity to raise the matter. Therefore, noble Lords will all know to what I am referring. It is really the fact that if you restore and conserve a listed building you pay 17.5 per cent. VAT, whereas if you alter a listed building you pay no VAT. That does not encourage conservation; indeed, I have known of cases where an individual has walked a VAT man through a listed building agreeing how much he has had to alter to save the entire VAT bill.

I should declare an interest at this point as chairman of the Georgian group and of the Joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies. Some noble Lords may have seen an article in last Sunday's Sunday Telegraph referring to the lobbying of the Treasury by the Amenity Societies as regards these VAT anomalies. The joint committee hopes to see Dawn Primarolo, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in July to discuss this matter. However, she has made rather ominous noises about the problems of the European Community and VAT regulations. When the Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport came to see the joint committee he was most sympathetic to our cause as regards VAT, as other Secretaries of State have been in the past. But it is very difficult to get anything moving on what clearly is a serious anomaly.

One type of building which is particularly hit by the VAT situation is the wonderful cathedrals and churches which abound in this country. They are tremendously expensive to maintain but they are all unable to register for VAT. Of course, they are some of the most visited of all the tourist attractions here. It is quite frustrating, too, when one thinks of the money that English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund give in repair grants each year—which must be, I suppose, about £100 million—to know that £17.5 million of that goes straight back to the taxman.

My second point relates to the listing of buildings. There is some way to go with the resurveying of the lists. For example, some tourist towns such as Ely and Exeter, which is the home city of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, have to make do with lists which are 25 years old. The problem here is that, since that time, it has become clear that quite a number of other buildings should be included in those lists. Indeed, in any resurvey they would be. However, they are not protected at present by listed building legislation. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether he thinks it will be possible slightly to speed up the resurveying of such buildings. Today's debate is both a timely and an interesting one. I look forward to hearing from the Minister as regards all the points that are raised this afternoon.

4.9 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, in speaking in yet another debate in this House on tourism and as one who has been involved in the business for over 50 years, I must declare an interest, first, in developing and managing one of Britain's most popular privately owned tourist attractions and as president of the Southern Tourist Board and the Tourism Society. On a personal note, it is a great pleasure for me to note that this is the first time in history that two Lord Montagus have spoken in the same debate. As is to be expected from a former chairman of the English Tourist Board the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, made an erudite contribution to the debate. I have warned him that in future he may receive all my bills and I shall receive all his invitations which I shall sort out, and shall keep the best ones.

I confess that I was somewhat puzzled to discover what lay behind the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. Was it, or was it not, a suggestion that commercial interests were in danger of degrading and affecting the conservation of our cultural and environmental heritage? Having been involved in building up a major tourism attraction over the past 40 years in an area of outstanding natural beauty, I certainly have no need to be persuaded to accept, indeed always to pursue and to ensure, the necessity of a balance between the future interests of our heritage and the need for a sensible commercial approach to sustain it.

Although the immediate post-war era saw a somewhat amateur approach and some mistakes were made, we—I speak for almost all historic house owners—believe that conservation has always taken a priority. We have every right to be proud of what has been achieved. The way that we present our heritage sites in this country is admired the world over. For owners to have redeveloped their properties too much and introduced incompatible activities would have been self-defeating, as it was recognised that in the future the value of these properties as they stand, representing various eras of history, was that they should not be affected too much by anachronistic influences or cheap commercialisation. Indeed nothing should be done to spoil the site for those who visit it. Therefore unsympathetic and inappropriate developments were rarely considered and were usually rejected, as were irrelevant distractions. Instead owners have concentrated on means of attracting visitors, welcoming them and ensuring that they are well looked after. As regards facilities, I have always said that the most important things are a good car park, good toilets, a cup of tea and something to interest the children.

This philosophy of high standards in everything from presentation to ensuring that the public enjoy themselves and are well informed about the property has been followed not only by private owners but also at sites owned by the National Trust and English Heritage. Our historic sites are rightly the envy of the world. Relatively few properties have suffered from excessive visitor pressure and related developments. Fortunately successive governments have supported the role of the private owner as being the best unpaid curator that could possibly be imagined. Without that partnership and the efforts of the owners, the houses today would be in a sorry state.

Such facilities as shops, restaurants and well designed extras are all part of a day out for the whole family and will enhance the visit but need never conflict either with the local environment or local people. Of course commercial developments need to be properly planned, not imposed piecemeal or casually. This has been well illustrated by some large firms such as Madame Tussauds which took over Warwick Castle some years ago and has not only made alterations in good taste but at the same time has increased attendance. Sites such as Warwick and Beaulieu employ many people—400 at Beaulieu and about the same number in some other large houses.

The fact is that any person or company considering development of an historic site today is up against all kinds of hurdles from local authorities and their planning policies to amenity societies and local people. By the time these hurdles are cleared, one can be sure that the development will have the least impact on its surroundings. I noted with interest the new consultation exercise, Tourism towards Sustainability, recently announced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which claims to show a different and radical approach in the desire to consult people as to how they wish the Government to support tourism growth which is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. I suspect, without being facetious, that almost everyone who is consulted will think that tourism is a good thing for the country but all of them will not wish it to be in their backyard. Democratically desirable as it may well be, I cannot think of a greater disaster than to suggest that local people should decide such issues. By the time anything had gone through the planning stage, I suggest that little might happen.

"Sustainability" is the new buzz word. But today the issues that really affect tourism include, for instance, the strong pound. It will take millions of Britons out of the country this year to benefit from the exchange rate and will decrease and deter many visitors from coming to Britain. The price of petrol here and the Government's policy of deterring motoring will mean that many remote sites will suffer. It is no good thinking that new railway stations, railway lines or bus routes will be viable unless they are highly subsidised. The uncomfortable fact is that there are probably too many tourist attractions in Britain now, the large majority of which have been created in the past 20 years, many through the lottery. The tourism cake is no bigger but more attractions are taking slices out of it. All the questions asked in the consultation paper—which I warmly welcome—will cost money in one way or another, as will the need for some government legislation, for example in rearranging school term dates. Of course it would be good to spread the tourist season in order to limit visitor impact at peak times. However, we do not have a climate like Florida. It would take a great deal of persuasion to expect people to take family holidays in November or February, quite apart from the fact that staffing depends heavily on the use of young people in school holidays—a fact much welcomed by those studying A-levels.

I end by saying that there is, and indeed always has been, a case for a balance between conservation and commercial interests. I believe that it has always been well practised in this country. If we accept the Government's policy that they are committed to supporting tourism, regardless of the consultation which will take place, the ball has been, is, and always will be firmly in their court.

4.16 p.m.

The Earl of Glasgow

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Falkland for giving me the opportunity to speak in this interesting debate.

I shall say something about sustainable tourism in Scotland but, first, I wish to establish what a tourist is. Surely most of us have our own idea of a tourist. It is a person, family, or group travelling around the country, stopping off at pubs, hotels or hostels, spending money as they travel. Traditionally, of course, a tourist should be a foreigner. In Scotland that means predominantly the English!However, the Scottish Tourist Board defines a tourist as anyone who stays one night away from home. That distinguishes him from a day tripper. Thus, if a Londoner goes to Windsor for the day with his children, he is a day tripper. However, if his car breaks down and he decides to stay the night in the Old House Hotel, he becomes a tourist. If you live in England and travel to Perth to visit your old mother, you are a tourist. If you take her to a wildlife park for the day, you are still a tourist but she is a day tripper.

My next point is perhaps more controversial in its definition. If you go to a business conference in Edinburgh—whether you are English or Scottish—and you stay the night, you are counted as a tourist. If I go to the Edinburgh Festival for a few days and stay with friends for the night, I become a tourist. Noble Lords may feel that all this classification does not count for much, but as regards official statistics it can be misleading. This year, for instance, the Scottish Tourist Board claims that tourist numbers in Scotland are 2 per cent. up on last year. Yet those of us who work in the tourist industry—here I declare an interest as I manage and own a country park in the Firth of Clyde—know that the number of tourists (real tourists) was considerably down. There were many fewer of them around last year. That view was confirmed by nearly all the other visitor attractions.

In September of last year, the Scottish Tourist Board admitted that there had been a fall in the number of tourists, and blamed it on the effect of the strong pound. So how does the board now claim that the numbers are 2 per cent. up? Apparently, at the end of the year visitor numbers picked up considerably, but that affected only the large towns—Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The conference business was very good and many people took up offers of short winter break bargains. So perhaps we should make yet another distinction—between urban and rural tourists.

Big cities, I feel, should be able to look after themselves. It is the Scottish countryside, the country hotels and the country visitor attractions that need the tourists. The rural areas need the jobs that come from tourism, and some of the remote parts of the Highlands depend on tourism for their survival. So it is misleading of the Scottish Tourist Board to boast that tourism was up last year. In the places that really matter, it was down. That is particularly worrying, because tourism is on the increase in almost every other European country, as the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, said. That is not so in Scotland, and probably not so in Britain. I wonder whether it is all down to the disincentive of the strong pound. Or is Scotland simply failing to keep up with competition?

So far as concerns sustainable tourism, Scotland seems to be doing considerably better. Our greatest tourist assets are our history and our spectacular scenery. But those assets are also important to conservationists and environmentalists. As we all know, if they are not carefully managed, tourists can erode or destroy the very things they come to enjoy. The Scottish Office has long been aware of that dilemma. In 1992, a task force was set up called the Tourism and Environment Task Force, specifically to consider, how the development of tourism in Scotland can be reconciled with the need to conserve and protect the environment". It consisted of representatives of practically every government agency, local authority and interested pressure group that one can think of—the Scottish Tourist Board; Scottish Natural Heritage; Scottish Enterprise; Highlands and Islands Enterprise; Historic Scotland; the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; the Forestry Authority; the Scottish Sports Council; the Scottish Office Industry Department; the National Trust for Scotland; the Scottish Landowners' Federation; Scottish Wildlife and Countryside Link; and a representative from the area tourist board.

Fortunately, Scotland has so much wild and beautiful country and a relatively small population; so in most places there is no reason for conflict between the needs of tourists and the concerns of environmentalists. In the remoter areas, conflicts seem to be confined to battles between ramblers and landowners—but that is another story.

However, there are several famous "honeypots"— beautiful and popular parts of Scotland, easily accessible and always in danger of being overrun. I refer to places like Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms. In such places there tend to be three, potentially conflicting, interest groups: the people who live and work there; the tourists and day trippers who want to visit, together with the hotel and leisure operators who want to exploit the area for those tourists; and the conservationists and environmentalists—hill walkers, bird watchers, natural historians and people who like studying lichen and inspecting peat bogs. This last group tend to want to restrict tourism because they fear the damage that it can do, although, ironically, they themselves are mostly classed as tourists by the Scottish Tourist Board.

One of the roles of the Tourism and Environment Task Force is to try to reconcile the different interest groups. Visitor management schemes have been set up to control and monitor the more sensitive sites. In most cases they seem to be working very successfully. Loch Lomond is a particularly sensitive area. It is both ecologically important and the most popular tourist and day-tripper destination. It has been estimated that 5 million people pass through Loch Lomond each year; and at Duck Bay, a well-known beauty spot, 500,000 a year stop for picnics or to admire the view. At the height of the season great pressure is put on the facilities, such as car parking and toilets. I am told that there have been serious problems this year in relation to toilet facilities. However, that matter is easily resolvable.

In the Cairngorms, however, there is a more serious conflict of interests. Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the tourist related bodies want to see a funicular built to allow visitors spectacular views in summer and to provide a new starting-point for skiers in winter. The scheme is opposed by most of the environmental bodies which fear that damage could be done by too many feet trampling the unique and sensitive eco-structure of the Cairngorms plateau. Scottish Natural Heritage, which is concerned with both tourists and environmental matters, has the power to stop the scheme but has decided to support it subject to certain conditions which have now been met. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the World Wildlife Fund are taking SNH to the European Court in an attempt to have the project stopped.

However, such head-on conflicts are rare. The Tourism and Environment Task Force has been able in most cases to reconcile the different interests in ways that bring benefit to both the tourism industry and conservationists. Soon, under the new Scottish parliament, I hope that both Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms will become designated national parks and that a new national park authority will be in power to manage those complex and sensitive areas in the best interests of all parties.

Fortunately, in Scotland we are taking the problems of tourism and the environment seriously. So that is not the main problem that arises in relation to tourism. The main problem, so far as the rural areas are concerned is the short season—large numbers of visitors in the summer months and not enough for the rest of the year. But even more worrying is the fear that Scotland is beginning to lose its share of the world tourist market. Let us hope that last year was only a temporary blip and that the pound weakens against other currencies.

4.27 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I take you south for a few moments, from Scotland and the Cairngorms to the other end of the kingdom, to the South Downs and the Seven Sisters. I declare an interest as chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board—a post that I willingly took on from the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, a few months ago. From our point of view, this debate introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, comes at a singularly opportune moment. Only last week, as some noble Lords will have read in the newspapers, the Countryside Commission announced that it was reporting to Ministers about the future conservation needs of the South Downs. That is to be the subject of my remarks. The noble Viscount's Motion refers to, the case for a balance between the conservation of our cultural…heritage and the commercial imperative of tourism". That is the crux of the matter, as my noble friend Lord Jopling stated in his speech, particularly in relation to the Lake District.

We in Sussex, and on the Sussex Downs Board, were delighted with the Countryside Commission's recommendations to Ministers. We have not yet seen them in full, but we are very pleased with those that we have seen, and with the press release, and that the Countryside Commission took the view that we expressed in the paper that we submitted to the commission at the end of January—first, that the South Downs needed the highest possible degree of protection; and, secondly, that it should be, unlike at present, managed through an independent statutory body, and thus its long-term future would be assured, together with long-term funding, a considerable part of which should come from central government. Like every conservation body, we should like the percentage from central government to be as high as possible, but at least 50 per cent.

The Countryside Commission stated that the independent statutory body should be, aimed at conserving the natural beauty of the area, managing recreational demands and ensuring proper planning protection". Having lived under the Downs for 30 years, I wholeheartedly agree with that brief description of what we need in the Downs. It is very much in line with what we proposed in January at a meeting after which we produced our response to the Countryside Commission. I am glad to say that with just two abstentions our response was unanimous, representing the view of a board which consists of 24 councillors (county, district and some from Brighton and Hove authority) and 12 nominees of the Countryside Commission.

The details are still to come and I shall be interested to know the precise shape of the legislation that the Countryside Commission proposes or will suggest to Ministers to deal with the solution for us and other areas of outstanding natural beauty that they are putting forward.

The point I wish to stress to your Lordships this afternoon is that the conservation board has been a great success. I can say that because I only became chairman six months ago so I do not have to take any credit for it. It has been a success essentially by working in partnership with every kind of body: farmers, landowners, the Environment Agency and the Countryside Commission. There is a list of them, for example, in the paper I have here about our Ouse Valley Project and all the people with whom we are trying to work in order to conserve and enhance the natural amenities of the Ouse Valley.

It is that basis of partnership that has not only made us a successful and appreciated local body, but it is also important for the future. We do not want to go against the grain of what the people in Sussex and East Hampshire want.

On the specific question of tourism, it is interesting that it was one question asked by the Countryside Commission in their paper to which we and 555 others responded. On tourism, in the responses received by the Countryside Commission, 35 per cent. favoured no encouragement of tourism whatever; 25 per cent. wanted it only under strict control. Only 3 per cent. thought that we in the South Downs should be encouraging tourism without any caveats. As a subsidiary question, there were replies stating that 34 per cent. thought that sustainable forms which do not harm the environment were acceptable; 17 per cent. thought that quiet or green tourism was acceptable. Here I rather disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, because eco-tourism is perhaps not an attractive phrase but it is one that we shall increasingly have to live with. The answer for the future in my book definitely lies in trying—certainly for us in the Downs—only to develop that kind of tourism that lies within the last two descriptions: sustainable forms that do not harm the environment or quiet or green tourism.

Of course, the devil lies in the detail. The chalk grassland of the Downs becomes worn away extremely quickly. Others such as the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, have quoted the phrase "loved to death". That easily applies to the South Downs.

In contrast, I was in north Norfolk last weekend and was fortunate enough to be able to walk through the Holkham Woods where Eddie Coke and English Nature between them have created a marvellous path down to Holkham Beach. It was not busy on Sunday afternoon, there were ducks, geese and terns pretending to be gannets. Then we went over to the Pensthorpe Water Fowl Trust at Fakenham where Bill Makins has, I think with great intelligence, created out of 200 acres of gravel pits a series of well landscaped ponds where you can see anything from the smallest of waders to geese and ibis. When we were there, they were looking lovely in the spring sunshine and rain, and it was not very busy. The next day I gather that it was quite a different scene because a heron rarely seen in this country had arrived on Bill Makins's pools. There were—if I may use that friendly word—"twitchers" from all over Britain rushing to see this unusual form of heron. However, I heard that for the Pensthorpe Water Fowl Trust, the average number of visitors a year over the 200 acres was 45,000 to 50,000. Contrast that with us, with our Exceat Country Park near Seven Sisters, a few miles out of Eastbourne, where there are a few shops, a small restaurant and you can hire a mountain bike or walk down the Cuckmere to the heritage coast. It has not 45,000 visitors a year, but 450,000, with 150,000 cars. The idea of revenue from visitors is attractive, but we have not succeeded in finding any ways of achieving it.

In a sense, that expresses our dilemma. We have 80 miles of extraordinary landscape, only four miles wide on average. We have 32 million visits a year. I have just heard that Loch Lomond has 5 million. Ten million people live within an hour's drive of the centre of the South Downs; 1 million could walk from their homes to the centre and back easily in the course of one day. It is a very difficult, unusual beauty spot in the south of England which must be conserved in the next century.

I very much hope that Ministers—and I say this with great respect to the noble Lord—will listen carefully to the different submissions coming to them. I hope that the Government will reach the right decision as to the South Downs conservation authority for the next century. It is a decision which should not be made in a mood of seeking great publicity. The Government should not be carried away and make a large millennium gesture. We want the best possible scenario: a statutory body for the unique South Downs which will help us conserve them throughout the next century so that we will pass on to our children and their children something as beautiful as it is today.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Cochrane of Cults

My Lords, I must first declare an interest, having been involved in the tourism industry for upwards of a quarter of a century, in rather a different field from any previous speaker or, I think, any succeeding speaker. That is the caravan industry. It is often misunderstood, often derided, but gives an invaluable service to a great number of visitors and tourists during the year. I fear that I must disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who has just spoken and say that I shall gradually meander northwards from where I begin my speech.

First, I wish to remark on the most interesting and, to me, extraordinarily welcome remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, on the subject of there being too many tourists not paying enough. He indirectly suggested a tourist tax; and I hope that I am not building too much on what I thought he said. There is much to be said for a tourist tax, as long as local authorities are allowed to hypothecate it. This has always been absolute anathema to the Treasury, so it merely chops the block grant, as has happened to museums. Nevertheless, I see today, rather encouragingly, that Mr. Prescott has negotiated a deal, wearing his transport hat, for certain road schemes and facilities being allowed to hypothecate the revenue derived. That is good news.

This tax is inevitable, because of the problems which have already been spoken of with a remarkable degree of unanimity in the House. People know that there are too many tourists for the good of some places and not enough in total at a good enough price. I suppose that in England there are two major tourist attractions: London and York. I know that there are others, including Oxford, and I was at Cambridge. That is sufficient. Scotland has Edinburgh. Wales has Snowdonia.

The only thing that can be done to spread out tourism is to make it expensive to go to the overloaded attractions and possibly cross-subsidise those elsewhere. However, that involves a degree of co-operation between parties who may well find it difficult to work together.

I was very glad to hear the noble Viscount who introduced this debate recognise that it was necessary to have a balance between tourism and conservation, both effectively of buildings and landscape. Of course that is right. It is also a fact that tourism is commercially driven. People are not involved in the tourism industry for fun on the whole. One of the problems about tourism is that last night's empty hotel bed, unlet caravan pitch or unsold ticket is worth nothing the following day. It always used to be said that there is no commodity less valuable than yesterday's newspaper, but in fact you can either read it or light the fire with it and it can potentially be recycled. But the empty bed, the booking not taken or empty theatre seat, or whatever, is utterly valueless and that puts great pricing pressure on people to maintain their turnover by discounting.

Therefore, there is always this dilemma of downward pressure on prices in order to get volume because every extra space means money and may cost you very little. If you are in the hotel business it may cost you a breakfast, a little electricity, some hot water and the laundry; and that is about it. So that fact of life has to be recognised in considering how to strike the balance between the extent of tourist facilities and conservation. People will always tend to go for volume unless they see themselves as being in a very select niche of the market. Everybody seems to be pretty well agreed what the troubles are and are in reasonable agreement about what can be done about them.

History and scenery are our strong points. Another that is particularly important is civil peace. It is interesting to note that tourists are deterred quite deliberately by terrorists in the Arab states, Egypt and other places by well-planted bombs, shooting incidents and so on. It drives them away; people will not go. We have the incalculable advantage of having sustained civil peace in this country. That goes together with the wide availability of the English language throughout the markets from which our tourists come, as well as further afield. After all, English is now the language of the whole world's air traffic control system.

One of the points against us is the great concentration of tourists, which I touched on earlier. That has to be dealt with. Another point—the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has heard me bat on this before—is the discriminatory effect of the tourist operators' margin scheme against countries which have a higher rate of VAT than is common in the rest of the European Community. If you have this huge concentration of people and you do not shift it about, as the noble Lord, Lord Montague, said very clearly, ultimately what they come to look at will have gone. That effect cannot be avoided, so you have to limit access.

This is also now a problem in the wider countryside with the invention of quad bikes, moto-cross bikes and to a lesser extent mountain bikes. Horses have four very powerful destructive feet when it is wet. Therefore it is idle to imagine that an unlimited right to roam can be regarded as a sustainable development: it cannot.

In trying to achieve the balance between conservation and tourism of course there are a number of obstacles. They may not be meant to be obstacles but they can be: most particularly the planning authorities. Also, in Scotland, there is the Scottish Office, and then there are other parts of government in Scotland—"Historic Scotland" and its subsidised off-shoot, the Civic Trust. Then there are local government planning consents and refusals. All of these come into it and quite frequently the authorities do not get it right.

I have the feeling that, at the moment, if you put up a big enough scheme you will get permission. One looks across the river at Battersea power station, standing derelict. That was an enormous scheme. It is interesting to speculate whether, if one made an application in regard to a virgin site of some 600 acres in Perthshire and proposed to build a large hotel with two golf courses connected by a branch railway, you would get planning permission. In fact it happened in the 1920s and is now called Gleneagles. Has it done badly for the countryside or has it done good? My view is that it has been a worthwhile development of enormous importance. However, this balance tends to go against small-scale developments which could be useful in-fills or start-ups in rural areas, and I must impress upon your Lordships that that is clearly something that it is essential to address. We must make sure that small enterprises can get going.

4.45 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, if you were to visit the small market town of Burford in the county of Oxfordshire about which the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, spoke so eloquently, you would see the church of St. John the Baptist. On the wall outside is a monument to three men, three soldiers, who in 1647 were done to death on the orders of Oliver Cromwell because they, the first Levellers, objected to the totalitarian state that Cromwell was introducing. Many people from all parts of the world go and look at that monument.

If you were to go inside the church you would see a chapel. In the chapel are buried a man, his wife, daughter and grandson. It is an enormous funereal monument which takes up the whole chapel, so there is no space in which to look around it. That monument is to the memory of a Lord Chief Justice, Sir Lawrence Tanfield. He was James I's Lord Chief Justice and was, it is reputed, a harsh and unjust man. His wife, we are told, was worse. I quote from the DOB: she saith that we are more worthy to be ground to powder"— that is what her tenants said— than to have any favour shewed to us, and that she will play the very devil among us. Lord Chief Justice Tanfield was the direct ancestor of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, who introduced today's debate. It will not have escaped your Lordships that for the last six weeks the noble Viscount has been our acting Chief Whip. This gives me the opportunity not only to welcome back to our Benches the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, but also to welcome him back to the task, which the noble Viscount does so well, of being our cultural spokesman. We thank him for introducing the debate.

I declare the first of two interests. At the age of 18 I joined the finest travel agency in the world and stayed for 20 years. That travel agency is the British Army. I went round about 67 countries. Not only is one a tourist. One is also, when leaving the shores of the United Kingdom, an ambassador for one's country. One meets many sorts of people; one sees many different museums, galleries and places of interest. Likewise, those who come here are not only tourists; they are also ambassadors. This exchange of knowledge between people of all nations is, in this rather hectic and dangerous world, even more important today than it was before. Tourism lets us get to know each other. Therefore I totally, but politely and reverently, disagree with my noble friend and kinsman, as only kinsmen are allowed to do, when he says that tourism is a bad thing.

Let me give two or three examples of how, in this great capital city, we deal with tourists. The first is this House. Every day people pour through. They do not pay; it is theirs. The people own Parliament. They can start on the line of route and see magnificent places. They flow through without disturbing the work of this place because the system is properly controlled and planned. They start at one end; they have guides, and they leave at the other end.

Another example is Westminster Abbey. On Sunday I took an Estonian member of parliament, Mr. Tōnu Tepandi, there. It was not designed for tourists but as a place of worship. We have heard how the National Trust introduced a ticketing system whereby visitors to its premises are allocated a time and place and the flow of tourists is regulated. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for reminding us of that. I suggest that at some stage Westminster Abbey should introduce that system. The Estonian member of parliament and myself had a disagreeable, although interesting, time when we visited the shrine. It was difficult to view it comfortably.

Another example is my old family favourite, the National Portrait Gallery. It hopes to see an increase in the number of visitors from 800,000 to 1.2 million a year. I thank the Minister and his fellow Ministers in another place who made it possible to visit the National Portrait Gallery free of charge. I hope that that will continue. What is the gallery going to do? It has introduced another entrance; there will be two escalators; and there will be a terrace at the top with a restaurant so that people can wait there and buy food or drink. There will be more space and more balance between the need to conserve and the need to exhibit.

Let us see beyond London. I visited the Riblat Gallery in the British Library. It is magnificent. I too have turned the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels; the place is full of treasures. In fact, it may be overfull. The Minister may wish to tell us how he and his Government will urge the British Library and others to arrange the permanent loan of objects of art so that they can be seen in their best perspective in the regions to which they belong. People will move out of London to the regions to see them.

I turn to Stonehenge, which we discussed last year in a debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, who is not in his place. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will remember that certain proposals were put forward; it was said, "All will be right". Last week I visited Stonehenge in anticipation of this debate. I saw no change. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us, as the millennium approaches—and Stonehenge being the greatest clock in the world—how it will be better displayed for the public. All we hear about at the moment is the Millennium Dome, which may last 25 years. Stonehenge has lasted for an infinity, although its atmosphere is in danger of being destroyed.

In 1992 I stood as parliamentary candidate for Leeds West. I decided to visit every museum in Leeds. I went to the natural history museum. I saw lions, tigers and other dangerous beasts stuffed by a taxidermist. It was a marvellous museum. When I was about to leave the building I saw a mirror and, being an extremely inquisitive person, I went up to it. To my astonishment—but not to my pleasure—I saw my own face. I looked up and above the mirror was the notice, "The most dangerous animal in the world." That may be true. We are dangerous animals at times; we destroy. Let us try to preserve and, with tourism and with access, let us create not only balance, but also space.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for introducing this debate. Perhaps, on the whole, the balance is very much on the side of the tourist. I want to reverse that and spend more time on the environmental heritage of this country because, without an attractive heritage and environment, we would not have any tourists at all.

Are the Government doing enough to look after our landscape and the countryside? Many people would say that that is very much in doubt at the present time and the countryside march held a few weeks ago showed that many people doubted the stewardship of the Government relative to the rural economy.

Over the centuries the landowners and farmers have developed the landscape through hedges, fields, forestry and attractive farm buildings. But the rural economy is now in crisis. Farmers are going through a terrible period, made much worse by the current Government. The green pound should be adjusted forthwith. The Government have accentuated errors over BSE—effectively highlighted in debates in this House. Beef, lamb, grain and hill farms are suffering dramatically at the present time, and therefore the countryside is beginning to suffer and will rapidly become much worse. Farming must be profitable if our rural economy is to thrive and show the beauty of the countryside to tourists.

The Government act in strange ways—I shall point to a number. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, mentioned this in relation to the Cairngorms. In Scotland we have had tremendous goodwill in areas of importance like Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms. I hope that that continues. I set up the Cairngorm Partnership when I was Minister. We developed the common ground that existed there. The noble Earl and I share the view that there are only four or five important ski areas in Scotland, the major being at Aviemore. We must allow the railway to go ahead if those areas are to survive in the future, yet the Government seem to be hostile to the partnership—there have been enforced resignations, the chairman has been changed and we wonder what the Government are thinking about.

We must be careful in Scotland of going down the route of National Parks. I believe that that is what the Government have in mind. I was the Minister in England and Scotland looking after rural affairs, and national parks in England were among them. There are great advantages in staying as we are in Scotland where our planning laws are effective and local councils and enterprise companies have sufficient resources without going down the bureaucratic route that sometimes develops in a national park, about which my noble friend Lord Jopling so eloquently spoke.

In terms of tourism, we heard a savage attack from the Chancellor on motoring and road haulage. There has been a huge tax increase on petrol and diesel and that again has a severe impact on the rural economy. Nobody will believe, until we see them, that there are to be extra buses provided by the Minister for Transport. Anyhow, in rural areas a car is now essential. No amount of empty buses will help society in the countryside. People forget that the Border is 330 miles from here and Inverness 600. It costs a great deal more for a Member of the Labour Government to drive north to Scotland as a tourist than it did before Labour came to power.

I was astonished to see in the Scotsman newspaper today that the Government are getting involved in another anti-tourism scheme in relation to fishing. Hotels, shops and fishing are extremely important to the rural economy. Yet the Scottish Office Minister is scrapping the Tweed and Eye protection order. There are few enough salmon and trout in those waters now and it is heaven sent information for poachers. In no way will it help tourism. There has been no consultation with the three commissioners or with the Border Angling Association. I want to see the Government do rather more than simply put out glossy brochures about the countryside and the rural economy. Let us see some positive action which is helping various areas at this difficult time.

I want to mention also, in terms of the environment and heritage, my deep concern at the development of wind farms. I raised this matter in detail 18 months ago in a debate in the other place and not much seems to have happened since. I was given an assurance in October 1996 by the then Minister that the Government would look carefully at what I had said with regard to planning permission for wind farms and telecommunications towers. I wonder whether that has indeed happened.

At present, anyone, after consulting the planning authority—he does not have to get permission—can, under the various telecommunications Acts and government guidelines and development orders, put up a telecommunications tower of roughly 50 feet in height. Anyone who drives around the countryside—this is certainly true in Scotland—sees a proliferation of towers on top of almost every hill. We should take a much more serious line about this, particularly if it continues to develop at the present rate.

The same is true for wind farms. I know that we are interested in sustainable development and renewable energy, but we also know that without very substantial subsidies wind farms would not be established at all. I have looked at them all over the place, from Denmark to Wales and from England to Scotland and every time I have become more and more depressed as I have seen towers of 50 feet, 100 feet and sometimes 200 feet dotted about the countryside generating extraordinarily little electricity. On an average winter day we need 50,000 megawatts of electricity, of which wind farms develop about 64 megawatts. One can see that in relation to their desecration of the countryside the amount of power they produce is extraordinarily little.

Of course I encourage wave power and I encourage hydro-electricity, but if we are looking, as we are, at our environmental heritage, we have to be very careful about how planning authorities seem to give permission for generators and wind farms almost at the drop of a hat, without considering in detail the objections, which are many, and bearing in mind that once the pylons are in place the employment is extremely small and the electricity generated is very little. Then, of course, there are the transmission lines from the wind farms back to the point where the electricity is required.

I put in a plea to the Government to look again at the legislation on wind farms and on telecommunications towers. We have to look after our heritage because if we do not we will find that our tourism will fall away. People will not come here to look at wind farms in large numbers. One was announced in Argyle only last week—in the Mull of Kintyre—which I hope will be carefully considered by the local planning authority and by the Scottish Office, which is supposed to have an environmental assessment of any wind farm with 10 or more towers.

The debate today has been valuable in showing our concern in the House about the number of tourists coming to honey-pots such as the Lake District, to which my noble friend Lord Jopling referred, where paths are becoming wider and wider. I can almost see the path up Helvellyn from my house with a telescope. It is becoming worse and worse. We cannot sit back and do nothing. Debates like this show the concern of those in the House. I hope that the Government will bear in mind what we have said.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I begin my few remarks by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for introducing the debate. I should explain to your Lordships that the basis for almost all my comments, like many of those of my noble friend Lord Jopling, will be the north of England, where I live.

There have been important developments of all kinds in the latter part of this century, but perhaps the growth of tourism and travel has been one of the most remarkable, changing the Grand Tour into the package holiday. We have seen the growth of the leisure pound and the leisure hour, which are very important economic and social phenomena.

Some years ago I had the privilege to represent the Euro-constituency of Cumbria and Lancashire North in the European Parliament. What was striking about that area was the way in which tourism was the most important industry in it. In particular, the basis of that tourism was the by-product of another industry, agriculture. Indeed, it was almost the case, paradoxically, that the value of the by-product was more than the value of the main agricultural product of the industry. That casts an interesting light on the whole debate about agricultural support. For example, how can the industry that was benefiting so much from this activity contribute something towards it?

Sustainability is generally recognised as one of those good things about which all men of good will can agree. From a business perspective it is important because it represents the characteristics of a business which do not destroy themselves as they proceed through time. It is a renewable source of income to the person or family deriving their livelihood from it. From an environmental point of view it is also a good thing because the very thing which attracts the visitors is not being destroyed in the generation of wealth. Rather the opposite can happen and the environment can be enhanced.

There is a general consensus right across the political divide about the desirability of sustainability. However, as is so often the case, the devil lies in the details, and in particular how those details should relate to the political and ideological priorities of the day. Elegantly phrased policies in themselves are of little help in the promotion of sustainability. The solution to these difficult problems lies through the working of the market. In contemporary Britain, economic activity is principally determined by the workings of the laws of supply and demand and how they are affected by the response of industry and those in the market place to the Government's tax-gathering and grant-giving activities. Too frequently the left hand of government does not know what the right hand is doing.

I should like to focus the rest of my remarks on the uplands, deriving my experience from upland farming in the Lake District, where I am a hill farmer. While I am affected by the policies and how they are being applied there, I hope that I can bring some experience to the subject based on a degree of first-hand knowledge. As has already been mentioned, upland farmers are, as we speak, on the economic ropes. The reason for that is simple. Prices have crashed and that is indirectly and directly the result of the strength of the pound. In the particular circumstances of agriculture, the Government, as my noble friend Lord Monro pointed out, are directly responsible for the economic plight in which the hill farming industry finds itself. As he commented, it is possible for the Government to bring about a revaluation of the green pound.

If I were in government and I were faced with the problems which a high pound is causing to this country, not only in agriculture but right across the economic spectrum, particularly in manufacturing, I would feel instinctively reluctant to make a particular move to benefit one sector—perhaps a perceived feather-bedded sector—of an industry which may not be particularly popular. But we want to be clear that in this context agriculture is different from other industries because, thanks to the way in which the common agricultural policy operates, prices are not set in a conventional, open market place. There are plenty of arguments about whether that is or is not a good thing, but that does not help those who are affected by the workings of the system that is currently in place.

Prices for these agricultural products are set within a system which provides for changes in the green exchange rates as and when the kind of circumstances which we have seen in recent times occur. Against that background, the reason prices are low is that the Government have decided for their own reasons not to trigger the changes. It is not appropriate or accurate to cast the blame wider. It is not merely a short-term problem. It may well not be a short-term problem because once this kind of crisis hits an industry, even if prices may bounce back in the relatively short future—I am not sure that I see any evidence to support that likelihood—markets, once lost, can be lost for ever.

The point about an area such as the Lake District is that it is an area which is ideally suited for the development of sustainable tourism. The problem is that the diversification that that entails involves the investment of capital, and bankrupt businesses are those which are least able to invest in order to bring about this kind of evolutionary change which is almost certainly going to take place.

One has only to look just over the border from the Lake District into the Yorkshire Dales National Park where, until the welcome advent of the environmentally sensitive area there, there was a long story of derelict rural buildings and decaying dry stone walls because the small farmers there were simply unable to do anything with the assets which were tumbling down. One of the encouraging changes that we have seen over recent years is that, thanks to the redirection of policy, we have now work in hand which has meant that some of these buildings are now being repaired. The dry stone walls, which are an essential characteristic of the environment and part of the heritage of these areas, and which are much loved by those who visit the locality, are being restored.

As I mentioned, in this context the working of the common agricultural policy is of very great importance. In a world which is now being faced by a further round of talks in the World Trade Organisation and the welcome proposed enlargement of the European Community, we shall see very substantial changes to the common agricultural policy which are already being flagged up in Agenda 2000.

For this country the threat of price cutting and the modulation of support pose particular threats to many of the kinds of enterprises to which I have been alluding. I shall be extremely grateful if the Minister can spell out what part the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is playing in forming the policy which will be the basis for our response to the further development of these proposals. I believe that it is absolutely essential that, in responding to the issues thrown up by Agenda 2000, the interests of tourism and sustainable rural development are placed in the forefront.

As part of that process it is also very important that there is close integration between United Kingdom policy and the policy of the European Community as it may well be that, as a result of an adjustment of the common agriculture policy, it will be necessary for there to be consequential adjustments to domestic policy in order to ensure that the predicaments of the areas to which I have referred are properly looked after.

I believe very strongly that boom and bust is a real danger to sustainable tourism and to sustaining the countryside because it is only sustainable businesses which can do that. Those are the businesses which, in the long run, will provide the necessary input and provide real livelihoods for real families this year, next year and the year after that.

5.12 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, I could not help noticing that for a great part of our debate this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, was in his place. He is, and always has been, a great contributor in your Lordships' House to the many debates on tourism that we have had. On the last occasion he said how nice it was to see so many old lags gathered together once more. Perhaps I may say on this occasion, in addition to seeing so many of my fellow old lags, how nice it is to see so many new, eminent lags speaking on tourism.

I must declare my interests. I am president or patron of a number of organisations concerned with tourism and I am commercially active in a number of tourist companies. A full list is available in the Library for your Lordships to view since I would not wish to bore noble Lords with the whole list. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Falkland for having brought forward this Motion for debate today for not only is it a most interesting and important topic, as witnessed by the number, variety and quality of the contributions from your Lordships, but also because I believe that it goes to the very heart of the most important issue facing tourism.

Indeed, put in a wider context, it is not only an issue for tourism, but one which we face throughout our economic endeavours. It is that unbridled growth with no thought to the consequences of that growth is unacceptable; and that in all our economic endeavours we need to find the right balance between economic growth and the environmental and social impact of that growth. Our growth must be sustainable, not simply in economic terms, but also in environmental and social terms.

There are many issues facing tourism at present, but of these I believe two are key. These two key issues are, first, the requirement for an overall national strategy, and, secondly, how the development of the industry is to be funded. Of these two I would regard the development of a national strategy as being by far the most important. Indeed, the wide variety of points which have been raised by so many of your Lordships make it quite clear that any strategy which is developed for the successful prosecution of tourism must also take account of the wider implications. It is as important for tourism to know what is required of it and permitted and judged acceptable by the nation as it is for the Government and the nation to know what tourism wants to do. These are indeed two sides of the same coin.

It is important to understand that tourism is an economic activity. I realise that that may be a statement of the obvious, but it is a point which is sometimes overlooked in debating tourism. It is an economic activity just like any other economic activity in that it has the potential to provide many benefits, usually economic in terms of foreign exchange earnings and job creation. But in addition, like any other economic activity such as manufacturing and farming, it can produce negative consequences. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Beaumont has described, with his customary eloquence, the environmental consequences. While I have the greatest respect for what he said, and it is incumbent on us to take note of it, I do not agree with him that sustainable tourism is an oxymoron. I believe that sustainable growth in all our economic activities must be our goal.

Turning to the negative social consequences and perhaps arguing from the absurd, if a Cotswold village, say, were to experience busloads of visitors who came to that village, parked their buses, walked all over, and left without spending any money in hotels, restaurants, shops or bringing any other economic benefit, then clearly the only legacy would be traffic congestion, disruption and pollution. Therefore, it is clear that without an economic benefit, tourism is not very attractive to local inhabitants. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, made that very point in relation to Oxford.

I also believe that it is important to make the difference between tourism and the provision of leisure. I would argue that tourism relates to the provision of products and services directed at the traveller, which is primarily designed to provide the economic benefit which I have mentioned, whereas leisure is principally engaged in providing the recreational activity for the residents of communities, particularly at a local level. Clearly, there is some overlap between the two, but I believe that the drivers for these are distinctly different. I would make a difference between, say, access to the countryside, which I believe to be a question of leisure much more than tourism, and, say, attracting American visitors to this country which is clearly tourism.

There are six main reasons why it is essential that we develop a national strategy. The first I have largely outlined. It is to achieve the correct balance between the economic benefit we desire and acceptable environmental and social consequences. The second reason is to be clear as to what kind of tourism it is that we wish to encourage. It is not possible to develop a coherent marketing strategy if we have not addressed this question. If we were to say that the requirement from tourism must be to produce the maximum benefit for the minimum disruption in social and environmental terms, then one is clearly led to a conclusion that our overall tourism marketing strategy must be focused on producing high yield tourism. Again, that is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, which was that it is not about numbers, but the amount of money.

The third reason is that while there has been tremendous growth in tourism and indeed the industry has greatly matured since the Development of Tourism Act 1969, the mechanisms put in place at that time and particularly the national tourist boards, have remained unchanged. At the same time, over that period although there have been many new developments, there has also been a decline in many of our traditional tourism assets—seaside resorts, for example, come to mind—and it is clear that we have a strategic need to decide how to deal with these declining assets and whether or not to support them, and if we are to support them, how to do so.

The fourth reason is to answer the very important question which goes to the substance of our debate today, which is: how much? I recently visited Jersey to speak at a tourism conference and was most interested to learn that tourism in Jersey is in decline, having fallen from something like 25 per cent. of GDP to something just under 20 per cent., if my memory serves me correctly. Yet the government of Jersey did not view this with despair, rather they were engaged in a process of managing that decline and moving the tourism industry upmarket. The reason given for this was that tourism tends to employ those at the lower end of the wage spectrum and there were not very many of those left in Jersey. This to me demonstrates that unlimited growth is neither desirable nor likely and it is important therefore that a national strategy addresses the question of how much as well as what type and where.

The fifth reason is that tourism is a highly fragmented industry and touches on a great many other sectors and government departments, such as environment, transport, and education and employment. Nowhere was this more ably demonstrated than in the debate which we held in your Lordships' House on the Wednesday prior to the Recess on the subject of the millennium experience, where the importance of the transport links of this development were clearly underlined.

The final reason that I put forward is that tourism will be one of the matters devolved to the new national parliaments. Therefore, the current structure of the BTA (theoretically having charge of British marketing of tourism, with the various national boards having charge of domestic marketing) clearly needs to be redefined and will become unworkable.

For all the above reasons and, I am sure, for many others on which I have not touched, it is clear that we need a national strategy which not only takes into account what is acceptable to the population in environmental and social terms as a price to pay for the economic benefit, but which also outlines to the industry what it can do.

I am aware that the last government began a process of reviewing tourism strategy—the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, touched on that—and I believe that that process has been carried on by the current Government and that there are a number of committees which are due to report to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport sometime in the summer. However, I understand that the majority, if not all, of those taking part of this process of consultation and development come from within the industry and consequently the strategy which will be put forward will be centred on the industry's desire for development.

As I have already said, this is only one side of the equation. It was for this reason that my right honourable friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, put forward a fresh concept in a speech outlining Liberal Democrat tourism policy prior to the last election. We advocated the creation of a body which we called the "tourism commission" which would have as its specific brief to review our current structure, and to conceive, recommend and oversee the implementation of an integrated and sustainable tourism strategy. We envisage that this body would be chaired by the tourism Minister and have political representatives from the other departments of state which impact on tourism, such as transport, environment, education and employment. There would in addition be representatives from within the industry and, most importantly, from those upon whom the industry impacts. Therefore, it would not be another quango, but would be part of the political process and fully accountable to Parliament.

I had intended to speak for a moment on the issue of funding, but I do not think that I have the time to do so. Therefore, I conclude by saying that tourism has much to contribute. It is a major contributor of foreign earnings, a provider of many jobs and one of our largest and fastest-growing industries. Those of us who work in the industry must, and I believe do, accept that unrestricted and unplanned growth has too great a negative impact and that therefore the consequences of our actions in terms other than economic must be taken into full account. We understand that we must have regard to the social and environmental consequences of what we do and we know that we need a strategy that addresses all of these issues. With such a strategy, I am confident that the industry will continue to be a valid national industry and with such a strategy, I believe that we can achieve the balance to which my noble friend so eloquently called attention.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Luke

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for initiating this debate. It has been most interesting to listen to such a rich variety of speeches by noble Lords and not least to hear such a great number of tourist attractions mentioned, ranging from Venice to the beaches of Mombasa.

Tourists, whether in the Lake District or going round Windsor Castle, can damage what they have come to see. But do they? To read some of the voluminous articles, learned treatises and so on, one would expect to find ruin and destruction on all sides. Some 27 million tourists come to this country every year. The vast majority pass through without destroying or, indeed, damaging anything. They also spend some £36 billion or so. My noble friend Lord Bradford said that the amount was £26 billion, but I say that it is £36 billion. It is quite certain that a large number of the attractions they visit would not survive without the lifeblood of tourist money paying for upkeep, conservation and preservation.

Tourism and conservation are, in fact, complementary. Where they are not, a strong dose of plain and simple common sense should bring them fruitfully together. The phrase I encountered most often in my researches for today's debate was "sustainable tourism". We have heard it a lot this afternoon. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I am afraid that I do not believe that it is a contradiction in terms. Indeed, unlike much modern jargon, to my mind the phrase is right on the button in describing the object of most noble Lords who have spoken. Tourism has to be sustainable or, in the end, it is counter-productive to the place concerned.

Tourism is already the biggest industry in the world, and it is still growing fast. It has many different facets and many different implications. Its impact on the third world is probably where it is most difficult to strike a balance between preservation and eager explorers. The delights of Bali, the Maya temples in Mexico and the indigenous tribes in the Brazilian rainforest are examples of "tourist attractions" in the broadest sense which can be severely affected by uncontrolled visiting.

It is interesting to see what the Disney Corporation has done at one of the greatest, in terms of numbers, tourist attractions in the world. I refer to Disneyland in Florida. Disney has taken enormous trouble to protect and enhance the ecology of Florida. It has also given great prominence to conservation and allied subjects over the whole site of its activities. That is an example of the right way of constructing large tourist attractions.

The Green Paper on the right to roam was recently published. I very much welcome the Government's belief that the subject can be dealt with by voluntary agreement. I confess to having grave doubts about that. A comprehensive right to roam, without control, will not protect the environment—rather the reverse. I am thinking particularly of ground-nesting birds and rare and delicate wild plants. There are many other examples of where grave damage can be done, inadvertently of course. Private landowners preserve and conserve the heritage better than any other organisation has done or could do. We had an excellent example of the necessary balance between heritage and commerce in the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

It is frequently said—it has been said today—that London traffic is a nightmare. However, in the real world, away from those who write endless, extensive analyses of what needs to be done, we who work in London have learned to live with the traffic and to accommodate our movements and timings accordingly. However, there are measures which could influence the effects of tourist traffic on congestion; namely, to persuade many more tourists to travel on the River Thames. For example, I have been very frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm and drive of the Millennium Experience Company in pressing ahead with its excellent park and sail scheme whereby shuttle waterbuses take people to the Greenwich Dome from purpose-built car parks beside the river in Barking and Thamesmead. That would considerably ease the traffic congestion at Greenwich at the millennium. The Minister has been waiting for me to raise this subject again. However, it is extraordinary that it appears that the scheme is, for whatever reason, to be dropped.

Many noble Lords have spoken about the dangers posed to our national treasures by the so-called tourist menace. I have spoken to the representatives of three such. The administration manager of St. Paul's Cathedral could not think of any damage caused by tourists worth talking about, except possibly that the stairs leading up to the Whispering Gallery were becoming a bit worn and some might need to be replaced in a few years' time. He also believed that sometimes graffiti was a problem. Of course, visitors to St. Paul's are much fewer than those visiting Westminster Abbey. At the abbey I spoke to a most helpful canon. The abbey receives between 2.5 million and 3 million visitors a year. The doors are shut when it is judged that enough people are inside. Some visitors get rather wet waiting to go in. There is a good deal of wear on the pavement, mostly uneven because of the use of different stone in the construction. Because it is a working church it is difficult to rope off areas of vulnerability.

I was told that possibly sweat was the greatest long-term threat. The toxin-rich sweat given off by 17,000 people a day pollutes the atmosphere slowly but surely and damages stonework, woodwork, leadwork and the organ. Much renovation is required—hence the need to charge an entrance fee as a means of paying for it. The abbey is also troubled by noise. The problem has been much reduced recently by the simple expedient of asking visitors to remember others and to try to keep quiet.

I come last but not least to the Palace of Westminster. I spoke to Sir Edward Jones, who was kind enough to say that I could quote him, and the deputy curator. One thousand people a day follow the line of route. Damage to the fabric and contents is minimal and inadvertent. I understand that some tiles in the Royal Gallery are being worn down. The rise and fall in humidity as doors to the outside are opened and shut is a problem. It causes movement between the oil and canvas of paintings. Carpets wear. If, as has been mooted, the palace is open to the general public it will become necessary to find funds for extra security, for an awning for people waiting to come in, for extra guides and attendants, for the marketing of the operation, and for ticketing arrangements and so on. It is possible that a small entrance charge would have to be made or that money would have to be found from elsewhere.

This has been a very interesting debate. Several noble Lords have wondered why such a large proportion of visitors from abroad stay in London. There is one very good answer: London provides the best shopping in the world. We need the tourists and also need to preserve our heritage. Let us be sure that we satisfy both aspirations.

5.34 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, all noble Lords have rightly expressed gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for giving the House the opportunity to debate this important subject. His Motion is very widely drawn and is not restricted to the United Kingdom. But the noble Viscount will observe that having himself gone as far as Mombasa he was not followed abroad by any other noble Lord except the noble Lord, Lord Luke, and the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle. The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, who visited 67 countries during his military career, will remember the recruiting poster which described the advantages and pleasures of Army service as being the ability to travel to fascinating countries and meet interesting people. I do not know whether he remembers the graffito which was regularly placed upon that poster which read "Meet interesting people and kill them". I remind the noble Earl of his military duties.

However, the remainder of the debate has been about this country. I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me if I restrict my remarks to this country. After all, that is primarily the responsibility of this Government. We are also concerned with the world environment, to which I shall refer, but the bulk of the responses will be related to tourism in the United Kingdom.

There cannot be any doubt that tourism is an integral part of modern life. It touches most people's lives either as travellers themselves for business or leisure or as hosts at tourism destinations. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that that is a neutral observation and is not intended to judge whether it is a good or a bad thing at this stage. But clearly it directly influences the purchasing and travel behaviour of many thousands of consumers and indirectly influences a wide range of other industries such as construction, retailing, agriculture and manufacturing. Those noble Lords who have referred to the importance of tourism to our economy are quite right. I do not need to repeat the figures. Tourism has a huge impact on the national and local economy and on lifestyle, culture and the use of resources.

Tourism is set to grow even more rapidly than in the past. It is estimated that there will be in excess of a 40 per cent. growth in travel and tourism across the globe in the next decade. In parenthesis, I should remark upon the observations of my noble friend Lord Montague of Oxford, the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane of Cults, about the importance of money rather than the number of tourists. The implication of what they said was that we should be after money rather than numbers because there was not much to be gained from back-packers and students. There is a certain logic in that, but I remind noble Lords that today's schoolchild and back-packer is tomorrow's family or business visitor. If they come here and gain a good impression of this country, even if they do not spend a good deal of money, the likelihood is that they will spend more at a later time. Therefore, we must look at all aspects of tourism, not simply the commercial aspect that we are invited to consider in the wording of the Motion before the House today.

I return to the question of the benefit of tourism. Clearly, it is one of the most successful sectors of the economy. Some parts of the country are heavily dependent both directly and indirectly on tourism. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and other noble Lords referred to the importance of tourism in the countryside. Tourism is one of the few industries outside the traditional rural ones that is viable in the countryside. The importance of its role has increased with the fall in employment in the more traditional industries such as agriculture and mineral extraction. The noble Lords, Lord Monro and Lord Inglewood, commented on this point. I acknowledge that there is a symbiotic relationship between the rural economy and tourism. We must be extraordinarily careful not to disturb that by allowing tourism to damage agriculture and other rural activities, or vice versa.

The Countryside Commission has estimated that 35 per cent. of tourism in this country is in the countryside, but one must look at it from the point of view of the countryside as well. Tourism is helping to reverse economic decline, provide job opportunities, as well as bringing about environmental improvements, such as the new use of derelict land, the restoration of redundant buildings and conservation and repair of the countryside. Of course it stimulates public awareness of the importance of protecting the environment, and does much to maintain and improve local services, such as public transport, shops, and leisure and cultural activities.

We must of course turn to the downside of tourism. I pay tribute to the fundamentalist view of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—the self-described libertarian socialist. I like, respect and hope to share that description, but he is against the whole thing, and I am afraid that I am not. I rather suspect that he is against it in principle rather than in practice, as his quotations from Oscar Wilde acknowledge.

The real danger is not that the concept of tourism is itself fundamentally bad; the real danger is the effect tourism may have. Many noble Lords used the phrase, "love to death". It was used first by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and then by many others. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, mentioned the way in which we are all of course keen on tourism in theory but not in our backyard. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said, that you can reach a critical load. If you have too many visitors in the same place at the same time, you have congestion, inconvenience to local people and environmental damage.

The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, seemed to think that it was not a good thing that there should be more tourist attractions in England, but we should attract roughly the same number of visitors. First, there is not the same number of visitors. The numbers continue to increase. Secondly, even if that were the case, I suggest that it would be a good thing; that it would increase—to use the term which is used in industry—system diversity of the tourism industry. Even with the same number of tourists visiting the same places, the less likely you are to have the critical overload to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred.

A number of noble Lords then took the opportunity to express reservations about the right to roam. That was true of the noble Lords, Lord Cochrane of Cults and Lord Luke. With due respect of course for rare birds and plants, I suggest that the right to roam increases the system diversity of our countryside, and is a good rather than a bad thing. Let us take, for example, Sweden where there is a complete right to roam, except near houses and in limited circumstances. In Sweden one is free to swim from any lake except from a private jetty. I think they have the better of it.

Lord Cochrane of Cults

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was saying that the right to roam must not be overdone, particularly by large animals such as horses, or mechanical contrivances. On the whole, except with large numbers in wet country, footpaths do not suffer a great deal of damage, but there are vulnerable places. I had no intention of saying that the right to roam was automatically wrong; I was trying to explain that the Government and others need to be aware that it can go wrong.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that, and I acknowledge the force of the noble Lord's reservations. I reaffirm that if we cannot reach agreement on the right-to-roam provisions—I hope that we can—we shall have to go further.

A number of noble Lords referred to particular areas of difficulty. The noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Inglewood, talked about the Lake District; and the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, about the South Downs. The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, will know that the Government have no power to give directions to the Countryside Commission, and so I cannot in any way comment upon the report that it has prepared for the Government until we have had a chance to consider it fully.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I was not suggesting that he should. I understand that Ministers will now be considering the Countryside Commission's proposal, and, I hope, those by the Sussex Downs Conservation Board very carefully. The point I wanted to make was that there is a close similarity between the two, and I hope that that will be recognised by Ministers.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that is a fair point. A number of noble Lords referred to London as the gateway to Britain, and, perhaps, too often the only place to which overseas visitors come. BTA research shows that 53 per cent. of all overseas visitors spend some time in London. The noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and others were right to say that we have reached a critical overload in many parts of London, notably on our public transport system.

So let us turn to what brings the two parts of the Motion together; that is, the phrase "sustainable tourism". What does that mean? In a nutshell it means developing tourism so that the economic and social opportunities that it offers are realised in a way that does not damage the resource upon which it depends for its success. It does not mean keeping everything just as it is. It is about acknowledging the needs of today and meeting them, but doing so in a way which enhances as well as conserves. It is not, as a number of noble Lords have said, a question of either economic development or environmental protection, but a proper integration of the two.

The key is to balance the demand of today's tourists with the need to conserve the industry's vital fabric for residents and visitors, today and tomorrow. The choice suggested here is not as stark as some people may think. My noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who was unfortunately unable to take part in the debate, reminded me, from his Scottish tourist experience, that a number of visitors, particularly German and Scandinavian, demand sustainable tourism and would not come here unless they thought that our tourist facilities were being undertaken on a sustainable basis.

I turn to what the Government are doing and plan to do about it. Noble Lords have recognised, first, that we produced Opportunities for Change in February of this year. It was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister. It is the wider consultation on updating the UK's sustainable development strategy. Within that there is of course the consultation document which has been referred to and welcomed, entitled Tourism—Towards Sustainability, which was published by Tom Clarke the Minister responsible for tourism on 14th April. It represents a radically different approach. It is the first time that the Government have consulted so widely about the role that tourism can play, because the Government are committed to enabling tourism growth that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

What does the paper do? It has a number of different questions which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, kindly described as searching. Before I say more about the questions, I should say that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, seemed to think that the drafting of the paper and of our strategies was being done largely by people within the tourism industry. That is not the case. The sustainability sub-group members under the chairmanship of Geoffrey Lipman, the president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, includes representatives of the Countryside Commission, the National Trust, the Rural Development Commission, Jonathan Porritt from his own organisation, Forum for the Future, the Oxford Brooks University and, of course, the DCMS itself. It is very widely based. The 57 members of the Tourism Forum and its working parties come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The paper seeks views on seven interrelated issues concerning sustainable tourism in the UK. First, how to integrate sustainable tourism into strategies at local, regional and national level and how to measure progress towards sustainability. Secondly, how tourism can best be used as an instrument for change. Thirdly, the best tools and techniques for managing visitor flows, thereby returning to the issue of critical load. Fourthly, how to encourage people to use more environmentally friendly transport. Fifthly, how to ensure that new tourism development contributes to the goal of sustainability. Sixthly, how sustainable tourism can help increase access. Seventhly, how best to achieve the partnership between the public and private sectors that is required to bring about change.

We have distributed 10,000 copies of that document and more copies are available to anyone who wants them. It is also available on the Internet. As the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, reminded us, responses are due by 29th May to the DCMS and they may be sent by e-mail. The aim of the consultation is to ensure that the policies which we and others put in place are the right ones and that those who have to put them in place have been involved in policy making.

I will not deal with the detailed questions which were asked, but I will try rapidly to deal with some of the additional questions. As regards planning guidance No. 17 on sport and recreation and No. 21 on tourism, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is carrying out fresh research and will be reporting soon. The noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, asked about VAT on listed buildings. I am afraid that I can give him no more favourable an answer than I gave him on the previous occasion. As regards up-dating the listing, he named a couple of cities where we might be behind. The approach we are taking is thematic. I hope he will agree that that is right, rather than blitzing particular cities. In that way, we can more effectively address the priorities for listing.

I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Monro, as regards wind farms. It is a difficult issue and if there is anything in addition that I ought to tell him I shall write to him. I share the sadness of the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that we were unable via a commercial deal to set up park-and-sail to the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. However, he will recall that we are spending £21 million as part of the Thames 2000 initiative to boost new passenger transport services on the Thames. We expect 1 million people to travel by boat from central London to the Millennium Dome during the year 2000.

What will happen as a result of the consultation? First, the results will be used to update the tourism section of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy. That will be published by the DETR later this year. The results will also feed into the development of the new strategy for tourism which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will launch later this year. We are working on a comprehensive strategy for tourism, for which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, asked, which will spell out how the Government intend to create and sustain an improved policy framework within which tourism, hospitality and leisure can flourish. It will identify the underlying trends in tourism and use that information to build on the industry's success.

Today's debate has been a most valuable addition to that consultation process. I assure your Lordships that the speeches will be included formally—there is no reason why they should not be—in the consultation process and will therefore be reflected in our conclusions.

Growth in tourism offers the industry immense opportunities, but places great responsibilities on it. Tourism in Britain flourishes because of the attractiveness and quality of the natural environment. Therefore, as at least one noble Lord said, we must not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Some people believe that it is an either/or situation; either you allow tourism numbers to grow or you start to reduce visitor numbers in order to protect the environment. But it is not as simple as that. There is no reason why the development of tourism needs to be in opposition to the protection of the environment. It is a question of balancing the needs of the visitors and the needs of the environment. The two are not mutually incompatible, particularly as today's tourists are becoming more selective and discerning. With proper planning, care and attention, even the most popular and vulnerable of visitor destinations can become examples of sustainable tourism in action.

5.55 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a most interesting and productive debate. I was interested to hear the Minister pick up on a point that I have scrawled on my papers. It was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, and was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane of Cults, and my noble friend Lord Thurso. They asked whether we were talking about people or money. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Montague of Oxford, not to be talking about a tourist tax but about "spend per head", if I may use the ineloquent jargon of the trade.

I am not sure whether I agree with his comments about young people coming here in large numbers and that we should not discourage them because they may be the tourists of the future. The paper published 10 years ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, which inspired me to table the Motion, dealt with that problem and pondered on the question of whether it was more beneficial for people to visit countries and look at their cultures in small groups, either as individuals or with members of their families, rather than in the large hoards which we increasingly see in London, having come through the Channel Tunnel and eaten their sandwiches in the park. That is a debate for another day. I was brought up as an only child and I am a motorcyclist, so I would think that way, anyway, wouldn't I? My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.