HL Deb 14 October 1999 vol 605 cc580-97

7.31 p.m.

Lord Luke rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress they have made in promoting the regeneration of seaside resorts.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as I shall not have an opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord Seaford, I wish him well on his maiden speech.

Some time early in the 18th century it became accepted wisdom among the upper classes that bathing in the sea was good for the health. However, by the middle of the century there was only one resort of note; that was, somewhat surprisingly, Weymouth. Then, towards the end of the century, the Prince of Wales went swimming at a small fishing port called Brightelmstone. With such eminent support the idea caught on rapidly. Brightelmstone became Brighton and vied with Worthing as the smart resort to be seen at. Then Queen Victoria discovered the Isle of Wight and went swimming in the Solent.

Meanwhile, the general prosperity engendered by the Industrial Revolution coincided with the advent of the railways, and the increasingly affluent middle class discovered in its turn the seaside. Resorts all around the coast sprang up—Brighton, Worthing, Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Hastings, Rye, Dover, Ramsgate, Margate, Southend, Clacton, Scarborough, Whitley Bay, Blackpool, Southport, Southsea, Torquay, and so forth, hence the many fine but often now decrepit Victorian villas to be found in most of them. All had two vital assets: the sea, and railway connections with the rest of the country. Their heyday was roughly 1880 to 1914. However, somewhat ominously, the upper classes now went to the South of France (by train of course).

Between the wars there were still good times at the seaside. However, after the second war a new holiday alternative—flying—took off, with progressively cheaper and cheaper package holidays to all over the world. Our seaside resorts began to die. Nothing much was done to help them. For instance, virtually all the brand new road and motorway systems, constructed at vast expense and which contributed so greatly to the enormous increase in our standard of living, passed them by. Now, in many cases, when it is almost too late, most resorts have at last started to look at themselves; to try to identify their assets and think seriously about how best they can exploit them.

On the negative side, it has for some time been customary for some local authorities to send their homeless, their down-and-outs and other difficult residents, to live in the run-down and therefore cheap houses and hotels in the old seaside resorts. Inevitably that creates an ambience and atmosphere that does not attract potential visitors. Nor does the more modern practice of using similar accommodation for potential immigrants and asylum seekers, however worthy and law-abiding. However, I welcome the report of the Minister—Janet Anderson—to Richard Spring in another place on 22nd July when she said that she was trying to persuade her government colleagues to stop sending asylum seekers to resorts. There is also, unfortunately, a strong drug culture in many of the larger resorts, which is also a big deterrent to visitors.

Access, once one of the strengths of the seaside resorts, is sadly now most often another minus. However, Blackpool has the M.55 (built by the Conservatives). On the other hand there is Hastings, at the end of the notorious A.21 and with a poor road and rail connection to Dover, whence French and Belgian visitors are wooed to visit the site of the one great victory foreigners won on British soil. Many other resorts suffer similar handicaps. The railway networks could make an enormous difference if they were modernised and provided clean and comfortable travel.

So what is to be done? There are many and varied aspects to the problem. Not least and perhaps the first priority is the identification, upgrading and proper marketing of assets. Both corporate, local government and individual imagination are vital. Who first thought of putting up a display of illuminations along the front at Blackpool? He or she certainly had some imagination.

What are potential visitors seeking? That is a key question. There are different categories of visitor. Why are there so few statistics available, in spite of the valiant efforts of the British Resorts Association? Is the trend away from the weekly and longer holiday to short three or four-day breaks a permanent situation? What is the catchment area of a specific resort? Is there any encouragement for visitors to fill in questionnaires?

I believe that there are three main groups of visitors to the seaside. First, older people who want, perhaps, a quiet weekend or a few days break; easy access, comfortable accommodation and the sense of being made really welcome. Secondly, families with young or teen-aged children who want cheap, but adequate accommodation and, above all, good facilities to amuse the children in sunshine and rain. There is a strong supposition that they will wish to come by car. Thirdly, young men and women who want a good weekend party (or rave)—accommodation not particularly relevant!

The problem of poor quality accommodation and sometimes absurdly high prices must be addressed. Hastings has no three star hotels. Blackpool has one or two mega hotels, but the rest in that most successful of all British seaside resorts do not measure up. Self-catering is thought to be one likely way forward, certainly in Hastings. The special needs of the physically and mentally handicapped must be addressed.

Cinemas in resorts should be modern and multi-screen (our splendidly varied weather makes that essential). New uses could and should be found for all facilities and attractions—for example, the provision of conference centres as at Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton, Scarborough and so forth. The sea and the beaches themselves—are they the asset that they should and must be? Not if they are polluted and fail to measure up to the highest standard of hygiene. Are all resorts that still tip sewage into the sea now treating it as they should, with ultraviolet rays?

Commercial sponsorship should be sought as perhaps the best source of private money if it can be obtained. Television and other media must be used extensively by the resort which wishes to sell itself effectively. Discounted rail fares are a big incentive, as long as a decent service is provided. Facilities in a resort must be continually upgraded. Use of the Internet, the British Tourist Authority and British Council offices abroad should be encouraged.

There are great opportunities for private industry to work in partnership with local authorities and other representative bodies to make the best of a specific area or grouping of resorts. The "1066 country" campaign, which involves the area around Hastings, Pevensey, Battle, St. Leonards, Rye and others, is proving to be an effective way of attracting French and Belgian tourists, as I said earlier. Once again, an imaginative concept in spite of the poor communications.

The English Tourism Council—a new body arising from the ashes of the English Tourist Board—has announced a taskforce approach to the problems of resort regeneration. I hope and pray that this means on-the-spot investigations and support for local initiatives. The British Tourist Authority is rightly concerned about the plight of so many resorts and is strongly supporting these initiatives.

I do like to be beside the seaside. I am not going to sing; it might provoke the Minister to do so—although I remember how well he did so in certain other debates. I very much like the salty smell of the sea, but too many nowadays prefer other seas, not ours. Let us hope that will change. I very much look forward to the debate and the Minister's reply.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Seaford

My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I make my contribution to this discussion. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for his fine words about something I have not yet done. I am not strong on regeneration and I have been a Member of your Lordships' House only since Monday. I must thank my noble friend Lord Monson for encouraging me not to waste time.

The phrase on the Order Paper, "The regeneration of coastal towns", prompted a certain fellow feeling. Seaford is a brave little coastal town, much battered by the sea and in constant need of regeneration. As I have the honour to carry its name—I received a rather muscular Christian education there in its bracing airs some while back—I feel I have some small understanding of the seasonal variations of life in such towns.

All communities, of course, try their hardest to regenerate themselves—self-interest demands it—but with only half the hinterland of inland towns they must rely on their main assets, the beach, the sea and thus tourism. With the considerable increase in standards expected for pollution control and public safety, these assets have become more expensive to service. Competition from cheap air fares and southern sunshine is immense. Our resorts need as much help as possible.

As I am sure your Lordships are aware, figures produced by the British Resorts Association are quite compelling both in the amount that holiday makers contribute to the coastal economy and how the index of local deprivation indicates a lowering of living standards for those permanently residing in resorts.

The proposals to extend Objective 2 funding to seven more coastal resorts and to retain or increase the funding already allocated to another seven are most welcome. But one must add the caveat that where there are winners in the search for funds there are also losers. For instance, although some of the wards of Torbay fall within the boundaries drawn for availability of funding, the industrial wards do not—so there will be help to regenerate housing but not to regenerate or encourage new business for the people in those houses.

As one who has a small connection with an even smaller business one parish outside the South Western 5b area, I am well aware of the benefits that t hat status can attract. I am also aware how those beyond the pale press their faces wistfully against the glass.

Almost 800 years ago King John conferred his version of Objective 2 funding on Seaford in exchange for the service of ships to help defend these shores from the hostile actions of those across the water to the south. Now prospective tourists hop on the Newhaven ferry and spend their day out in Dieppe, lured by the attractions across the water—one serious attraction being the awfully good value of wines and spirits. I remain baffled that, with the great push towards Euroland, the reality often seems to be that we are still waiting for the arrival of the Common Market. The inequalities in excise duty between Newhaven and Dieppe are a crucial factor for traders over here and militate severely against them. It is no surprise that a holidaymaker planning a jaunt passes by the home resort.

In so many of the ramifications of the so-called single market our citizens are required to operate with a handicap. As my noble predecessor might have pointed out, handicaps can be altered by the stewards. It is my hope that the stewards will consider this.

It would be a blessing if members of our Government would give a lead by taking their holidays in some of our coastal resorts. They could then do for Thanet what they have done for Tuscany.

I thank your Lordships for your courtesy and forbearance.

7.44 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso

My Lords, may I first and foremost congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Seaford, on his most thoughtful and enlightening maiden speech. After taking his seat on Monday, the noble Lord has certainly not wasted any time in opening his innings in your Lordships' House. Sadly I fear, however, that most of us hereditary Peers will have a rather abrupt ending to our innings in your Lordships' House. None the less, we warmly welcome the noble Lord.

It is perhaps opportune that the noble Lord—who has one of the largest bison herds in the country at his farm, which is one of the major tourist attractions in Wiltshire—should be contributing to this tourist-related debate. Having the name Lord Seaford added that extra touch to his speech.

I am also grateful to my noble kinsman Lord Luke—I always enjoy saying "my noble kinsman"—for introducing the debate and giving its the opportunity to briefly discuss the subject. As a traditional beachbum who hails from the sunny skies and wonderful beaches of Cape Town, my particular interest in the debate concerns the state of Britain's beaches.

In a Starred Question last year about the environmental conditions and the cleanliness of Britain's beaches, I remarked that the tide was turning. I was therefore interested to read the headline in the weekend business section of The Times on the 14th August which said: The tide is turning on Britain's seaside towns". I was also interested to read the various documents that the Government have recently published on the regeneration of our traditional resorts. The Government have accepted that addressing an improvement in the tourist resorts around the coastline should be one of the core action points in their tourism strategy.

The Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, was correct when he said: Our seaside resorts attract more than 20 million holidays each year, in England, but there is capacity to accommodate many more people". Sadly, the ease of access and the cost of going to the Mediterranean; the history of unseasonably bad weather in Britain; the practice of emptying raw sewage into the water where we swim; and the ageing infrastructure of many of the traditional resorts, has led to a spiral of decline, which has left many of the major attractions around the coastline in a depressing state of disrepair.

However, there is good news. As a result of the introduction of more effective environmental legislation; the massive investment that the water industry has made to improve continuous and intermittent discharges; the on-going work of the Beachwatch campaign, the "Bag It and Bin It" campaign, the Adopt a Beach campaign and other voluntary environmental groups and local councils, bathing water quality is improving, albeit slowly, around the coast. Some 260 beaches—which is 13 more than last year—have achieved seaside awards for both cleanliness and facilities in 1999. None the less, changing public attitudes towards domestic litter disposal is one of the greatest challenges facing us. It certainly needs to be tackled by local authorities, industry and environmental organisations with a role in influencing behaviour.

I wholeheartedly support the Government's strategy document, Tomorrow's Tourism, and I trust that a lot more public and European funding will be targeted to boost English seaside resorts, matched by improved facilities and services. But actions speak louder than words. Let us hope that the dawn of the next millennium will be the launching pad for a new era of opportunity for our seaside resorts.

7.50 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Luke for introducing the debate. I should like also to congratulate my noble friend Lord Seaford on his maiden speech. I shall speak about the same county, but not the same resorts as were mentioned by him or by my noble friend Lord Luke.

In our area of East Sussex tourism has seriously declined. As my noble friend Lord Luke said, old guest-houses and boarding houses have reverted to sub-standard housing which is now in multiple occupation. It is tragic that they are often of such a low standard. Those resorts are encouraging new forms of tourism aimed at educational and cultural experience. That includes having tens of thousands of language students. They are also encouraging new forms of employment in the commercial and manufacturing sectors.

To touch first on Brighton, the seafront has been transformed where successful regeneration has been achieved. There are two lessons to be drawn from that. First, funding from the single regeneration budget has led to significant private sector investment. It is a partnership that I warmly welcome. Secondly, the Government have recognised that regeneration is a long-term process through their designation of east Brighton as a pilot under the New Deal for Communities initiative. It is a 10-year programme to transform that particular part of Brighton and Hove. I warmly welcome it.

Brighton has the excellent advantage of good communications and transport facilities. The journey by train to London takes less than an hour, and there are dual carriageway road connections north and south and east and west.

Sadly, the same is not true of Hastings. Trains to London take one and half to two hours, and, with a few exceptions, there is no dual carriageway between Tonbridge and Hastings, and none east and west. For that purpose we must await the results of the Government's Access to Hastings study, which is now under way. I plead with the Minister for better communications to and from Hastings as an urgent matter.

On the brighter side, I warmly welcome the Government's announcement last week that Hastings and St Leonard's is to be included in a submission to the European Commission for Objective 2 structural funding. That is an acknowledgement by the Government of the issues of high unemployment and deprivation in the town, as well as of the progress that Hastings is making with its local partners to address those problems. The recent loss of assisted area status has been a blow to Hastings, but people there are optimistic that its new designation as an enterprise grant area will compensate for the loss of grant aid under the assisted area regime.

While much is being done locally, Hastings needs continuing government recognition and resources to help deal with the structural weaknesses in the local economy. The town must be seen as a good place to invest. That means continuing support to improve the infrastructure, the built environment, road and rail links and IT infrastructure. I commend the good things that the Government are doing, but there are many more areas that still need to be tackled.

7.53 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Luke for raising this Question this evening and for his comprehensive mise-en-scène. I am delighted to join other noble Lords in welcoming my noble friend Lord Seaford to our debates.

Our seaside resorts can survive in the face of Palma and Gran Canaria, and even in the face of Miami and Australia. But to do so, they must make the most of their assets. They must trade on their hinterlands, a point that has been touched on. Bournemouth does very well by exploiting the New Forest. They must give value for money. I am surprised that that critical point has not been mentioned. They must be clean and tidy. They must cope with litter. If there is a real turn-off, it is the overladen waste-paper basket. They must give the customer what he or she wants—and not merely in terms of the beach, sea, sun and fun, not merely in terms of climate. If they can offer all those things, they will survive, as Le Touquet proves, as does Scheveningen, in Holland, and the many North Sea and Baltic resorts in the Republic of Germany. In the age of the jet set, a traditional British resort can survive for a number of reasons, but it must work to do so. It is not just for Her Majesty's Government to solve the problem; it is a matter for the resorts themselves.

It is tempting to ask the Government, and indeed the Euro-funds to throw money at the problem. The point has been mentioned. But I hope that that temptation will continue to be resisted. Rather, the Government should use other powers to become an enabler of resort success. I think of Bournemouth, which, on the basis of its 90-year-old resort status, has not only developed itself as a conference centre but also as a centre of learning. It may amaze noble Lords to learn that classes of Norwegians spend whole academic years in Bournemouth. They do so not merely because the quality of the product is good. They are not only learning English; they take baccalaureate examinations and similar courses, and they are receiving value for money.

Bournemouth has problems. Many noble Lords will have been there for party conferences. The town still has what was formerly an enchanting railway station, which unfortunately was severely damaged in the Great Storm of 1987. It is one of the two gateways for most visitors to Bournemouth. It is held together by scaffolding and the dedication of the staff, and not much else. While the former British Rail, now Railtrack, and English Heritage try to agree on the question of restoration or replacement, what the railway sees as practical and what English Heritage sees as desirable, sadly, seem to be irreconcilable. Perhaps the Minister will use his influence to bang some heads together.

Other party conference delegates arriving in Bournemouth may not realise that the building of the arterial road that links the resort with London and most of the rest of the country cut parts of the resort in half. It separated thriving communities—I was brought up there, which is why I have known them for 40 years—from their post office, church, drill hall, pubs, shops, libraries and restaurants. All those things contribute to a vibrant community, not only for the natives of a town but also for visitors. Again, I hope the Minister will take on board the fact that that is a dreadful advertisement for the resort. I hope that he will use his influence to remind both the planners and the democratically elected that they must take greater account of the consequences of their actions if our resorts are to survive.

7.57 p.m.

The Earl of Drogheda

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for providing us with the opportunity to debate this subject. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Seaford, on his maiden speech. I should like to speak briefly about the importance of architecture as regards this question.

Our seaside towns are essentially 19th century creations to enable people from the cities to have a real break from the routine of their daily lives. In their best architecture there is an elegant lightness, a combination of gaiety and humour, and even a feeling of festivity. Just think of the icing cake architecture of the piers at Brighton that John Betjeman campaigned so tirelessly to save, or the Brighton Pavilion, which was so nearly demolished after the Second World Wax by town planners eager to create a brave new world that would, as they thought, drag Brighton into the 20th century. Before the war, our seaside towns were places to be proud of. Now, as various speakers have emphasised, what a sad state they are in.

I wish to make a diversion to illustrate the importance of architecture by comparing the state of the cities of Philadelphia and Boston. Forty years ago the two cities were much on a par. Then two things happened: Philadelphia allowed the most monstrous buildings to be built in places where no regard was paid to the human element. Boston did exactly the reverse, it cherished its historic parts. The result is that Boston is now a thriving city which people love to visit and to which they want to move, whereas Philadelphia is in a sad state. It is completely unloved and demoralised.

What can be done about our towns? It is vital to retain the traditional architecture in the towns. Abandon that and they will die. When new buildings are built, the builders should be obliged to conform to the prevailing traditional style of the place, not only in design but also in materials and details. They should embrace such things as shop fronts, street lamps, bus stops, benches and promenades.

We must avoid any repetition of such buildings as the conference centre at Brighton which is a disgrace. Let us remember that people do not go to the seaside in Great Britain for the sake of the sunshine or the swimming. Were it only that, they would go to the Mediterranean. It is therefore necessary for something else to be provided. I believe it is essential that our seaside towns are helped to recapture the qualities that they must once have had and that once again they become places where people who visit them find something different from everyday life, where there is an element of enchantment, of magic.

To achieve that, we must cherish them. That means first and foremost cherishing them in architectural and environmental terms.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, my home in Sandgate in Kent resonates to a unique cacophony of sounds: the spirited holidaymakers, the seasonal bustle, the celebration of children and, for those of us whose first love is the sea, the privilege of living within earshot of the mighty sounds of the storms and gentle lapping on the shores.

Yet that privilege along the Kentish coast which I know best has become beset by challenges unique to our area. On the local front, special sensitivities are essential in the face of serious drug problems and social deprivation. Local councils are responding with local communities and the private sector with initiatives to tackle the litany of challenges from many of my noble friends.

In the village where I live, the outstanding work of the Sandgate Society has been based on vigilance, expertise and consultation. Modern architects have, on the whole, responded well. Behind us in Sandgate is the gloriously designed pavilion built on rare firm ground in our landslipped village. Light materials and design greet the sea views and provide young children with an innovative company crèche in a setting second to none.

Yet in the towns along our coastline which covers Dover, Folkestone and Hythe, despite good local authority leadership, especially in Folkestone, supported by a well articulated press campaign led by the Herald's editor, Nick Hudson, the asylum crisis poses a serious problem which requires more immediate and comprehensive government intervention than we have witnessed to date. Had the Home Secretary implemented the 1996 Act and associated benefit changes, after which the number of applicants for asylum fell by 40 per cent, the problem would not have been anything like as severe. Your Lordships will recall that the courts then intervened on benefit changes, an issue which the Government could have corrected. The reality is that Michael Howard's intervention, both as Home Secretary and as a well liked, conscientious local MP, would have tackled the issue to great effect.

Shepway District Council rightly feels that it is being left to carry the can for the Government, while they pursue their soft touch approach. The council is trying to attract some European Union money for the problem of asylum seekers, but this is still at a very early stage.

I now turn to the "Believing in Folkestone" initiative. I praise Shepway District Council's efforts to achieve single regeneration budget status, again thanks to the initiative taken by Michael Howard as Secretary of State for the Environment and continued by the Government today. We need to help to regenerate infrastructure and the coastal environment.

The immediate post and pre-war two-week bucket and spade holidays are gone. Our coastal resorts have to sell themselves in today's market.

So a mixture of private, public and voluntary associations have been working together under the auspices of the "Believing in Folkestone" initiative. Much headway has been made towards the holistic regeneration of the town. Childcare schemes have been developed and attempts have been made to tackle social exclusion and crime and drugs problems—not least by the police and Victim Support, one of whose local leaders, Judith Lansdell, this year was rightly awarded an MBE.

Practical economic measures have been taken with a focus on training and the provision of jobs. The council rightly feels that this has very much been a result of its own efforts and certainly not something that has been handed to it on a plate by the Government.

Against that background of the Government, who have come forward with some imaginative or well rehearsed lines about the importance of supporting our coastal resorts, I turn to the application of Lympne Industrial Park for a selective assistance grant. Link Park in Lympne has been trying for some time to apply for a grant under Section 13 of the 1982 Industrial Development Act. This attempt has been frustrated time after time, due to the lack of action on the part of the Government and agencies of government.

Collectively, 35 different approaches have now been made, both to GOSE and to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. There has still been no adequate response. Yet this industrial site should be part of the local economy which is in desperate need of a boost.

I turn to the Minister, whose reputation for hard work and delivery of results is exceptionally high. I seek tonight simply his undertaking that he will intervene on the issue. Seaside resorts must change and adapt to the new climate of competitively priced foreign travel. This will not change and the Government must play their part in the process of renewal and regeneration in what is a national treasure. We live on an island, with a coastline among the most beautiful in the world. This is a priceless asset which has in every sense been allowed to decline. We must end that decline. We have a duty to protect and nurture this legacy for future generations. Just as I grew up by the beach in Dymchurch, I want my children and one day their children to be enriched with the same memories of the sound of the sea, in all its moods and at all hours of day and night, as they sleep a stone's throw from the beach.

That is why it is so important that priority be given to the tranquillity and unique historic beauty of Sandgate and our seaside towns that can be handed down to future generations.

8.7 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, I begin by offering my congratulations from these Benches to the noble Lord, Lord Seaford, on his excellent maiden contribution. I welcome him to your Lordships' House in the few short weeks remaining to us both.

As usual, I declare my interests in the industry, but as I have only four minutes perhaps your Lordships will not mind if I take them as read, I have declared them on many occasions. The exception is one which is relevant to this debate: I am a vice-president of the British Resorts Association, as are, I believe, a number of other noble Lords in the Chamber.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for having raised the Question and for once again giving us the opportunity to talk on tourism-related matters. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, are a formidable team. As I was going through my file of tourism documents to see what might be said this evening, I came across the Order Paper for 16th March. It was the noble Baroness who asked the Question of the Government: what is their strategy for tourism? Tonight they have a somewhat more rifle-shot approach, having narrowed it down to seaside resorts. It is none the less welcome for that.

I shall not go into the specifics of what resorts may or may not do, but rather into what I see as the heart of the Question. It is: what is the role of government in the regeneration of seaside resorts and in tourism generally? The role of government, that is, as opposed to the role of the regional development agencies or the role of local government. If we consider the current availability of Objective 2 funding, which I believe is imminent, quite a few resorts will benefit from Objective 2 funding. It is less of a government matter than one that is being dealt with by the regional development agencies and local government. I may be wrong, but whenever I try to get anything in Scotland it comes from the Highland Regional Council and not the Scottish Office.

Turning to the Government, the question is one of looking at what should be the key roles. What can government do and what could the government do in the promotion of tourism generally and seaside resorts in particular?

I do not believe that the industry should expect the Government to do everything for it. There are two key issues on which we need the help of the Government. The first lies in the development of a cohesive national strategy; the second is to ensure that there is a structure in place for that strategy to be prosecuted. Although I have often criticised the Government in some areas of tourism, in this regard I believe that they have made considerable progress with the development of Tomorrow's Tourism or Tourism Tomorrow. I always confuse the two. The latter is the one that I wrote for the Liberal Democrats three years ago. In the strategy outlined in Tomorrow's Tourism the Department of Culture, Media and Sport went a long way towards answering many of the industry's questions.

I have more concern about structure. I am concerned that the new English Tourism Council has no role in the promotion of tourism and is confined solely to other areas, but I believe that the development of the ETC is a good idea and that over time it will change.

At this stage in my remarks I was tempted to say that this would probably be the last time that I would have an opportunity to speak in your Lordships' House on tourism. However, I was cautioned by my noble friend who said that that would almost guarantee that I would be on my feet again. However, this will probably be the last time. I conclude by saying that we have often debated this subject in your Lordships' House. It is always said that tourism is a big industry. There is a lovely quote in a document produced by the Department for International Development which begins, As tourism overtakes oil to claim the crown of biggest industry on earth … ". It is delightful to hear that from a department other than the DCMS.

This is a big industry. The real challenge for us is to have quality of product for the consumer and, even more important, the creation of quality jobs. Here I offer congratulations to the Government on such initiatives as the minimum wage, which I have always supported. For me, quality of provision and quality of jobs are most important. I hope that the Government will continue to work in those fields.

8.12 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Luke put the problems faced by seaside resorts into their historical, social and economic perspectives. He reflected on the basic issue: why do we go to the seaside and why would we continue to do so in the future? This summer I enjoyed several visits to the English seaside. Last week I went to Blackpool where I stayed in an excellent small family-run hotel. In August I took my family holiday by the sea in Devon. In Salcombe we enjoyed the beach and beautiful countryside. In Sidmouth there was a lot to do, including a visit to the first-class Charles Vance repertory theatre. Everything that is good about the English seaside was there. All of those were good experiences. But the Which? report this summer highlighted the problems that exist. A number of the nation's top seaside destinations are dismissed in that report as a dismal mix of one-star guest houses, decaying attractions and tired shops selling cheap rubbish.

In his very thoughtful maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Seaford referred to the evidence given by the British Resorts Association on seaside deprivation. The association points out that, Seaside resorts in the UK need support to tackle problems of economic, social and environmental decline. It is now critical for policymakers to respond to the needs of resorts if further and irrecoverable decline is not to take place". I believe that the role of government should be to provide a framework for recovery but, above all, to avoid doing anything that adds to the problems of seaside businesses. My noble friend Lord Moynihan referred to government policy on the dispersal of asylum-seekers and the disastrous impact that that has on the economy of seaside resorts. With over 86,000 asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their applications to stay in Britain, what is the Government's assessment of the expected impact on seaside resorts? My noble friend Lord Brentford referred to the problems caused by the low standards of houses in multiple occupation. What progress have the Government made with the public consultation exercise on HMOs to which the Minister for Tourism referred in her Written Answer in another place on 13th July?

In a debate earlier this year, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, alluded, I referred to the problems caused by the decision of the Government to raise amusement taxes by 30 per cent in last year's Budget. BACTA has provided the Government with evidence of the damage that that has caused to the seaside amusement sector. Some arcade businesses have already closed down, for example in Margate, Ramsgate and Folkestone. The units are still vacant and no business is taking place. Yesterday at 2 p.m. Hastings Pier called in the receivers.

What progress has been made by the Government in considering the case put forward by BACTA at its meeting in July of this year with the Financial Secretary? It asked the Government to remove all trivial 10p stake amusement with prizes machines from the amusement machine licence duty. It also asked the Government to reverse the tax hike of 30 per cent on 10p club machines—the kinds of machines that we and our families have played on during innocent family holidays by the seaside. To grant these requests would aid coastal economies and keep afloat many smaller businesses which are a sizeable element in the seaside amusements sector. It would also recognise the important role played by seaside amusements in maintaining piers and the building fabric of coastal towns. At the very least, will the Government set up a study to calculate the impact of the tax increases on the industry? My noble friend Lord Mountevans pointed out that the resorts had to make the most of their assets. Very tellingly, he also pointed out that they must give value for money.

I end by paying tribute to the businesses and councils in seaside resorts which have already taken steps to help themselves by drawing up realistic regeneration plans. All of us, politicians and consumers, are part of that partnership to help regenerate seaside resorts. Let us all play our part in promoting regeneration so that future generations can enjoy the resorts as much as we do.

8.16 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for introducing this important debate. The fact that he opened it in a slightly ironic tone, if he will forgive me for saying so, did not do any harm to the constructive nature of the contributions we have heard this evening. I rather enjoyed the tour of the south coast. I hope that I put the resorts in the right order. The tour included Sandgate, Folkestone and Dover, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. Seaford was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Seaford, in his excellent maiden speech. If he is that well informed about seaside resorts, perhaps he can find an opportunity to inform the House about bison farming. That would be very welcome indeed. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, referred to Hastings and Brighton. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, spoke about Bournemouth. The noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, also spoke about Brighton. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to Salcombe and Sidmouth. It was a great tour, with diversions to Cape Town from the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, and Philadelphia and Boston from the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda. We have done very well geographically.

My business instinct is always to try to treat these matters in terms of marketing and management practice. I tried to fit the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) formula to seaside resorts and failed. I believe that I failed for the very significant and good reason that seaside resorts cannot be lumped together. One cannot generalise about the problems that they face or their opportunities. The great virtue of this country's seaside resorts is their diversity. As a result, in many respects the Government should not seek to impose a template of planning policy, funding policy or development policy on seaside resorts because they must work out their salvation in their own way and use their strengths to maximise the opportunities. There is no doubt that collectively they are enormously important. As the noble Lord, Lord St John, reminded us, 20 million holidays a year are taken at English resorts. But, as he told us, Chris Smith has pointed out that many more could be taken with the resources available.

It is true that seaside resorts have a range of economic, social and environmental problems, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, reminded us. One problem universal to all of them is changes in holiday patterns in the past 40 or 50 years. We do not have the same bucket and spade holiday that we used to have, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, reminded us. There is much less demand for the traditional English bed and breakfast accommodation, with the landlady keeping you out of the premises between nine o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the afternoon. After all, people who come from towns where their main public catering is Indian, Chinese and Greek will not be too keen on the evening meal at six o'clock, which one still encounters in Blackpool. I do not want in any way to criticise the great British breakfast. It is the best meal of the day in this country, and always has been. However, those changes have caused great problems because many millions of people have gone on package tours abroad and no longer are available for the traditional Wakes week (one week or two weeks) at the other end of a railway line from our industrial towns—if we had industrial towns to the same extent any more.

It means also that there are opportunities: opportunities for more short stay holidays; attracting more overseas visitors, as we were told as regards Bournemouth; and in particular for provision for conferences and exhibitions, which has been the saving of a considerable number of seaside resorts. It also means that we have to look at the advantages that other forms of tourism have and that our seaside resorts have not yet learned. We cannot do anything about the temperature of the sea. We cannot do much about the sun, except by providing sheltered attractions. But we could do something about "bookability", the feature of package holidays which really should be a feature of our own seaside resorts.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, very properly questioned the role of government. I agree with him and with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the role of government is to provide the framework within which regions, districts and individual resorts can best regenerate themselves. But, as everyone always expects from government, there has to be financial support, and indeed there is. We have been talking about Objective 1 and Objective 2 availability of grants. Cornwall and Merseyside were already recognised as Objective 1. In July we announced the range of tourism schemes in the single regeneration budget, a total of £10 million in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Sussex, Lancashire, Great Yarmouth, Folkestone and Torbay. I take the point of I think the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, that one of the most significant wards in Torbay has been excluded from these areas.

There has been £85 million from the Millennium Commission for such places as Durham, Whitehaven, Portsmouth and Hull. Only last week we announced the Objective 2 areas, which include Waveney and Great Yarmouth, North Tyneside, West Cumbria, Lancaster, including Morecambe, Brighton and Hove, Dover. Folkestone and Thanet, Plymouth, Blackpool, Hastings and others. So substantial amounts of funding from government, from Europe, have been added to the substantial investment which local authorities make.

As regards the contribution that we can make to the framework, I am grateful to all noble Lords, notably the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for the recognition of the importance of Tomorrow's Tourism document. Perhaps I may return the compliment. I think that Tomorrow's Tourism owes a considerable amount to the thoughtful Tourism Tomorrow document which the noble Viscount wrote for the Liberal Democrats some years ago. Tomorrow's Tourism is not a government publication. It is a collaboration between the Government and the tourism industry and the other authorities concerned. The regional tourist boards are now responsible for more of their own funding. The RDAs have substantial devolved responsibilities for planning. There is the role of local authorities. On the role of the English Tourism Council, I heard regrets that it is no longer concerned with promotion. But that is the responsibility of the BTA and the regional tourist boards. I do not think that it will be found that promotion has been neglected.

The principles underlying Tomorrow's Tourism apply strongly to our seaside resorts. One of those principles is quality, and we are within a month of the launch of the accommodation classification scheme which has been voluntarily agreed between the AA, the RAC and the English Tourism Council. Another principle is access, not just for the disabled but for older people, families, carers and single travellers. These are part of an attempt to open up new markets for tourism. Information is the same as promotion, about which I have already spoken.

Sustainable development is concern for the environment. It is perhaps less of a problem for seaside resorts which have largely grown up as tourism destinations than for such places as our national parks. The principles of Tomorrow's Tourism are extremely relevant to this matter.

I said wrongly that Brighton and Hove was included in Objective 2. I apologise for that. There are so many lists that it is difficult to keep up with them.

In the last couple of minutes available to me, perhaps I may respond to some of the points made. The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to the problem of houses in multiple occupation. There is indeed a problem arising from the 1996 Housing Act. The problem is how to define them in such a way that regulation can be implemented and some licensing introduced. The DETR has been consulting. It has not reached a proper conclusion yet, but I take the message that the matter is urgent.

I recognise the point about asylum seekers. The Immigration and Asylum Act has yet to receive Royal Assent. But what is planned is that the Home Office will take responsibility for accommodating destitute asylum seekers away from London and the south-east. There are no plans to use seaside towns unless they are in suitable areas to accommodate asylum seekers. What that means is that many more asylum seekers will be accommodated in suitable places away from seaside towns and that should reduce the pressure.

I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, about the importance of architecture. I agree with the lessons that he draws from Philadelphia and Boston. But it would be a tragedy if we were to lose the wonderful physical appearance of many of our seaside resorts.

We have been making progress as regards beaches. When I say "we", I do not mean this Government in particular. In 1988, 66 per cent of our beaches qualified for the blue flag: the EU mandatory standards. In 1997 it was 89 per cent. There is still confusion between the blue flag and the Keep Britain Tidy classification.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked me about UV treatment. That is a refined version of the biological treatment, which is more common, but it is spreading and is already being used in Blackpool and Southport. I was also asked about planning issues. The DETR has appointed consultants who are specifically charged with assessing the needs of tourism and leisure developers in revising planning regulations.

I hope that I have made it clear that we attach enormous importance to our seaside resorts—not least because so many of them are now represented by Labour MPs!

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, would he kindly give an undertaking to look into the case of Lympne industrial park?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall certainly look into it and write to the noble Lord. If there is anything I can do to help, I shall be glad to do so. I repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, and to all who took part in this interesting debate.