HL Deb 05 April 2000 vol 611 cc1334-85

4.50 p.m.

Earl Peel

rose to call attention to the place of tourism in the future development of the rural economy; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to move the Motion this afternoon and I should like to say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have agreed to take part in this debate. Perhaps I may begin by declaring an interest in that I am a shareholder in a company registered in Wales which provides quality control services for the tourist industry in both the private sector and in various government departments around the world—but not in England.

To get tourism into some degree of context, I can tell the House that the industry is worth £61 billion per year to the United Kingdom economy, which represents 4 per cent of gross domestic product. The overseas contribution—these are 1988 figures—was £12.7 billion, which was generated from 25.7 million visitors. Tourism in the United Kingdom employs 1.7 million people, which is 6 per cent of the UK workforce.

Another statistic which, I have to say, I find particularly interesting is that the British Tourist Authority, whose role it is to promote Britain abroad, does so on an annual budget of £37 million, which, incidentally, is less than that received by English Nature or the Countryside Agency. I was interested to note that it managed to generate £27 of expenditure in the United Kingdom for every £1 spent. I call that pretty good value for money. I used to have considerable dealings with the BTA both in the USA and Scandinavia in the days when I was more closely involved with the tourist industry. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to it. Not only was it always an extremely good body to deal with, but it was also extremely efficient. It represents us extremely well.

I also welcome the recently launched consultation document on rural tourism, Working for the Countryside. It is produced jointly by the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency. This is a significant partnership for it shows that the English Tourism Council acknowledges just how important rural Britain is to tourism, and the Countryside Agency acknowledges the importance of tourism to rural Britain. Whereas rural tourism may be responsible for only 20 per cent of the total value of the industry, in Cornwall, for example—I am sure that my noble friend Lord Arran will refer to this matter as, I believe, one of our two west country speakers in the debate—it represents 20 per cent of the GDP of the county. In many other rural areas, it will also have a disproportionate significance.

As we are all only too well aware, the farming crisis has concentrated every rural mind on opportunities to diversify. Many new enterprises have evolved, quite a number of which cater for tourism. However, we need to recognise that "farmer tourism", if I may call it that, represents only a small part of total rural tourism. It is important that we do not get too carried away into believing that tourism is the panacea for the crisis facing agriculture. Tourism is not an easy option that can simply be seized upon to meet a perceived demand but must respond to a better informed and more sophisticated customer. This means quality, professionalism, and, of course, value for money. That final element is difficult to achieve at the moment because of the strength of the pound, both in terms of expensive imports—if I may put it that way—and cheaper exports.

Everyone involved in tourism needs to remember that they are competing in a global market. Even a farmer's wife offering bed and breakfast in a farmhouse in Northumberland, an equestrian centre on Dartmoor or a Center Parc in Cumbria should not lose sight of that fact. I know several people on relatively low incomes who have recently travelled to Florida and regard it as extremely good value for money. We must not forget, of course, that Florida has sun, something which in this country is occasionally in short supply. Therefore, we have to make up for that in other ways. When I was involved in the tourist industry I was always told, as a rule of thumb, that holiday accommodation must always be as good, or preferably better, than what the customer experiences at home. The tourist boards can, and do, play an essential part in getting this message across by setting standards through quality control initiatives.

To illustrate that tourism is not an easy option it is perhaps worth noting that the average term of ownership of a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Scotland is only two years. So it is clear that there needs to be a proper appreciation and understanding of the business which will often require assistance for training, marketing and investment strategy. Whereas I welcome the recent announcement of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of new resources to help rural businesses under the rural development regulation—I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will tell us what other opportunities exist—given the plethora of agencies, I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would tell the House which one is specifically responsible for co-ordinating the strategy for helping new tourism businesses to develop in rural areas, and giving the necessary advice and support. Furthermore, it would be helpful if the noble Lord could also tell the House what steps the Government are taking to make planning policies more flexible to allow the conversion of existing rural businesses, which, I suspect, in most cases will be farm businesses, to those suitable for tourist activities.

When I used to visit BTA offices abroad I was always struck by the recurring themes that they used to promote the United Kingdom. There were always photographs of the Changing of the Guard, London buses, historical features, famous houses and, of course, the British countryside. But the point was that the "Britishness" and the traditions were always promoted. Sometimes I used to challenge that, but I was always told that that was what visitors from abroad want to see when they visit the UK. This was illustrated only too well recently when British Airways replaced the Union Jack tailfin with that ghastly psychedelic mess. I am glad to say that that situation has now been partially reversed, but, I think, only partially.

I am also convinced that if rural Britain is to continue to attract visitors, it must offer a working countryside with strong regional identities and must not at any cost slip into being some large, nebulous theme park. I believe that that point is well made in the consultation document. I regard my next quotation as an important statement. The consultation paper states: Tourism management should seek a balance between the needs of the visitor, the tourism industry, the host community and the environment". The expression "host community" is a ghastly term, but I think that we all know what is meant by that. That point is well made, for I believe that it is imperative to avoid conflicts of interest. There is a real danger that the forthcoming right to roam may cause that kind of conflict unless the Government show more sensitivity on that matter than they appear to be doing at the moment in another place.

Clearly, increased tourism will help to maintain local services, but, equally, local services need to aspire to the needs of the visitor. There are also local produce marketing opportunities. Visitors who have had a good experience in an area may well buy the produce of that area if they see it on a shop or supermarket shelf. But, again, that will require specialist marketing—something that we in this country are not particularly good at and something which we must improve enormously. There are great opportunities there.

I also welcome the special commitment in the consultation document to market towns. For too long they have lost their status. They deserve to be restored as the thriving centres of rural communities. However, I believe that this revival must revolve around a combination of all that is best from the past—history, tradition and a sense of identity—and all the best that modern technology can provide. I am delighted to note that my local newspaper, the Darlington and Stockton Times, is running an effective market town revival campaign which has caught the attention of, and some useful promises of help from, two of the north-east's rural development agencies. I hope that those promises are converted into real help.

The downside of tourism is, of course, over-exploitation. We are undoubtedly witnessing areas such as the Lake District "being loved to death", as I believe David Bellamy said. I suspect that bold moves will be required to resolve this conflict. Great care will be necessary in the future to ensure that proper assessment procedures are in place to ensure that sustainability in all its guises—environment, infrastructure, transport, water, and sewerage—is thoroughly scrutinised. In other words, we must not destroy or irreparably damage the goose that has so steadfastly provided us with so many golden eggs.

There is a need to monitor the cost of tourism as well as the gains. I am sure that the Minister is only too well aware of the need to consider both sides of the balance sheet. This will require a clear lead from government in co-ordinating the aspirations of the various government departments and agencies involved. There are so many that I shall not name them, but they are all competing in their own way. That will not be an easy task but I believe that it is absolutely essential.

I draw your Lordships' attention to one aspect of tourism which I believe is conspicuous by its absence, not just from the rural consultation paper but also from other government publications. I am talking about an activity that generated direct expenditure in 1996 of £3.8 billion and a further £2.4 billion in indirect expenditure; an activity that in the same year contributed £655 million to the Government in taxes and licences, and which provides directly over 60,000 full-time jobs, and indirectly just short of 31,000 jobs. I am, of course, referring to field sports, which, apart from one small reference to fishing, failed to get a mention in the consultation document on rural tourism.

Many of our remote rural areas generate substantial amounts of money from the letting of sporting activities, very often to visitors from abroad. This maintains employment in otherwise difficult circumstances and provides hotels with vital income, often in the difficult winter months. Indeed, many would not survive without this support. Furthermore, the knock-on effects to the local economy are obvious.

Much play—quite rightly—is made of the importance to rural tourism of maintaining high quality landscapes and the wildlife that is associated with their habitats. There is no better example of any other activity in the British countryside that has achieved this, maintaining and managing whole swathes of landscape that might otherwise have been damaged. What is more, this has been done, by and large, at no cost to the taxpayer, entirely through the incentives of those committed to their sport. This has often been achieved against a remorseless and ill-directed tide of money which has, in too many cases, supported an environmentally unsympathetic agriculture through the common agricultural policy. What is more, field sports have managed to keep the heavily subsidised forestry industry at bay in large areas of the hills which would otherwise have been converted into millions of ranks of sterile conifers.

From the purple heather hills to the woodlands and the copses of lowland Britain, to the rivers and wetlands that lie between, habitat and wildlife have been managed not simply for game but for a whole range of other species besides. Indeed, many of the SSSIs that we all appreciate today—some of which are now of international importance—would never have been designated but for the long traditions of field sports that have served this country so well for so long. It is about time that this Government recognised and acknowledged this hugely significant contribution to rural Britain, both in terms of employment, landscape, biodiversity and, of course, tourism.

One last point, which I think is extremely significant, is that it is important for the Treasury to recognise that in the absence of this enormous contribution of funds either the countryside would suffer or the gap would need to be filled from the public purse. I hope therefore that in the coming White Paper the Government will recognise the contribution of field sports as a positive contribution to the countryside as a whole In conclusion, tourism continues to offer hope to rural Britain and vice versa; but clearly great care will be needed to maintain standards and to ensure that a balance is achieved between what is positive and what could be negative. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, tourism is a serious business which we politicians do not take seriously. Mention holidays to us and we are thinking how quickly we can pack our bags and get away from Westminster, and not of how we can help an industry which provides 350,000 jobs and, astonishingly, an £11,500 million spend in Britain's countryside each year. That is why I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for giving us the opportunity to debate the new English. Tourism Council and Countryside Agency document, Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside, and to the Government for their active engagement with the vital tourism and hospitality industry. After all, leisure and pleasure provide a higher percentage share of jobs and prosperity proportionately in our rural areas than in our towns and cities. Those who cheerfully work in the tourism and hospitality trade should be regarded as the heroes and heroines of British industry.

Of course, tourism's fortunes provide a sharp contrast with agriculture, fisheries and forestry, which are industries in decline and now represent only 4 per cent of economic activity in Britain's countryside. It must be right to prompt and promote this healthy adolescent of tourism while farming convalesces from its current woes.

We should not, of course, overstate tourism's restorative powers. The loss of the Synchatron project at Daresbury in Cheshire will not be compensated for by the fact that Daresbury is the home and birthplace of Lewis Carroll, himself a potent visitor attraction. We need more than that to bring a feline grin to our faces in Cheshire; but every tourism-related job helps.

In placing our faith in tourism and in diversification in the farming industry, we must advocate sensible policies to help such diversification to work. The fact that the average term of ownership of a bed-and-breakfast hotel in the Highlands of Scotland is a mere two years should give us pause for thought. Such enterprises desperately need support services, such as good SME business advice, marketing and networking, to make them truly sustainable.

With that caveat, let me nevertheless voice my optimism about tourism and give your Lordships' House some examples from Britain's finest county, Cheshire, of how constructive tourist policies can revive flagging businesses in the countryside and bring new ones to fruition. The Cheshire Fine Food Trail, for instance, acknowledges that British farming and food production is changing in nature, and does something about it. The previous emphasis on quantity food production is replaced by highlighting quality and specialist foods. Thus The Cheshire Fine Food Trail, a free map which entwines tourism and economic development, gives information on some of Cheshire's finest food, including cheese, ice-cream and venison, and mixes information on visits to producers with knowledge of where to find a local pub on the country trail out of Cheshire's market towns—a win-win result for producer, publican and public. It is one which I know will be appreciated by my colleague from Cheshire, the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton.

The use of modern technology is crucial to another Cheshire initiative, which will have in addition beneficial environmental results. The proposed launch of A Walker's Cheshire will attract visitors to the remoter parts of the county by providing a dedicated walker's website for the dedicated walker, thereby refreshing those parts of the county that other tourist trails do not reach. In this, of course, the trail is a paradigm of tourism itself. Tourism is quintessentially an industry which successfully penetrates the nooks and crannies of rural Britain where other industries fear to tread. Strengthening the countryside for the tourist has the happy consequential effect of strengthening its supporting infrastructure—pubs, post offices, banks, shops and transport—to the distinct advantage of those living and working in the countryside.

But more can be done. The Working for the Countryside document asks whether the British Tourist Authority should have a role in promoting Britain's countryside in its overseas literature. The answer is a resounding "yes". Here is how and why. Last week, returning to Cheshire on the train, I came across four American tourists in my carriage. As we passed Peckforton and Beeston castles—local landmarks eight miles out of Chester—our visitors wondered what castles they were and what incidents of English history they concealed. It occurred to me there and then how the railway carriage might itself have contained an explanation in written or televisual form of the historical panorama that was passing before our eyes out of the carriage window, and that such an explanation might, in turn, have prolonged their stay in my home town by encouraging them to explore Chester's fascinating hinterland of historic castles and comely countryside.

One other thought occurs to me. It is the fact that in two years' time, those American visitors will be jangling euro coins and notes in their pockets. Are Britain's village shops and guesthouses literally ready for change and to change money? They, and we, will need to be, to maintain a competitive advantage over other EU countries which will have the advantage of a single currency available in town and country. It is not just Britain's farmers who will profit from the euro. All the countryside stands to gain.

Mention of Europe brings me to a deficiency of the Working for the Countryside document, whose first key issue underscores the need to, ensure co-ordination between national, regional and local initiatives", entirely omitting mention of vital European links. In an earlier passage, allusion is made to European tourism policy. In my view, it is vital to maximise use of funds and policy initiatives concerning Europe's rural areas which can so perceptibly benefit Britain's countryside. It is one reason why I believe that Britain should be foremost in encouraging tourism to be accepted as an EU competency at this year's intergovernmental conference.

I have one word of caution, however. While warmly welcoming EU rural initiatives like the LEADER + programme and the Objective I moneys, which will bring employment to west Wales, Cornwall and Yorkshire, I hope that the Government are rigorous in vetting those moneys applied under the rubric of tourism. Such moneys should be spent in the most sustainable way possible. Tourism should not be enlisted as a catch-all for second-rate schemes which cannot be pigeon-holed elsewhere in development programmes, as has sometimes happened in the past.

I have two further points. First, there is much anxiety about housing development in Britain's rural areas. I share those concerns but recognise the need for adequate social housing. But why should such developments not be of the highest quality in design and materials? Would it not be a tourist attraction to build some new villages in the countryside which have, say, the architectural merit of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in north Wales? I am sure that we have the talent in this country to construct new-build that satisfies common objectives of much needed housing and distinctive architecture. I should also love to see the siting of a new-build art gallery in Britain's countryside, as an outrigger of Tate Britain perhaps, similar to the Kroller-Muller museum at Otterloo in the heart of Holland's countryside, putting art at the heart of Britain's countryside.

Finally, I return to Cheshire for my final suggestion which relates to fox-hunting and drag-hunting. Some of your Lordships, I know, fear job losses in our rural areas should fox-hunting be abolished. I share Sir Paul McCartney's belief that drag-hunting as a substitute will not only preserve jobs but could increase them. After all, there are many in the equestrian community who abhor fox-hunting but who love riding. If hunting were rid of its most unacceptable feature—the killing of the fox—more of those attracted to the pageantry, colour and display associated with hunting would be drawn in as visitors; indeed, as tourists. In addition, would it be too fanciful to suggest that a museum could be inaugurated in a hunting county like Cheshire to explain the development of hunting in Britain and its transformation into the safer and more inclusive sport of drag-hunting? Perhaps the urban fox whose trail runs through Downing Street might pass that suggestion on to the Prime Minister, whose supreme interest is to help Britain to transform itself into a modern, tolerant and outward-looking country, fit for heroes to live in and for tourists to visit.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Plumb

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Peel for initiating this debate and for so ably calling our attention to the place of tourism in the future development of rural policy. We have had many debates on rural issues in recent months. This is yet another aspect of rural development. As we heard from my noble friend, tourism creates jobs and, bringing £11.5 billion to the economy of rural areas, it creates incomes for many local people, shops, post offices, banks, pubs and others. However, as he so rightly said, it is no panacea in the farming crisis which we face at the moment.

In many cases, tourism has created indirect support to local people who can enjoy more varied services, since none of those services could survive on local business alone. But it is an irony that the viability of local business is strengthened by the tourist pound, while the strength of the pound in the United Kingdom and government's failure to redress the balance through the agrimonetary system over recent months have already driven many people from the land, and young people are losing faith in any prospects in farming or work in the countryside.

It has been recognised in many debates in this House that the negative effect on rural economies through a strategically weakened agriculture is likely to outweigh the benefit provided by support for non-farming interests. It is equally recognised that neglected hills and upland, or unfarmed lowlands, is not an option if we are to encourage tourists to visit those attractive areas which we ourselves enjoy, bearing in mind that growth in the tourism industry can lead to a major source of employment. In the context of tourism, protecting the environment and contributing to the rural economy, social fabric and maintaining an attractive, habitable and viable landscape for the enjoyment of others are vital since few people wish to visit a barren waste. At the same time, there are negative effects of traffic congestion, dealing with large crowds and clearing litter. It is not surprising that environmental policy has been, and still is, seen as contradicting the objectives of development policy. Therefore, the core of our consideration should be focused on finding the right balance rather than on making a choice between "enhancing the tourism industry" and "considering environmental consequences" out of context.

Any attempt to achieve such balance ought to include the extent to which tourism may prove a major cause of environmental harm against the prospects of long-term economic sustainability. In finding that balance, the emphasis should be on finding suitable and justifiable grounds for interaction rather than shifting ingredients at random, from the one bowl into the other.

The first task is to decide on assessment criteria focused on impact and control, bearing in mind that tourism includes a variable determined by seasonality, and therefore an important factor in calculation procedures. Seasonality is not necessarily a detrimental factor if the right formula can be applied—in other words, based on the spread of income and expenditure. Assessment criteria should also include each and every option to maximise the benefits of tourism such as improvement of public transport and roads, which will be of benefit to schools and other organisations all year round. Assessment criteria should not ignore issues such as space available on trains. For example, if people want to take their bikes on the train, they have to book in advance and space is always limited. Compare that with the position in Denmark, where trains are crammed full of cyclists and their bikes.

With reference to the way in which the Government decide on assessment criteria and the subsequent recommendations, I hope that in his reply the Minister will comment on press speculation regarding the imposition of tourist taxes and congestion tolls on popular beauty spots under a blueprint for a reform of the countryside. What form would such schemes take? A Cabinet Office report suggests that they could be useful in rationing access to overcrowded areas and generating revenue to invest in improving local infrastructure. The authors of the inquiry said that the package could form the basis for the most radical transformation of rural policy for 50 years. It certainly would be. In setting out to modernise one of the last untouched aspects of the post-war settlement, the report also calls for an overhaul of the planning system to give more support to enterprise.

Rural tourism requires good transport links, and the Government appear to be proud of their achievements. Perhaps I may quote briefly from a report to the Tourist Summit. It stated: We are developing a modern, safe and efficient transport system for the 21st century that will rival the best in Europe. We have made great progress since the 1998 White Paper". That was written before we heard the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Peyton on holes in the roads and the experience of those who have attempted to get from Euston to this House in reasonable time. As my noble friend rightly said, the matter requires a transport debate. A debate on tourism is equally important.

The report cites successes: for example, £1.8 billion to improve local and public transport and road maintenance over the next three years; £700 million to implement transport plans produced by local authorities; and £3.3 billion of private sector investment for t £6 billion Channel Tunnel rail link. Those figures are impressive. However, will the Minister explain how the Government intend to put that money into rural transport and how the sum can be positively interpreted against the huge amount taken out of rural areas: for example, by stealth taxes on the motorist?

I repeat: rural tourism will prosper only if the countryside is managed correctly. Unfortunately, the Government's Countryside and Rights of Way Bill is a missed opportunity to address the real problems of the countryside such as over-development, badly sited mobile phone masts, loss of rural services and the crisis in agriculture. So the challenges facing rural areas are often thwarted by increased legislation and unnecessary regulations leading to increased costs and, therefore, the demise of smaller rural businesses, with negative influences on entire communities.

Educating urban people about rural issues brings its own conflict. Such education is essential to meet the objectives of improving tourism, recreation and field sports, which are important in the countryside, and to meet the needs of those who derive their living from the land and those who are concerned with wildlife and habitats. Comprehensive consultation is required, based on well-balanced socio-demographic variables. The outcome of any analysis of views needs to be incorporated into an overall policy.

I declare an interest. I have the privilege of being president of the Cotswolds AONB. The area is known internationally as the quintessential English landscape, together with Cheshire. I am reminded that I have Cheshire blood in my veins. The value of such areas of "outstanding natural beauty" is less well known than it should be. The view from the hotel, bed-and-breakfast, holiday cottage, caravan or tent business, needs managing and requires investment.

The Cotswolds are criss-crossed by 17 local authorities, three Government Offices, three RDAs, and three different tourist boards. As we speak, my AONB is meeting with a variety of accommodation providers to explore the potential for visitors to add a nominal sum to their bill to reinvest in the countryside. We need to exploit those natural resources in a way in which provision for tourism also provides for and assists local communities and services, not limited to improving provision of rural transport but also tourist information points within pubs and post offices, as well as realistic opportunities to promote local produce and local food, which is extremely important.

The need to remove barriers to rural tourism should be given full consideration and requires a review of the assessment criteria. It should take into account the benefits of dialogue with such bodies as AONBs and the need to brief tourist information centre staff on opportunities for tourism and recreation.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for introducing the debate. Perhaps I may comment from a broad standpoint. Effective tourism is in some respects intrinsically at odds with too great an intervention on the part of government. What people look for most when they travel—whether they are Britons travelling within Britain or people from abroad coming to this country—is difference, flavour, idiosyncrasy, variety and diversity.

Two days ago, I spoke with the chief executive of the East of England Tourist Board, Tess Wright. She wrote to me, making the interesting point that, One of the key motivations behind travel is the opportunity to experience somewhere different. Yet widespread travel and the harmonisation of cultures is making the world increasingly homogenous". How true that is; and how true and universal it is of travel abroad. I suspect that our concern for the natural ecology will one day be seen as rather bizarre against our almost total lack of concern for the human ecology and the variety within it.

I put it to the House that, in spite of their good intentions, many of the initiatives put forward by previous governments as well as this one have, if anything, a suffocating effect rather than a liberating one. Some noble Lords may have obtained from the Printed Paper Office the Draft Regional Planning Guidance for—in this case, my native part of the world—East Anglia. I have in front of me one of two volumes. If one looks at the section devoted to tourism, sport recreation and the arts—which seem to go together these days—one will be fairly surprised to realise that there is now in existence a so-called Cultural Consortium for the East of England (CCEE).

It goes alongside the Development Agency which will no doubt have been established last year for your Lordships' regions as well as for mine. In East Anglia we are lucky enough to have the Government Office of East Anglia, the East of England Local Government Conference, the Standing Conference of East Anglian Local Authorities (SCEALA) and the East of England Regional Assembly, to name but a few.

We need to face up to the fact that a great deal of the work of these worthy bodies is completely ineffectual. I do not for a minute want to disparage those who produce such reports, but this is a massive, two-volume consultation document, and respondents had to reply to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions within two months. Anyone who is familiar with the speed with which local organisations work, the cycle of their meetings and the need to consult wider groups than merely committees, councils or whatever other bodies one is talking about knows it is nonsensical to pretend that consultation on a massive document of this kind, which covers huge areas—tourism, sport, recreation, the arts and a great deal else and their overall planning—is an effective exercise.

My second point is related to the first. I am sure that noble Lords will be aware of the fantastic "killer" document Rural Economies produced at Christmas by the Cabinet Office. There is some very good stuff in it. However, such documents have a dirigiste quality about them. For example, at one point Rural Economies talks about new commitments to rural communities and a specific commitment to market towns, which was also touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. But the document goes on to say: The Government should consider introducing a new commitment to market towns, recognising the key role these settlements play in rural economies and rural communities. This commitment could be realised in part by more effective integration of the wide range of existing initiatives and in part by the introduction of new initiatives". We are inundated and drowned by task forces and initiatives. I fear that the citizens of this country are nowhere near many of them, if any. En masse, these task forces and initiatives have a psychologically disabling, rather than enabling, effect. I call to mind my home town of Sudbury and its council. I doubt whether many of those excellent councillors have any apprehension of just what is being done in their name.

It is about time that we looked at one root cause: the lack of vigour in some of the activities connected with tourism within the rural economy. Over the past decade the number of overnight stays by tourists in rural areas has remained static, while tourism in general and affluence have much increased.

I believe that one of the keys to a healthy, organic and diverse tourist economy is the restoration of local government powers. Some noble Lords may regard that as a rather big idea to introduce into a specific debate; I do not. I believe that we must restore local autonomy so that, in turn, we can restore local diversity, variety and organic growth, not pursue initiatives that are showered down, however beneficently, from Downing Street, Whitehall, the regions or any of the new bodies, for example the Cultural Consortium for the East of England.

The key factor which underpins the long-term health of tourism is quality of life. Tourists seek a different and identifiable quality of life, and it is that which underpins the economic health of rural areas. It is interesting to note that 90 per cent of businesses in rural areas employ fewer than 10 people, which is a much higher proportion than in the country as a whole. Two-thirds of those small businesses are created by incomers who say that, overwhelmingly, the reason for siting them in rural areas is precisely the quality of life. I believe that the quality of life can be preserved, enhanced and diversified most effectively in rural areas if we look at, and act upon, local government powers. I say no more than that in view of the time that is available to me.

We all have our wish lists of particular improvements that we should like to see take place. For example, can we do something about the proliferation of road signs? Although this is a small point, it is at least as important as holes in the road. Road signs are a severe scar on many, if not most, rural areas.

Can we not do much more to promote the parish churches of this country? Rural areas are thick with parish churches. Many people, including myself, regard these churches as Britain's greatest single asset both internally and in terms of incoming tourist. Those churches are vastly under-appreciated and under-used. I commend the activities of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, who has initiated a scheme in Suffolk of assured church openings, with guidance to people on arrival to encourage them to sample, as they rarely do, the glories on their doorstep.

I refer also to local pubs and post offices. In East Anglia pubs close at the rate of six a month. Like post offices, pubs are crucial to both tourism and the health of local communities.

I refer next to local arts. I am a trustee of Gainsborough's house in Sudbury, which is a marvellous local and regional arts resource. However, the ability of that resource, and many other arts centres, theatres and so on to improve what they do and the facilities that they provide depends to a significant degree upon secure long-term funding. All arts organisations say that they do not have that.

We all wish for many things in this debate, but I hope that what I have said is of use to the outcome of it.

5.46 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Peel for introducing this debate and covering all the major points so splendidly. It was also a great pleasure to hear the noble Lord opposite extolling the virtues of Cheshire cheese. That is the first time that I have heard it from the Benches opposite. Let us hope that more noble Lords on the Benches opposite will extol the virtues of Cheshire cheese.

By chance, it was 10 years ago this month that I had the privilege of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. During that period I have taken part in innumerable debates upon the rural economy and the state of British agriculture under both governments. Both governments have expressed a good deal of sympathy with, and talked much about, the need to restructure land use, agriculture and the rural economy. However, neither government appears to face up to those issues which make it possible to carry out that restructuring. It is on that aspect that I should like to concentrate and put to the Minister a number of questions.

I declare an interest as chairman of an organisation called Enterprise Business Solutions which gives advice to farmers and others involved in country activities who wish to diversify. As other noble Lords have said, clearly this is not everybody's cup of tea. One requires special skills, facilities, finance and opportunity to diversify from a traditional agricultural holding to an organisation involved in tourism or any other economic activity. Once one has the necessary skill, the desire to change and the ability to work very hard to make other ideas work in a rural setting, one requires the finance and, above all, the necessary planning permission. I emphasise the need for planning permission, to which all noble Lords who have spoken so far have referred.

Successive governments have said time and again that if we want to restructure something the planning system has to be sympathetic, and take away the unnecessary legislation and controls which make restructuring virtually impossible. The question of how we encourage more interesting tourism in rural areas needs to be addressed seriously.

In his reply, I should like the Minister to tell me why the Government—they have been positive about support for economic development and the need to create jobs and foster new businesses—have made it a statutory responsibility on a planning authority to consider the environmental but not the economic issues of its decisions. If we wish to look at alternative ways of creating economic activities in the rural areas, and in areas of declining agricultural support, that issue has to be addressed.

I made the same points to the previous government. They took no notice. It does not look as though this Government will take much notice. However, the Minister who sits there smiling at me may change all that and generate some enthusiasm which we have not seen to date. I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in the previous debate. However, he generally comments on the fact that government ears are generally for decorative purposes only. On this issue, that has certainly been the case.

Although we are debating tourism in rural areas, one cannot isolate it from the importance of tourism in urban areas. People often stay in hotels in an urban area—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, nods at me. People can stay in the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester and yet wander out to the rural areas of North Wales, Cheshire and Lancashire. That relationship is important. One cannot isolate what happens in towns from what occurs in rural areas. Those who stay in towns bringing wealth and activity to those areas then move out into the rural community because they want the quality of the rural community. My noble friend Lord Plumb made the point strongly. People do not want to see dereliction. And if we do not assist other wealth-creating activities in rural areas we shall have continuing dereliction within our rural communities as farmers are more and more unable to provide the resources to maintain their buildings, hedges and land. It is important to recognise that the two factors are closely connected.

My noble friend Lord Peel referred to country sports and country pursuits. In many areas of rural economy they have been the key to maintaining activities. I do not speak of Cheshire or Lancashire but of parts of Wales and the more marginal areas where those are the only commercial activities which are attracting outside wealth. Many of us know Americans or people from Europe who come to Great Britain for country sports and country pursuits. They spend a lot of money, and they do not take much away with them. If they take a couple of pheasants they are lucky. The benefit that those people bring to our countryside must be appreciated. Without them, we have seriously to address the economic viability of those areas.

It is an important debate. I hope that the Minister will address the planning aspect which is key to the issue. I congratulate those who have taken part in the debate, and my noble friend who introduced it.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl for so eloquently introducing this important topic. I have several interests to declare. First, I am legally obliged (which, I hasten to add. I much enjoy) to open my home and garden to the public. I try to farm and as such am custodian to 1,500 acres of beautiful rural Berwickshire countryside; and I should state that I am a life member of the Countryside Alliance.

As the Prime Minister finally admitted last Thursday, farming is in real crisis. He has urged those of us involved in agriculture to diversify. But in remote rural areas this is not possible. There is no alternative to farming on a barren Glenshee mountain face. However, with farming incomes being at an all-time low, tourism can and should provide a vital element of countryside income. I have to say, I find it deeply distressing to see how few Members of the Government are taking part in, or, indeed, for that matter even listening to this important debate.

Well-managed quality tourism in rural areas provides employment and economic benefits in these economically fragile areas. Tourism also assists in sustaining local businesses, such as shops, pubs and hotels, through expenditure by visitors providing additional income which in turn enables such businesses to remain viable. In this way, local services for local people have a better chance of being maintained, which in turn helps to maintain a good quality of life for people in rural areas. In this way, tourism increasingly must play a key role in sustainable development in rural areas. A prosperous rural environment is vital to the British countryside. This is what tourists from both within and without the United Kingdom want to visit and, most importantly, to enjoy.

Tourism in rural Scotland has declined, while tourism to the cities has improved. In the light of that it is necessary to look at opportunities to encourage tourism opportunities in rural areas.

Traditional sporting activities, for example, provide a quality tourism experience and help to sustain local jobs. Those activities often take place in the "quieter" months from a tourism perspective and, properly promoted, would assist in extending the season which is seen to be so vitally important to Scottish tourism.

As regards informal countryside recreation—walking, cycling and horse-riding—legislation is proposed in Scotland and in England and Wales to increase opportunities for the public to enjoy the countryside. Such activities provide low impact, sustainable tourism opportunities, and along with traditional sporting activities can possibly extend the season.

Unfortunately the Scottish tourism strategy illustrates a lack of joined-up thinking, with these activities not being seen as a niche market. Specifically identified, they can improve tourism in rural areas. That is despite the fact that study after study shows that people visit Scotland for the countryside and landscape.

Prices for admission to tourist attractions are ridiculously low in relationship, for example, to sporting events. To give one small example, we at home this year are charging £6 per adult which entitles a visitor to three hours of enjoyment. Had the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, visited Murrayfield on Sunday he would have paid £35 to gain entry for 90 minutes of enjoyment. Twenty years ago we used regularly to get 14,000 visitors a year. What with the strong pound and the high cost of petrol in rural areas, we are now lucky to get 8,000 visitors as more and more UK residents take advantage of cheap package holidays abroad.

If, for example, we look at one aspect of rural tourism, in Scotland shooting, for example, accounts for 2,171 full-time jobs. A further 7,212 full-time jobs are directly or indirectly reliant on shooting. Fifty per cent of our tourism income at home this year will be field sports based. Direct or indirect expenditure on shooting in Scotland has steadily grown over the years and now exceeds £100 million. Thus shooting is vital to help maintain Scotland's rural population at around 20 per cent.

Outside rural areas the conservation benefits of shooting often go unrecognised. Conservation and shooting go hand in hand. Gamekeepers, for example, in Scotland have a management interest in 3½ million hectares. Forty-eight per cent of Scottish gamekeepers manage land that is in an SSSI; 15 per cent of them manage land that is in an ESA; and 13 per cent in areas of outstanding natural beauty.

Over 150,000 people participate in shooting in Scotland. To put this into perspective, that is more than those who participate in nine other sports, including rugby and hockey.

I do not think that anyone realises the real dangers of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and, although a devolved matter, pressure must be put on him to withdraw it. The First Minister must persuade him, but if necessary this pressure must come from the Prime Minister himself. The horrific consequences of this Bill will be shattering for the rural economy, an important element of rural tourism for Scotland.

As sure as night follows day these same consequences will happen in due course in England and Wales, which will result in anarchy in the countryside. The real irony is that if such a Bill became law it still would not save the life of one single wild animal. It would also be extremely expensive to police. The mind boggles at the idea of helicopters patrolling the Lammermuir Hills twice weekly. And I cannot believe that there is a single Chief Constable in the country who would wish to spend his limited resources implementing this Bill.

The noble Lord's right honourable friend the First Minister was recently overheard to have said something along the following lines: "I do wish this hunting thing would go away—it is the civil liberty aspect which scares me". Surely there are far more pressing problems to be tackled by the Scottish Executive and Parliament. It must not be forgotten that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has admitted publicly he is only bringing forward this Bill to test the system. And it stinks.

One of the real pleasures of field sports is the people you meet. All classes and creeds are united in a shared love of the sport, a delight of wild places and the duty of care of our natural heritage. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I urge Her Majesty's Government to be more imaginative with rural planning laws and to give rural tourism a higher priority.

The Prime Minister has often been quoted as saying, "This Government will govern for all the people". For those of us involved in rural tourism we have not so far seen much evidence of that. I urge Her Majesty's Government to put measures in place at once in order that we can all have a viable and beautiful countryside so that we can pass it on to future generations of this country to enjoy with pride.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Peel for giving us the opportunity to debate tourism and the rural economy. I agreed with all that he said, as I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, particularly about the legislation before the Scottish Parliament. I do not believe that many noble Lords in this House realise how vindictive it is and the dangerous repercussions which will occur in Scotland if it is passed unamended.

The countryside, the landscape and the rural economy must be in a healthy state if tourism is to prosper. At the present time it is not so. I am a farmer and I know that the farming element is at an all-time low. What are the Government doing about it? I am disappointed that there is no agriculture Minister on the Front Bench today.

For two years the industry has made it plain to the Government what a serious crisis surrounds it. Last week the Prime Minister called a summit, but at the end of the day all farmers believe that although £200 million is valuable, when spread over all the farmers in the United Kingdom it is a drop in the ocean. I hope that the Prime Minister made an impact on those representing the food chain who have a great deal to do with the prices that farmers must now accept.

It is important that the Minister brings home to his colleagues in MAFF and the rest of the Government just how serious the situation is. We must do something about the exchange rate, despite what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, and we must urgently tackle the numerous rules and regulations which are thrust on farmers almost weekly. Without profitable farming as was rightly said by my noble friends Lord Wade and Lord Plumb, the countryside cannot prosper.

In the main, farming made the countryside: the woodlands, the hedges, the well-cultivated fields and the heather moorland, which takes a lot of managing. All that is due to good husbandry by the farming community. Yet they are receiving little thankful support from the Government. Farming supports the rural economy—the blacksmiths, the machinery operators and the feeding stuff mills—but banks and post offices are rapidly becoming non-existent.

I have seen the reverse. I was in northern New York State last fall driving in an area where farming has failed. There was nothing but derelict farm houses, broken fences, uncultivated fields and woodlands cut down without any sense of replanting. No one wants to see that. What tourist would want to see such dereliction of the countryside? As my noble friend Lord Wade rightly said, that will happen here if steps are not taken to make agriculture profitable.

We must also re-examine our national parks. We face overcrowding, litter and erosion of the hillside, which I can see through binoculars from my home in the south of Scotland looking into the Lake District. We know of the traffic jams, too. Sometimes they overwhelm the tourists and they will not return. I am certain that neither the New Forest nor the South Downs will benefit from becoming national parks.

It is all very well to say that farming must change, certainly within the CAP, but, as my noble friend Lord Wade rightly pointed out, that is not easy. Diversification, the conversion of farm buildings and everything else requires a cash flow and capital. Most farmers have neither. There may be grants from regions and enterprise in Scotland, but if one undertakes a major conversion of a farm building into, say, a tea-room, one ends up paying additional council tax. At the present time, it is not easy to develop alternative forms of income in the countryside.

Furthermore, if one wants to develop, it is essential to be in a strategically satisfactory position. It is no use developing around the corner, out of sight of the main road, because the majority of tourists will not leave the main road. Again, that reduces substantially the number of farms that can diversify.

The Government will—as, I have no doubt, will the Minister when he replies—take great credit for their rural transport plan. However, that does not affect tourists because they arrive in package tour buses and the rest come by motor car. Those with a motor car say, "Heavens above. I am paying nearly £4 a gallon". How on earth does that encourage anyone to visit the West Highlands of Scotland, where fuel costs even more than £4 a gallon, to see the great tourist attractions that we have there? I do not believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has quite taken on boa rd the serious situation of rural transport relative to the cost of fuel, both petrol and diesel.

How right my noble friend Lord Wade was to raise the matter of the importance of planning. Anyone who is currently trying to get anything through any planning authority knows that it is a nightmare. The procedure goes on and on: as councils feel that they must try to be transparent, a month goes by as matters are passed to sub-committees and they come back again another month later, often ending up in an appeal to various Secretaries of State. It is very difficult to get through the planning procedure. We must try to find a more speedy and flexible way of obtaining decisions. Even if the answer is "no", that is something! When one is trying to improve the countryside, it is very dispiriting simply to sit on the fence waiting for it to crumble while nothing happens.

In the same way, I feel depressed at the attitude of the last and perhaps the present Government to objects in the countryside such as telephone masts, wind farms and pylons. I raised that matter in a debate in another place in October 1996, highlighting the exact damage that telephone masts caused in the rural countryside. Yet, even now, nothing has happened. Planning authorities have very little control over the erection of telephone masts. Almost every hill between my home and Glasgow or Edinburgh has a wireless mast stuck on the top. I believe that it is high time that we took a tougher stance and stopped it happening.

I finish by broadening a point which was rightly raised by my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, concerning country sport. Sport forms an extremely important part of the countryside, particularly for tourists. In particular, I want to highlight the lack of action in relation to fishing. A tremendous amount of money comes into the Borders—as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, will know—from people who wish to fish on the Tweed and further north on the Spey, the Dee and the Don, and so on; yet all those rivers are being affected dramatically by the continuation of drift netting off the north-east coast of England. Therefore, it is an English responsibility.

The English have objected every time the Scottish Office has tried to resolve the matter; so, too, have the Environment Agency and its predecessors. Some licences have been reduced but last year the catch of salmon was up substantially. Every salmon that is caught in the North Sea will not reach the rivers of Scotland to spawn and develop fishing which is such an important tourist attraction to the country towns of Scotland and, indeed, to the North of England.

The Labour Party, which referred in its manifesto to an "anglers' charter", was going to do everything possible—move Heaven and earth—to help the fishermen. However, it has done nothing except to set up a commission which I believe is to report some time. However, when will we see action to ensure that the wild salmon of the sea reach the rivers of Scotland and the North of England? Scotland banned drift netting years ago. It is an absolute disgrace that England has not done so thus far.

All in all, I agree entirely with everything that has been said on this side of the House and, indeed, with much of what was said about Cheshire, except for drag hunting, which I do not want to go into now. I believe that the Government must look seriously at the way that they treat the countryside. They talk a great deal about it but do nothing.

6.14 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, it is to be hoped that by his judicious and timely choice of this debate, my noble friend Lord Peel will succeed in obtaining from the Minister, when he comes to reply, at least a statement about when we shall see the rural White Paper. It has been hanging about for over a year and I believe that the time has come when we should know what progress has been made.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—a somewhat lonely figure on those Benches—that a national hunting museum is being established, quite correctly, at Melton Mowbray. However, I can give him some comfort that the historian of the Tarporley Hunt is on our advisory committee and is being extremely helpful. Departmental liaison Peers are now being appointed by the mass of special advisers that the leaders in the Lords now have. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, is not at least supported by the appropriate departmental liaison Peer.

This debate takes place at a time when, as has already been said, the pressure on the agricultural budget is downwards and downwards. To counteract that, the new buzzword seems to be "diversification". Alternative activities hold out some future. I suspect that when the noble Lord comes to reply, he will make some play of the powers of the rural development agencies and the help that they may be able to give. The awful truth is that the rural development agencies have been stripped of the one power that would really help; namely, the ability to give grants for converting farm buildings and farm machinery. That was taken away from them and given to the urban development agencies. Therefore, those grants are no longer available. In fact, the rural development agencies represent, purely and simply, a way of trying to encourage people in the countryside to think in terms of European regions.

As has already been said, country life is now at a cross-roads between the mirages of city life, with its claims to social, economic and cultural advantages, and the growing demand for a better quality of life, far from pollution and other worries. Today, in the age of the Internet and telecommunications, rural dwellers have many strengths. Each year the statistics show the terrific desire and need of people to return to their roots. Let us look at the demand for countryside holidays, and the opening and visiting of stately homes, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who has already dealt with that point. At present, rural tourism, sport and accommodation to suit all budgets are a lifeline in the countryside, as are farm trails and, above all, the contribution made by country sports: hunting, shooting and fishing.

As my noble friend Lord Peel has already said, the total budget of the three country sports amounts to £3.8 billion a year, as researched by the Cobham Research Institute in 1997. I say to my noble friend Lord Wade that it is not just "a brace of pheasants"; the actual worth of game sold from the countryside today is some £18 million. That is a good many braces of pheasants. Even with the poor fishing, fishing is worth £0.65 million. Today, an income of over £9 million from venison comes into the countryside.

What have the Government done to help the 3.3 million people who go to rural areas to fish? If one talks to any fisherman today, what will he tell you? The biggest plague for fishermen is cormorants, which come in and decimate inland fisheries. One constructive thing that the Government could do would be to say that we shall have a "no fly zone" for cormorants beyond the high-tide area. They are a sea-nesting, sea-feeding bird and are not part of the English countryside.

What are the Government going to do about the grey seal population? When the fishing was good, the grey seal population was limited to 25,000. It is now 109,000 and growing at 8 per cent per year.

What will the Government do to help the fishermen regarding the fact that the Danes are now removing all the sand eels in order to fire their power stations despite the fact that there has been a report which says that sand eel fishing should cease? What about sea lice? I refer also not only to legal sea netting, but also to illegal sea netting. Those matters work against the 3.3 million people who come to fish in our countryside.

What will the Government do to help the 0.75 million shooters who come as tourists to rural areas? We were told that no action was to be taken against the shooting community; and yet the Home Affairs Select Committee is inquiring into the ownership of airguns, shotguns and firearms. It is to propose further regulations. Nobody seems to realise that if only the rules and law relating to airguns were properly enforced, there would be no more problems in that sphere.

What have the Government done to make it easier for more people to shoot and enjoy the countryside? They have banned lead shot over a wide area, far beyond the necessary wetland areas and have spread that ban to the inclusion of snipe and golden plover, adding to a quarry list. They are forcing people out of shooting simply because the price of non-lead cartridges is £16 for 25. That makes it a very expensive hobby.

There has been a complete failure to meet the demands of the Game Conservancy Trust that we should do something about avian predation and the densities, and have some experiments, licensed by the EU, on translocation of avian predators.

Finally, what are the Government doing to help the quarter of a million people who come into the rural countryside as visitors and residents to follow hounds, directly employing some 16,000 people and indirectly creating some 60,000 full-time jobs? It is not appropriate today to discuss the question of a ban on hunting with hounds. We all await the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It is significant that The Times today states categorically that the Home Secretary will take no action until he has had time to consider the recommendations of the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

In my county of Leicestershire, the money spent on hunting (and brought into one county) is £9.2 million, and some 240 direct jobs are involved. That is only one county's expenditure from a total annual expenditure of £243 million by the hunts of England.

In conclusion, I draw attention to something which I believe helps the countryside enormously and helps our tourist industry; that is, the marvellous part played by the quality of our sporting press—The Field, Country Life, Horse and Hound, and the Shooting Times. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Willoughby on adding a fifth title and a fifth quality magazine to that list. Every single one of those magazines is read by four people. Whatever the circulation figures are, they should be multiplied by four. Their articles and their presentation of countryside matters whet the appetite of people for rural visits and sportsmanship. They make a notable contribution to our rural economy.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may make the point that what I sought to explain was that a visitor from Germany may spend, perhaps, £10,000 on a week's visit and all he takes home with him is a brace of pheasants.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, we should prefer him to spend dollars rather than euros.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, it will come as no surprise to your Lordships to know that there is a Welsh dimension to the subject of this debate. I add my compliments to those already received by my noble friend Lord Peel on initiating this debate.

First, the Welsh farming unions and the Country Landowners' Association in Wales welcomed the Prime Minister's announcement last week of extra funding for dairy, beef and sheep farmers. But, of course, they regarded it as a kiss of life for a patient in need of major surgery; and farming in Wales is, indeed, critically ill and in need of intensive care if it is to survive on a sustainable scale. It needs long-term nursing and care to prosper. There is not much sign of that from this Government. Indeed, the Government seem to be totally at a loss as to what to do. Of course, we are extremely worried about that.

The crux of our problem in Wales is that so much depends on rural prosperity. After all, we are a country where the farming units are very small for the most part and, therefore, fragile in adverse economic circumstances. I am told that the average farm income is now below £5,000 per year. The dire effects of that are beginning to become visible in the countryside.

It is not simply the ancillary businesses in villages and market towns which are dependent on a successful, agricultural community. Whole swathes of life and the language and culture that go with the community are dependent on it. We draw our teachers, nurses and many of our professional people—doctors, lawyers and so on—from that community. If it is weak and its future unpromising, the whole fabric will disintegrate. That could happen sooner than many think, as some of your Lordships have already implied.

If I were limited to one example of the extent of dependence on the land and farming families, I should refer to my personal experience of attending a major North Wales hospital last year. I was really struck by the fact that a high proportion of the nurses came from farming families in the hinterland of the Clwydian hills.

Perhaps I should not have been so surprised as I was, but my stay at the hospital brought home to me very forcibly the extent of our dependence on a thriving, hard-working, conscientious agricultural and rural community and the human resources which that community provides.

We have heard already that people who live in rural areas have undoubtedly been hit very hard in recent years. There are not only the well-known difficulties— the farmers whose incomes have fallen so drastically in the wake of the strong pound and other problems—but there are also those relentlessly rising fuel costs of transport, heating and power and the constant erosion of essential services such as those provided by sub-post offices, the police and now the banks.

It seems to me, as a country dweller, that everything must be fetched and carried over ever-increasing distances these days. And it is not surprising that the talk among the young is of depopulation and even emigration. I only hope that the long-awaited rural White Paper referred to by a number of your Lordships provides an antidote to the Government's current complacency, for that is how it seems to the farming and rural community.

The other major recruiting ground for that hospital, the Glan Clwyd Hospital which I mentioned earlier, were the coastal resorts of Rhyl and Colwyn Bay, with their dozens of small family businesses engaged in various aspects of the tourist trade. And tourism too is a very significant employer in the Welsh economy. It employs some 100,000 people. One in 10 of the working population are engaged in it.

Its importance has been recognised by successive governments. The Wales Tourist Board was the first quango established in Wales. That was done by a Labour government in 1969. The board has achieved a great deal over the years, including the promotion of on-farm and rural tourism, often against the wishes of the traditional coastal resorts which saw their livelihood being sapped and taken away from them by rural enterprises.

I am sorry to say that the board now appears to have lost favour with the Labour Government, who hold somewhat giddy sway at the National Assembly in Cardiff. Its budget has been frozen for three years. That has occasioned a quiverful of parthian shots from the retiring chairman, Mr Tony Lewis, perhaps better known to your Lordships as a former captain of the English Test cricket team in the early 1970s—so he has served both countries well.

He has compared his standstill budget of £14.9 million with the Scottish Tourist Board's increased budget of £25 million this year and his marketing budget of £5 million with the Irish Republic's £30 million. I have a great deal of sympathy with the retiring chairman's somewhat plaintive tone at a time when Wales is yet again turning to the tourist industry to make up for jobs lost in the countryside. There is much to be said in support of his national action plan for the development of tourism as a counter to the diffusion and duplication and, indeed, dissipation of effort that one sometimes finds at local level.

The trouble with tourism as a remedy for the ills of agriculture is that many farming families have already diversified into tourism projects of all kinds. A well-known tourism figure in west Wales, Mr Ashford Price, described only last week how he was being approached by farmers for advice as to how they might further diversify. He said that 10 years ago he would have encouraged them, but now the market is saturated. I for one hope that he is wrong. There is a lot of potential and scope for the development of projects, particularly in field sports.

A strong pound adversely affects the domestic tourist trade, as it does agriculture, but there is no monetary compensation to be claimed on behalf of the tourist industry. I might tell the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that the fact that the Valleys and West Wales have been declared an objective 1 area is not likely to be particularly helpful in relation to tourism. I understand that tourism-related projects are to be given a comparatively low priority and will be in competition with other service and manufacturing applications for funds. Of the total £1.2 billion to be made available over a period of years, it is estimated that the tourist industry will receive only 2 per cent—about £3 million—although it accounts for 8 per cent of Welsh gross domestic product.

I hope that the National Assembly, which apparently does not place tourism development high on its agenda, will give further consideration to the issue for the simple reason that tourism is likely to continue to be one of themainstays of the Welsh rural economy. I hope that the Assembly will have regard to the UK Government's guidance to the regional development agencies in England which have been strongly encouraged to co-operate in tourism development. I hope also that the Assembly will give urgent consideration to the suggestions put forward by the Welsh Rural Forum in its report Rural Wales 2000, published yesterday. There are some excellent ideas in the report.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are facing an extremely serious situation in the rural areas. I fear that it may all get worse before it gets better. My only hope at present is that the Minister will have some positive things to say when he comes to end the debate.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, first I must declare an interest as president of the Southern Tourist Board and also as the owner of Beaulieu, one of the largest tourist attractions in rural England. As we enter the third millennium, it cannot be repeated enough that for some years tourism is and will be absolutely vital to the rural economy. It was not ever thus, as, from 1939, all efforts in agriculture were focused on growing more. Tourist related activities were thought to be invasive and were routinely discouraged. We now live in a different world. Agriculture is once again in crisis, and as a motoring historian I am reminded of the early part of the last century when the rural economy was entirely based on providing for the horse; be it hay, straw, blacksmiths, horse-drawn vehicles, vets, saddles and all the ramifications of hunting. Then came the car; prompting another crisis which not only revolutionised the agricultural economy, in particular altering agricultural practices, but also the look of the countryside.

As townsmen began increasingly to explore the countryside, so new facilities were required and so they have developed over the years in a peripheral way to the main business of farming; a nice icing on the cake for the more enterprising farmer. Now we have a new agricultural revolution. Farmers are urged to grow less, set aside productive land, plant trees and diversify. For many farmers, the crops of today are people, not fodder for horses. They need to be well planted in attractive places, tended with care and well managed so that they do not damage the environment. That is, of course, a problem facing the whole country, not only rural areas.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Wade, who mentioned places such as Bournemouth or Blackpool, where, if one is staying, one is bound to enjoy the New Forest or the Lake District. They are like reservoirs for additional tourists. It is rather unfortunate, however, that some resorts selfishly want to keep their visitors to themselves and they deliberately try not to publicise the surrounding areas, which are sometimes of equal or even greater interest than those seaside resorts. However, I should like to compliment Bournemouth, which has long recognised that its attraction includes its surroundings and has marketed itself accordingly with great success.

Tourism affects the countryside in an all-pervasive way, not only through the obvious means such as coaches and caravan sites, but also through walkers, climbers, caravanners, fishermen, hunters and shooters, weekend sailors who go to rural coastal areas; in fact, everybody who wishes to leave the town for the country. The bulk of businesses that make up the rural economy and contribute to it are almost always small businesses, but by themselves they derive little benefit from the larger-scale campaigns of the national and regional tourist boards.

The regional tourist boards must concentrate their efforts a great deal more on promoting the benefits and management of tourism on a much smaller scale, indeed right down to parish council level. Unfortunately, such councils are too often composed of persons with rather NIMBY attitudes, who inevitably oppose even small and sensible tourist developments and then wonder why their area and many market towns face a crisis with high street pubs, shops, post offices, garages, local bus services and even banks closing. Those losses to the rural community are often compounded by the competition from large out-of-town shopping complexes with Sunday shopping, which is a great problem for historic houses at the moment, and 24-hour opening times.

There has been a great increase in farm diversification with such activities as "pick-yourown"—who would have thought before the war that one would be picking one's own sweetcorn? However, there is a danger of new farm-based attractions of small scale and poor quality damaging the existing market. There is much more scope to provide high quality B&Bs and self-catering accommodation, although planning restrictions, not forgetting the ever-increasing number of regulations coming from central government, can be a great obstacle.

It is important to stress that the viability of most small businesses in rural areas depends greatly on the contribution of tourism, particularly in the area of employment. At Beaulieu 200 people are employed which shows what can be achieved.

Many commercial premises are seasonal and are profitable only if they close in the winter. More permanent retail establishments, such as a chemist's shop, would only just about break even if it were not for the summer trade. The selling and processing of films, the selling of first aid items, sun lotions and so forth, can increase turnover by 30 per cent which will make a shop viable.

I am convinced that tourist boards should follow the key theme of creating and marketing local distinctions of special and unique character, such as local customs, food, crafts and dialects, if only to counter the creeping sameness of so many of our high streets that are packed with McDonalds and Travelodges. Soon, when everywhere looks the same, there will be no reason to travel.

Destination marketing on a small scale is difficult, but the enormous expansion of IT and, in particular, the Internet, provides great opportunities for targeting promotion more accurately. I am told that when the Orkney Islands recently advertised its B&Bs on the Internet, the accommodation was sold out within a few weeks.

As MAFF is largely responsible for future rural economy and is now confronted with a bleak future for agriculture, I want to make a bold and rather radical suggestion. I believe that MAFF should seriously consider providing financial assistance and marketing advice to farms and other rural industries for tourist-related projects and developments. Surely, a farmer would find that advice more welcome than advice on how to grow more pigs.

I look forward to the forthcoming rural White Paper. We shall have to wait and see, and hope that it is not too late.

6.42 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, early in the morning of 1st April 2000, Radio 4 quoted the world tourist organisation that predicts that this year the United Kingdom will receive 28 million tourists and that by the year 2020 the number will have increased to 54 million. That is a huge number.

In this well-timed debate, for which I thank my noble friend Lord Peel, we have heard what tourism is; what this country already has to offer to those who venture beyond London into our rural areas; and how the industry may be developed in the future.

I declare my family interest in farming and membership of the Country Landowners' Association, the NFU and the Countryside Alliance.

I want to talk briefly about the need to "manage" tourism, by which I do not mean loads of bureaucracy, the plethora of which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has referred to already. We have recognised systems of grading various levels of service; we have a national system of route signing; we have easy access to accurate maps at reasonable prices, and we have a network of information centres whose staff—as I can testify from a recent experience with the English Tourist Board—are helpful, well informed and swift to respond to requests for information.

In that regard, I welcome the consultation document Working in the Countryside which will look, in the widest possible terms, at how tourism can be managed in the countryside. A balanced approach is absolutely crucial to any future policy. We must encourage tourism, but at the same time we must protect wildlife and their habitats.

The popularity of tourism brings new challenges and new opportunities, but it also brings pressures, especially on some of our most visited rural beauty spots. Growing numbers of tourists and day trippers travel everywhere by car because it is cheaper than paying rail fares for two, three or four adults and it is the only way to reach some areas. When they reach their destination, the vehicle is often unnecessary to the rest of the visit and a nuisance both to them and to the residents of whichever town or village they visit.

Many organisations, such as the Country Landowners' Association, the Local Government Association, the National Farmers Union, have warned of the difficulties of high levels of seasonal demand for water, for entry to historic buildings and for access to parkland and famous beauty spots. If such things have to be rationed in some way, they will lose their attraction and people will simply go elsewhere.

I have quoted the figures of 28 million tourists this year and 54 million in 2020. For that same period, the increase of visitors to Europe will be even greater. It is not only in agriculture that we are likely to lose out to our continental neighbours. If we do not look to our laurels we shall see a continuation of the trend whereby more Britons abandon their own country to travel abroad and more overseas visitors confine their attention to London and the main attractions of the Lake District, Stratford-on-Avon, Scotland, and Snowdonia.

Such a trend will not benefit the majority of our rural areas. The efforts of so many farmers and their wives in developing bed-and-breakfast facilities, to which other noble Lords have referred, in offering farm visits and holidays, and in housing craft centres will count for less. The need to encourage visitors to try the less well known areas is crucial. Transport is a key to that. Planning, mentioned by other noble Lords, needs to be dealt with in an imaginative and sympathetic way.

Britain offers many contrasts in a small area: not for us the vast distances of America, Australia or parts of the Continent; not for us the seemingly unending vistas of prairie or mountain. Tourists, whether home-grown or from overseas, can opt for the height of luxury or for the backpack and the youth hostel. They can choose culture in the form of the world's finest theatres, art galleries and concert halls or they can climb, canoe, skydive or simply walk. They can relax for a week, two weeks or a long weekend. They can join activities as varied as painting, music making, snorkelling or sailing, to name but a few. We should be proud of the variety that this nation can afford.

Our rural economy must take full advantage of the range of activities that tourists of all ages and backgrounds enjoy and for which they are prepared to pay. Walking, cycling and horse riding are as popular now as ever. Farmers and landowners can benefit by offering traffic-free access to beautiful landscapes and perhaps challenging terrain.

Coming from Leicestershire, I can attest to the range of tourist attractions within the county. I shall mention a few because they highlight the problems and challenges that we face. On the sport side, there is motoring racing at Mallory Park and Donington Park; the canals give pleasure to walkers and boat enthusiasts; beautiful Bradgate Park and the Beacon Hill are free to walkers and soon, in some areas, to cyclists. The noble Earl is not in his seat today, but there is the Ferrers Centre for Arts and Crafts, which is a real tourist attraction. At the smaller end, there is the Stonehurst Family Farm and museum which was awarded the Leicester Mercury award for tourism only a year ago. There is also Twycross Zoo, the Birdland Centre with tropical birds, and fishing in our reservoirs.

In addition, Leicestershire, as my noble friend Lord Kimball has said, is the home of five of the best known fox hound packs as well as the Oakley Beagles and the Westerby Bassets. Those seven hunts make a great contribution to the economic activity within and around the county through direct and indirect employment and in the purchase of goods and services. They attract people from all over the UK and visitors from abroad, which is very important. My noble friend gave the House the figures.

Others enjoy riding for pleasure, as compared with for competing or hunting. Riders bring our farmers the opportunity to convert barns into stabling for riding centres, as some of my neighbouring farmers have done. Fishing and shooting, enjoyed by local and overseas visitors, play an important part in a county like Leicestershire.

Shortly we shall debate the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill in this House. It will place extra burdens on our land managers, and if some of the more practical requirements that are proposed in the Bill are not understood, appreciated and met, it may well cause a reduction in landowners' ability to attract tourists to their land. I hope that the Minister will pass that comment on to his colleagues.

Like other speakers in the debate, I have mentioned only a few of the many tourist attractions. Rural tourism depends on a thriving farming industry, a point made by several noble Lords. I refer to it every time I speak in the House. Farming is still in crisis across the whole range of food production. As others have said, the situation is not being helped by increased regulation, the early introduction of EU legislation, or the continuing pressure on our small abattoirs. All these factors are adding to the demise of agriculture.

Fortunately, tourists who come to visit the countryside seem to be permanently hungry. They are happy to enjoy the home-made fare on offer in our shops, tea shops, farm centres and pubs. Our locally grown and regionally known hams, cheeses, preservatives and sweets are enjoyed by everyone. This is a business activity which attracts young people. I was happy to note that recently two such young Nottinghamshire farmers who have branched out have won awards: one for a wholesale and retail ice cream business set up at her home; the other for turning his farm into a visitor centre using everyday animals, but also including some exotic species.

I was also pleased to learn of a campaign to tempt culinary tourists on a rural ride. Some £50,000 has been given to the Heart of England Tourist Board to pilot such holidays. The initiative brings together farmers, food producers and the tourist industry to produce a top quality package based on farms as well as hotels and restaurants.

Farmers are willing to adapt, to accept new challenges and to look at ways of encouraging tourism. However, I should reflect the views of other noble Lords and say that a saturation point can be reached beyond which it is not possible to keep on diversifying. I welcome the announcement made on 31st March that the Government will apply a zero business rate for horse projects on farms. Perhaps some relaxation of rules or pump priming for other types of farm projects might be considered. That would provide the stimulus that will persuade the agricultural community to diversify even further. In doing so, they will not only sustain agriculture and the production of food, they will also attract more tourism to rural areas.

6.52 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. Lord Peel for introducing this timely debate and I congratulate him on his excellent speech However, I should like to mention one minor peccadillo: my noble friend mentioned the strength of the pound, but no doubt that must have been a slip of the tongue. We are talking about the weakness of the euro here.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The last time I spoke on this issue, I did refer to the weakness of the euro.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that comment. He was absolutely right to point out the extraordinary blindspot in nearly all official and quasi-official publications—many of them have been mentioned in the course of the debate—on rural tourism and the rural economy. Perhaps—as a result of the intervention and kind words from my noble friend Lord Kimball—I should declare my interests at this point. I am chairman of St Martin's Magazines, the publishers of Country Illustrated. I am also president of the Heart of England Tourist Board.

The blindspot identified so clearly by my noble friend Lord Peel is the significant contribution made to the rural economy by what I shall call "sporting tourists". I do not understand this pervading reluctance to admit to the blindingly obvious. In a sense I recognise the reaction as akin to that of the Victorians. Apparently, they were nervous of the sight of the female form, in particular legs, which were covered at all times by long skirts. As I understand it, they even went to the lengths of putting lace around piano legs so that no offence could be caused. Nevertheless, the legs were still there, only out of sight and out of mind. That appears to be the case today as regards field sports.

I have one or two of those official documents with me. They have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. We can search in vain for even a fleeting mention of hunting, shooting, fishing or riding. The first, referred to also by my noble friend Lord Peel, is entitled Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside, while the second is entitled Sharing the Nation's Prosperity, and is a rather weighty document. It is full of marvellously flatulent jargon such as "sustainable development", "market segmentation", "inclusion", "exclusion", "integration", "the enterprise environment" and I believe, for my bonus point, that I found one reference to the word "overarching". It is full of little goodies such as a paragraph explaining that 29 per cent of men living in rural areas have been observed to drink more than 21 units of alcohol per week. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, might be interested to know that that probably includes even areas such as Cheshire.

Another document reports a survey conducted to see whether rural people are friendly. According to its findings, 40 per cent are very friendly and 40 per cent are fairly friendly; in urban areas, 60 per cent are fairly friendly. I do not understand the survey. Is it suggesting that there are many "fairly friendly" in urban areas but rather fewer in rural areas?

However, the documents do not mention field sports or riding, which I find rather odd. It seems a little careless, in particular after hearing the impressive figures given by my noble friends Lord Peel and Lord Kimball which reflect the serious financial contribution made by field sports to the rural economy. Of course, sporting tourists have been with us for many years. Some noble Lords may be familiar with the works of Robert Surtees, in particular his novel, Mr Sponge's Sporting Tour. Mr Sponge was reputed to live on, nothing a year, paid quarterly". As many noble Lords have pointed out, sporting tourists contribute a huge amount to the rural economy, whether they shoot, hunt, fish or ride. However, they will come only if appropriate services are available in an area which offers them the opportunity to pursue their interests.

I should like to move from the general to the particular, because it might be of interest to noble Lords to learn how in real life one such enterprise works. Close to me on the borders of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire there is an enterprise that offers hunting, pony trekking and riding lessons. It has 55 horses in work and 40 young horses coming on—95 horses in all. It sends out around 15 to 20 horses each hunting day during the season, which over the entire season amounts to around 300 horses. It takes more than 2,500 visitors on pony treks or rides and more than 2,000 people attend its riding school each year. The business has a turnover well into six figures and attracts visitors from America, France, Holland, Italy, Germany and Japan. However, those are only the foreign tourists; a great number of British tourists visit for a few days' hunting or a week's riding course or pony trekking in the Cotswolds.

The business is thriving because of the hard graft of its owners. Their success has absolutely nothing at all to do with Euro-dosh such as Objective 1 or 2, the Leader schemes, or one or other of the multifarious little Euro-enterprises which only give us our own money back again once it has been administered by Eurocrats. The owners' success is due to their own enterprise and hard work. Furthermore, their success generates other successes in the rural economy. Their stables employ six people full time and 11 part time. In particular, some of those part-timers are farmers' wives, whose income gives them an opportunity to contribute to their farm economies and to help towards the survival of their own farm businesses in the current harsh times for agriculture. If that is not contributing to the rural local economy, I do not know what is.

The organisation uses two professional saddlers to maintain riding equipment and three independent saddlery stores. Its general supplies—there are a lot of those, as can be imagined with keeping 90 horses—are bought from a local farmers' co-operative. It uses four local veterinary practices and gives regular work to three blacksmiths. Its vehicles are maintained by the local garage and fuelled at the local petrol stations. Let us not forget the feed requirements. With 90 horses, the business needs hay, straw and oats, which are all bought from local farmers and, I am told with a catch in the voice, at premium prices.

So we have this picture emerging of a successful hub of energy with spokes radiating out all over the rural economy. But the picture is not nearly complete. There is the pub; there are the local B? the builders; the repairmen; the plumbers; and all the people who are needed to keep such a large complex going and who have to be virtually on-call all the time.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Kimball that this is not the time to have a debate on hunting, despite the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, brought it into the equation. But it is worth saying that hunting plays an important part in the success of that business. That is a fact; it is not making any specific point. A lot of its other activities are seasonal: the riding school and lessons are seasonal. Hunting takes place during the five months of the year when there is not nearly so much activity on the riding and trekking side.

So the business is dependent on the continuation of hunting, as are the local pubs and the bed-and-breakfast suppliers. I have personal experience of that when taking my 19 units a week. They all say that they would find it difficult to keep going without the clientele they get from that business; in this area not so much from hunting, but from that business. To keep costs down, they need a large turnover, and profits on all enterprises are at the margins. So they need a year-round turnover before they make a profit.

That is just one example, but it is an important example in my part of the country and I am sure that there are scores of such examples throughout the whole of the United Kingdom that contribute that sort of measure of success to the local economy. I find it a little depressing, as I am sure do the owners of that business and those who run similar businesses, that they are not mentioned; that they are wiped out of the national consciousness when it comes to talking about the local economy. We hear all sorts of other comments, but nothing about the people who offer sporting holidays, even if it includes shooting, hunting and fishing. They are simply not mentioned.

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity in this debate to put the record straight. I am not attacking the Government. These are not government documents. But it would be nice to hear somebody say, "Yes, we recognise that field sports—riding, hunting, fishing and shooting—have a part to play in the rural economy", and perhaps the Minister might say that at the end of this debate.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, can I ask the noble Lord a question? What is wrong with drag hunting? Do we not get the best of all worlds with that?

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, as I said, this is not the time to go into a debate about hunting. If the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would like to join me for a drink afterwards, I will explain to him the difference between drag hunting and fox hunting.

7.3 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I too join the ever-increasing band of noble Lords congratulating my noble friend Lord Peel on bringing forward this extraordinarily important debate. As we have heard from so many noble Lords, the importance of tourism to the rural economy is enormous. It is all the more important at the present time when rural Britain is in a state of agricultural crisis and transition.

But I join the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in saying how distressing and worrying it is that there are so few noble Lords on the Government Benches this evening for such an important debate. I hope that the Government Benches will be fuller when we consider the countryside Bill in this Chamber. On the other hand, it may be a good thing if they are not and we can get our amendments through without too much hassle or worry.

As we all know, the Prime Minister has urged farmers to diversify, and many are endeavouring to do so. But the Prime Minister is saying nothing new. Many rural activities form an historic part of the rural way of life. They are a source of what one might term domestic tourism as well as international tourism. The debate this evening enables us to look at tourism in its widest context and face up to some facts that many people and public bodies seem reluctant to publicise.

I should like to confine my remarks to the area I know best; that is, the West Country, where I live. It is one of the most beautiful, varied and most frequently visited parts of Britain. Our landscape, our villages, our houses and gardens, particularly those in Devon and Cornwall, are spectacular. Indeed, they are almost certainly the best in Europe at this particular time of year, the spring. And the tourism they generate is essential to the many rural communities that exist there.

In addition, we have high quality capital projects on the way; for example, the Eden Project. That is one of the flagship millennium projects and is attracting huge interest from around the world. Through the use of one-and-a-half kilometres of plastic domes 135 feet high, it will show how plants shape our everyday life. That is extraordinary. Indeed, the project is expected to attract 750,000 visitors each year.

The West Country is an area rich in heritage and tradition. Visitors are able to partake of an astonishing array of activities. But it is also an area of high economic sensitivity. Many of the more remote villages are what might be termed marginal in economic terms, and in maintaining that economic balance in favour of the local community tourism plays a vital part. As such, we must do all we can to encourage tourism while being sensitive to the countryside, its needs and its people.

Tourism increasingly demands quality. More and more people expect and can afford quality. Yes, they expect it; and, yes, they respect it. I refer to quality of accommodation; quality of service and food at competitive prices. But quality needs not only the resources to fund it, but also an attitude of mind and an understanding of what people want. A pride and satisfaction goes with the delivery of a high quality service, and ultimately the gain from it—the profit.

But many public bodies, even those charged with promoting and planning the future of rural Britain, fail to acknowledge the crucial role played by country activities such as hunting, shooting and fishing. One cannot help but suspect that that reticence is dictated by political correctness and not by a genuine understanding of the economic, cultural and management realities of local communities such as those of the West Country. If that is the case, then those responsible are doing a gross disservice to those communities and undermining the very work that they were set up to achieve. In doing so, they are playing recklessly with people's lives and future, and indeed the future of the countryside which we all cherish and value so highly.

In the West Country in particular, country sports are as important as any other rural activity and contribute hugely to the rural economy. Those activities attract large numbers of visitors from within Britain and overseas. What must be understood, as many noble Lords have said, is that for many communities they make the difference between survival and extinction. For instance, shooting attracts a considerable number of international clients who contribute substantially not only to local employment during the winter months but also to spending in the local economy.

Noble Lords may think I exaggerate the case for country sports, but some facts should serve to illustrate my point. The Rural Economy Working Group of the West Somerset District Council commissioned a report from the Centre for Rural Studies at Cirencester. It produced some very revealing figures. In looking at hunting, the study discovered that hunting brings in £5.5 million to the rural economy in the West Country, while the estimated value of sold shooting on Exmoor alone is £7.25 million. Add on feedstuffs and, in total, Endangered Exmoor has shown that country sports directly contribute £13½ million per annum to the rural economy and, even more important, against a background of a 70 per cent drop in farming incomes in the last two years. Let us not forget also the very considerable employment that field sports give on Exmoor.

One cannot but feel that if some other authorities and public bodies were to take their heads out of the proverbial sand, then the real importance of country sports to large parts of rural Britain might be realised. This should be an area of objective fact, not sentiment.

In addition to country sports, however, there is for instance the very exciting South-West Forest Project between Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor, which will create an area for the enjoyment of all and enable numerous country pursuits from walking to rally driving to be enjoyed, thereby providing valuable business opportunities and jobs in some of the most sparsely populated and vulnerable areas of the country.

Equally important is investment and government support for the hotel sector in rural areas. We have in the West Country an ageing hotel sector, which in many areas is struggling to remain in business. The stock is old; it is dated and tired; major investment is needed to upgrade some of the stock.

I realise that many of your Lordships may he thinking, "Why should government money be invested in tourism, let alone tourism in rural England?". My Lords, you may be interested to learn that tourism in the South West generates about £1,200 per head of population and in some parts it accounts for over one-third of GDP; but the central government support for tourism is about 20p per head of population—yes, 20p. That 20p per head of population in England compares with £6.49 in Wales and £5.07 in Scotland. If England were to have the same funding for tourism as Scotland and Wales, major product improvement could be made and new products developed and marketed. That would help this vital industry to help the rural economy to flourish once more. All the research shows that there is considerable potential to grow this sector. What is needed is public sector pump-priming funding.

Finally, my Lords, if any of us is in any doubt, let us remember that tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. Within the next few years it will be the largest industry in the world. It already constitutes the world's largest employment sector and one in six of all new jobs in the country is in tourism. We need to give our tourism industry the support it deserves, which will deliver the revenue, the business opportunities and the jobs so badly needed in rural England, particularly in the West Country.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Peel for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject this evening. It is a particularly interesting subject because it links the tourism industry, which is an enormous and growing industry and one of our country's great success stories, with the rural economy, whose main and oldest industry, agriculture, is probably in the worst state it has ever been in, certainly in my lifetime.

In his recent day-trip to the countryside to persuade farmers that this Government have any interest at all in their problems, the Prime Minister, as one of his solutions to the terrifying collapse in farm incomes, gave advice that farmers should diversify into businesses apart from farming. It is perfectly clear from this debate that one of the options open to them is to diversify into tourism. It is equally clear that, while it may be an option for some, it is not an option for all and it is by no means an easy option.

King Charles II once said that a man could usefully be employed outdoors on more days of the year in England than in any other country—although quite what Charles II knew about outdoor employment, I am not entirely sure. Ignoring the fact that the weather this week has not been quite as spring-like as we might wish, I suspect that I might achieve some degree of consensus in your Lordships' House this evening if I were to suggest that many overseas visitors do not come to Britain for their holidays in order to sunbathe or to swim off our coasts; though I do accept that many of our natives bravely flock to our coasts each summer.

One of the main attractions of Britain for our American, Japanese and European guests is what has come to be called our heritage. Although it is clear that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland thinks very little of military ceremonies, the tens of thousands of tourists who flock to see the changing of the Guard, the Trooping of the Colour and the Edinburgh Tattoo would seem not to agree with him.

Furthermore, although this Government have shown scant regard for the past and its traditions and values, it is the past glories of this country, conserved here as nowhere else in the world, that form one of the main attractions for the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of visitors who come here each year. The Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Eton—how New Labour must hate that!—Oxford, Stratford and Bath are among the favourite attractions; but they are not the only ones. The stately homes of England, from Chatsworth to Blenheim and from Berkeley Castle to Blair Atholl, teem with visitors in the summer, marvelling at their beauty, at their contents, and at the wonderful countryside in which they are set.

It is not just the great houses and estates that attract people, however; it is the British countryside that is the wonder of so many visitors to these shores, and the villages and farms that are scattered across it. Part of that attraction comes from the natural landscape; but no less of the magic comes from the fact that it is a living countryside, worked and cared for by those who farm and manage it. It is also important to remember that many of those areas which attract the most visitors are those which have been hardest hit by the current agricultural depression: Exmoor and Dartmoor, the Peak District, the dales and the moors of North Yorkshire, which my noble friend Lord Peel knows better than anyone; Snowdonia, preserved and protected for so long by that great Master of Hounds, Richard Williams, and his family, and now managed by the National Trust; the Lake District—John Peel country; the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

When the Edinburgh Festival and the Tattoo are over, thousands of visitors stream north into the Highlands, many to walk the mountains and moors; although how many recognise that the magnificent countryside which they are enjoying is the result of years of committed management of grouse moor, deer forest and salmon river, I have no idea.

There is clearly enormous potential, therefore, for further development of these great tourist assets, to enable them to be enjoyed by visitors from overseas and by holidaymakers from other parts of our own country. We need to recognise, however, that in order for this to be achieved some facts must be recognised and some problems overcome.

First and foremost, neither the visitors to our countryside nor those who live there want to see the countryside turned into a massive theme park. That would destroy the attraction both to visit and to live there. It is a cry we have heard again and again over the last few years; it is a very real concern and must be carefully considered. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in replying, will recognise and understand this point, as he has often demonstrated to the House his grasp of complex issues of style—for an issue of style is what this is.

The most important factor in achieving the right balance—and we have heard a lot about balance this evening—is that, in developing tourism in the countryside, account must be taken of the very different reasons why people visit. When I started speaking, I purposely mentioned the weather and the fact that it is not the prime motivating factor in choosing to go to some of Britain's wild areas, such as Scotland, the moors or the West Country. That is even truer in the colder months of the year. We therefore need a tourist industry which, if possible, offers attractions all the year round.

Whether or not it is politically correct, one of the main attractions of the British countryside is that, because it has been so well conserved, it is immensely appealing to field sportsmen. To sportsmen and women all over the world, Britain is a field sports Mecca. Thousands come here every winter to hunt, to shoot and to fish. The income they bring is essential to the communities they visit, because those are the most difficult and the most fragile communities. That income sustains them through the winter months when farm incomes are low and when the fair-weather tourists return to their cities. It is the focus of this not vast amount of income—but income in particular places at particular times—that is so important. This part of the rural tourist industry is essential to the survival of the whole and must not be underestimated.

One specific example of what can go wrong can be seen in Scotland; and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Kimball touched on it. The catastrophic fall in salmon numbers in Scotland in recent years had led to a corresponding fall in the number of visitors. No salmon equals no fishermen, and this has caused immense damage to that part of the tourist industry, which, in some parts of Scotland, is leading to hotel closures and job losses. Between 1991 and 1995 the decline in expenditure on fishing by tourists to Scotland was over 20 per cent, but it still managed to account for over £28 million of annual expenditure in those areas. Although I am not clear about this, I suppose that responsibility for tourism in Scotland now lies with the Edinburgh parliament, but one of the most significant causes—and my noble friend Lord Kimball will correct me if I am wrong—in the decline of the salmon is the continued activities of the north-east coast driftnet fishing, which operates under Westminster's jurisdiction. I am not confident that this will be addressed in time, although it has been raised in your Lordships' House four, if not five, times in the past few years.

Another example along similar lines is the unnecessary bureaucratic arrangements that we now have for visitors from abroad when they come to shoot in this country and bring their guns. We all recognise the importance of gun controls. It is now widely recognised that the present measures place silly burdens on law-abiding sportsmen and women, while doing little to hamper real criminals. I do not believe—again, I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that I have ever heard of a case of a visiting sporting shooter committing a crime involving a gun in this country. It is time the Government recognised that shooting is an important part of the rural tourist industry which, like fishing, brings income to the most depressed parts of rural Britain and to the community that lives there, and does so in the months when income is lowest. It also contributes disproportionately to the maintenance of the landscape, which is such a key attraction to other visitors.

Field sports, too, are at the centre of many special events that take place throughout the country every year. Where I live, on the edge of the Cotswolds—the other end from my noble friend Lord Plumb—we have, as noble Lords can imagine, quite a few visitors who come to see Our beautiful countryside. At present, almost on my doorstep, we are gearing up for the Badminton Horse Trials at the beginning of May. Over the course of the trials, over 250,000 visitors will make it the largest outdoor sporting event in Europe. During that time, many of the local businesses take more money in one week than in the rest of the year. That one week is essential to their survival. Every pub, hotel and bed-and-breakfast will be full to bursting point. I wonder how many visitors know that that event is only possible to stage because the hunting infrastructure at Badminton in terms of stabling and management of the landscape provides the facilities to run such an event. I also wonder how many people who have never been there realise that the biggest cheer that the crowd gives is when the hounds parade in the ring at the climax of the three days.

This is only one of many such events throughout the country—for example, the Game Fair and the many agricultural and county shows, like the Great Yorkshire Show, the East of England Show and the Bath and West Show. These are enormous crowd pullers from the towns into the countryside and are of immense economic significance. I shall give your Lordships only two statistics. They are both from Wales, which is not, in some cases, the centre of our rural tourist industry. However, both these things are reliant on field sports. The first is the Welsh Game Fair, which attracts 60,000 visitors a year and, the second, just down the road, is the Welsh Hawking Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan, which attracts 65,000 visitors throughout the year. Many of these visitors travel considerable distances to attend and provide ample evidence of the potential for rural tourism.

We are reaching the end of the debate. It will be clear to the whole House that tourism in the countryside is an important rural industry and that it has potential for growth and development if encouraged in a sensitive and thoughtful way. Moreover, it has the potential to generate vital income for hard-pressed farmers in some of the most depressed areas. But, more significant than that, I hope the Government realise that one of the most important aspects of rural tourism lies in the unique field sports that we have to offer in this country. They are not unique in the sense that no other countries have hunting, shooting or fishing, because they all do; they are unique in the sense that it is recognised across the world that the quality of the sport that we provide in Britain is greater than anywhere else.

Therefore, I hope that the Government will take a leaf out of what is perhaps a strange book; namely, the book of conservation in Africa, where it is increasingly recognised that the sportsman's dollar is the key to conservation and a burgeoning tourist industry; and that governments have a responsibility to help in developing this side of tourism rather than hampering it. Too many fragile rural communities depend upon the income generated in part by their field sports tourists to allow spurious ideological debates to threaten their livelihoods and ways of life.

7.24 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, we on these Benches would also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Peel, for bringing the debate to the House this afternoon; and, indeed, for his excellent introduction, which focused particularly on the need for professionalism in the industry. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will give us some indication as to how the Government believe the small business service and RDAs will give guidance and help to the tourism industry at the sort of level that is needed.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, mentioned market towns in particular and produce marketing, which are both areas of great importance. The regeneration of market towns encompasses that holistic approach which many noble Lords agreed this afternoon is particularly important. The noble Earl also mentioned the "loved to death" honeypot areas. There is some best practice which needs to be more widely disseminated as regards how to deal with the pressure that especially beautiful landscapes bring.

I am glad that we have a Treasury Minister to answer our debate. I know that some noble Lords may perhaps be of a different opinion. But too often we have had debates about the rural economy and have been told in response, "Well, that's a matter for the Treasury". Therefore, it is a nice change to have a Minister with Treasury responsibilities on the Government Front Bench.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, mentioned trains and their importance to the rural infrastructure. I found the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, about information on trains most interesting. Indeed, the French have huge signs alongside their motorways encouraging people to turn off the motorway, so there is no reason why that idea could not be more sustainably applied to trains. However, I was much less keen on the noble Lord's idea of a myriad of Portmeirions dotted around the countryside—lovely though that one example may be.

My noble friend Lord Phillips made some telling points about the importance of difference and diversity; indeed, that is actually what tourists who come to Britain are particularly looking for. My noble friend also touched on the "agencyitis" that is still inflicting small businesses and people who are trying to apply for grants. It was about this time last year that I introduced a debate in your Lordships' House on how we would be able to deal with the huge number of agencies that were being established. My noble friend told us this afternoon about the cultural consortium, which is in addition to the RDAs, government offices and the Countryside Agency.

There is still confusion among small organisations and businesses as to where best to go for help with starting businesses and obtaining grants. The Government need to give more thought to this, although the Minister will probably say that this matter will be addressed in the White Paper. However, as has already been mentioned, the White Paper has been put back twice to my knowledge. Indeed, it is now due in the autumn; but if we are not careful we shall find ourselves on the other side of an election.

Several noble Lords mentioned the importance of cheese. I am especially pleased to be able to conclude and bat for Somerset in the way of Cheddar, just to balance the Cheshire and Leicestershire cheeses that were mentioned.

I should like to refer to the problem of the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, with cormorants. I do not make light of it, but I am reminded of the imaginative use that the Chinese have made of birds that like to fish avidly. They have turned them into a tourist attraction by making them fish for the amusement of tourists. I am not sure how that works out in welfare terms, but that is what came into my mind when the noble Lord was speaking.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was quite right to draw attention to costs to landowners in the countryside Bill. I am sure that that is something which we shall discuss at length in your Lordships' House.

Tourism offers a way of linking what we value in rural areas to the willingness of the public to pay for it. I am not just talking about those who spend their money in rural areas; we need to show urban visitors what is achieved in the countryside and what it can offer. They may subsequently be more willing to see it funded out of the public purse.

Several noble Lords have said that tourism offers no solution to the agricultural crisis. It may be tempting to think that all farmers can run B&Bs and riding schools and therefore the agricultural crisis will go away. However, I believe that farmers are beginning to feel insulted at the continued suggestion that diversification will be the answer to all their problems.

Tourism, just like farming, is faced with the strong pound; in fact, it is a "double whammy" for rural areas. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, as regards the strong pound and the weak euro. The strong pound dissuades people in Britain from visiting our rural areas in that they are more likely to go abroad. A weak euro is, of course, irrelevant to Americans or those from the Far East. Nevertheless, tourism is increasingly viewed as being crucial, even in areas which have less of a tourism tradition. Short-stay breaks, weekends and out of season visiting must be encouraged; we cannot depend on a period of 10 weeks in a year.

I have listened to what has been said about hunting, shooting and fishing. Whatever our personal views on these issues, there is no doubt that the consideration of this matter by the Burns committee was long overdue. I understand that the evidence indicates that the contribution of field sports to the economy of rural areas is undeniable; and that my part of the world, Exmoor, was considered in this connection. Difficult ideological decisions will have to be made on this matter. However, as I say, the contribution of field sports to the economy of rural areas is undeniable.

I declare an interest as a councillor on Somerset County Council. Somerset is perhaps not one of the biggest tourist destinations. Many—perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Arran, feels this way—may regard it as a service station on the way to Devon and Cornwall. Nevertheless, Somerset's annual tourist expenditure is about £385 million. We place great importance on extending the tourist season. All the local authorities in Somerset together produce a graphic and simple to use document, Somerset—The Facts, for tourist businesses. It is important in providing businesses with facts and some indication of the way in which they may choose to develop.

The fact that the county and district councils produce this document is particularly relevant as regards the way in which central government view the funding of local government. Local authorities are the prime movers in their areas in developing tourism and the local economy. However, central government fund those aspects of local government in the "other services" category as if they were less important. Local government focus on their own priorities for areas and they are hard pushed to find the money to fund tourism and economic development.

I hope that the Minister will comment on the funding of infrastructure in rural areas. I refer to trains in this connection. For some time we in the West Country have awaited the Government's response on the Eurostar connection. I believe that I first raised this matter in 1998. I am still not aware of any response. We are served by two London train lines and the A303, but Eurostar provision is essential to bring visitors from the Continent.

There is also the matter of the Government's role in Internet provision. In recent months the importance of the Internet has been emphasised in every way. It will be important to rural areas and to tourism businesses in terms of advertising on the web, booking through the web and asking questions about where to visit. Rural areas and rural businesses will lose out unless the Government resolve the following problem; namely, that unless you live within two-and-a-half miles of a telephone exchange, you can access only a very slow version of the Internet.

An article in the Financial Times last week stated that the Swedish Government are committed to building broad-band networks to reach every Swedish household within two years. The Swedish Government have committed funding to this project because they feared that the rural and northern areas of Sweden would be left out of the IT boom. I fear that rural areas in Britain may develop second-class economies because they do not have the necessary infrastructure to take advantage of our fastest growing method of accessing information.

The Government need to evaluate more precisely the role of the big attractions which receive lottery funding. We have heard about the Eden project, for example. However, we need to know to what extent the benefits are spread around and what strain that puts on the infrastructure. Tourism is not a stand-alone industry. This debate has been useful in highlighting the way in which tourism ties in with many other matters.

The document, Working Together—Communities, conservation and Rural Economies, published last November by the RSPB, the Countryside Agency and Cheltenham and Gloucester College, examines why 10 European initiatives on rural development are successful. They are successful because they link economic, social and environmental aspects and they make clear which element is important in the various projects. Four of the projects were situated in England. It is one of the best documents that I have come across in terms of explaining the importance of combining those elements. I thoroughly recommend it to those noble Lords who are interested in that subject.

7.36 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I join those who have thanked my noble friend Lord Peel for giving us the opportunity to debate a subject on which so many of my noble friends have expert knowledge.

All noble Lords who have spoken today have expressed pride in, and have spoken knowledgeably about, the tourism projects in their areas. We have travelled from Cheshire to the wilds of Scotland and the south-west. We have had a geographical tour of tourist delights in our isles.

As other noble Lords have remarked, this is a timely debate. Last month the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency published a consultation document, Rural Tourism: Working for the Countryside. In the same month the Conservative Party published its tourism strategy, Tourism Today, which addresses the issue of tourism in rural areas.

Noble Lords are right to say that it is important to ensure that rural areas receive their fair share of tourism spending, but that it is vital that we should not neglect the other traditional areas of the rural economy. Nor, of course, should we promote tourism in such a way that it damages the very countryside that attracts tourists in the first place. My noble friend Lady Byford pointed out how important it is to maintain a balanced approach to development.

Many noble Lords have, rightly, put the debate in the wider context of the widespread agricultural crisis. My noble friends Lord Plumb and Lord Monro of Langholm pointed to the concern that the very fabric of our rural society is in danger of disintegrating. What can tourism do to alleviate such a crisis? Tourism has, of course, always been a key sector and, as we have heard today, its importance is likely to grow. Farmers should have the opportunity to diversify into tourism related businesses. My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu was right to point out that it is important always to bear in mind that the diversification should involve new quality businesses not only to attract tourists in the first place but also to ensure that they return.

Other speakers, such as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft, have pointed out that it is not always possible for farmers to diversify. In some areas this is not an economic possibility, particularly where there is minimal infrastructure and where access is difficult. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy pointed out that we should recognise that many farmers have already diversified into tourism, with maximum effect; sometimes almost to saturation level. For them it is not a new phenomenon.

Indeed, as we have heard, tourism often has a disproportionate significance to our rural areas. In Cornwall, expenditure by visitors represents more than 20 per cent of its GDP. In the south-west as a whole, landscapes support 43 per cent of all tourist-related jobs. I was very interested to hear what my noble friend Lord Arran said with regard to the impact of country sports upon the area. I declare an interest in that I spend my summer holidays in the south-west. I shall certainly look more carefully at the impact of country sports on Exmoor and on the spending there. My noble friend was right also to refer to the importance in the south-west of investment in the upgrading of hotel stock.

Throughout today, my noble friends have been right to emphasise the vital role played in the rural economy by those who manage the estates and market the country sports. Several of my noble friends made powerful cases. I recall the arguments put forward by my noble friends Lord Kimball, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Mancroft. They spoke eloquently of the importance of that sector of the industry to our rural economy.

I was interested in what my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton said in regard to in-coming tourism and its impact on the Highlands. I recall an occasion when I was staying in a highland hotel and found myself woken at 5 o'clock every morning by a horde of Italians. Before my noble friends get too worried, I should say that the Italians were on the other side of my hotel door, but at 5 a.m. every morning they went off to do their shooting. They brought absolutely vital income to that area of the Highlands.

Agriculture and countryside management are of key importance to tourism, as well as being important for environmental and heritage conservation, as my noble friends have pointed out.

But, as we have heard, there are many obstacles that face those who want to and try hard to diversify into tourism in rural areas, especially the obstacle of overregulation—the dirigiste culture mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. My noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton referred to issues of planning. I was intrigued by the questions he asked about statutory responsibilities with regard to the need to consider environmental issues but not economic issues. I look forward to the Minister's response in relation to that matter.

In particular, farmers who want to diversify into becoming attractions find that it is difficult to persuade local councils to agree to redundant farm buildings being turned, perhaps, into parts of the farm attraction—whether it is a tea room or a place where animals can be kept for visitors to see. What steps are the Government taking to remedy that problem? All those involved in agriculture and who want to diversify have to cope with an increasing burden of legislation and regulation. Farmers are used to regulations—my goodness they are—but when they want to diversify they find a whole new set of environmental, health and health and safety regulations that they need to pore over late into the night.

I read an article in the National Farm Attractions Network which pointed out how many extra problems have been added to the list—certainly they are problems which never occurred to me. It referred me to a new publication which was issued last month by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. That sets out the Secretary of State's standards of modern zoo practice. One might wonder what on earth that has to do with a farmer setting up a farm attraction. Most people think of a zoo as somewhere to see exotics such as giraffes or lions, but the actual definition is far wider.

For example, if I am a farmer and I run a family attraction centre and, along with my sheep and my cattle, I display an animal such as a dormouse or an owl—hey presto, my farm becomes a zoo which is subject to the new standards of zoo practice to which I have referred. There is a real fear among farmers that their farm attractions will have to close because of the imposition of these new standards. Noble Lords have referred to bureaucracy and extra rules in passing, but this is an enormous document. It seems that these rules are written and framed with a traditional zoo in mind; they are simply not appropriate for the farm attractions that they also cover, whether it be farms visited by children in the south-west, which have a very high reputation, or a farm being set up for the first time as a farm attraction in the heart of England, where my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke is president of the regional tourism board.

Farm attractions are not seeking to evade good management and proper health and safety measures—they are already subject to many inspections. They want standards imposed which are more suited to their size and to the nature of their operation. Why have not the Government published standards specifically tailored for farm attractions rather than for zoos such as London Zoo? Will they undertake to do so?

I recognise that the Minister carries many spokemanships in his brief; as far as I am aware, that of the DETR is not one of them. But today he is responding on behalf of the whole Government and I therefore gave prior notice to his office that I would be asking questions about these regulations, or "standards" as I believe they are officially called.

We have also heard of other problems. In particular, my noble friend Lord Plumb referred to the issue of transport and the fact that the future success of rural tourism depends on good transport links. But, as he remarked, the Government's integrated transport policy is in a mess. Any money that they put into rural transport seems to be more than cancelled out by the huge amounts taken out of rural areas by their stealth taxes on the motorist.

We have heard of how quick the Government have been to tell farmers and growers that they should diversify to find their salvation. The Government seem slow to recognise how difficult that can be, especially in the middle of an agricultural recession when it is so hard to attract investment to start up new commercial businesses in areas that appear at present to be failing.

Overall, there is considerable potential in some areas for wise and sensitive growth, but not in all. All of us have a duty to ensure that tourism plays its full role as a force for good, working for the countryside in its development in the rural economy. It is important to realise that tourism can never be seen as a panacea for the ills of the countryside. It is vital that we retain a healthy balance between agriculture, tourism and the rest of the rural economy.

7.47 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, is to be congratulated not only on the way in which he introduced the debate but on the unanimity he has engendered among all speakers. I think that every single speaker has been seized of the importance of tourism to the rural economy, and the Government do not dissent from that. There may have been differences of emphasis—an objective observer from outside may think that perhaps the emphasis on field sports and on cheese went a little further than may be accepted by other people concerned with different kinds of tourism—but, with that very mild caveat, the noble Earl has achieved something quite significant.

The Government certainly agree that tourism is a key driver of the rural economy in many areas of England. We estimate that tourism in the countryside is worth approximately £9 billion a year, including £500 million spent by overseas visitors. The total amount of employment supported either directly or indirectly by visitor activity in rural England was, some five years ago, estimated to be 380,000 jobs, and it is almost certainly more than that now.

The industry has significant potential for diversifying the economy of the countryside—not only through agriculture but in many other ways—and for assisting in the socio-economic development of rural communities. Indeed, as many noble Lords said, the spending power of tourists in rural areas is the difference between viability and business failure in many local services which do not appear on the face of it to be as dependent on tourism as they are. Many excellent examples of that were given, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.

Many speakers, starting with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and ending with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that tourism is not a panacea for deep-rooted rural problems. But it is a vital element in a thriving rural economy. Again, as many noble Lords said, if it is managed badly, it can damage the environment; but properly managed, it has the potential to benefit us all. It can have a positive impact on the environment and on the host community. The key is—this point was widely recognised in the debate—to manage tourism development so that it is sustainable.

We believe in a living countryside with thriving rural communities. We reject the idea of a division between town and country and we are developing policies in all departments. At the moment, I happen to be speaking with my tourism hat on, under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but, as noble Lords have recognised, I have to speak in the House for all government departments. Indeed, in a debate like this, that is absolutely essential. Certainly, I am not speaking for the Treasury, particularly at this time, any more or any less than for any other department.

We are aware of the similarities and differences between tourism in the countryside and tourism in urban areas. Nevertheless, they face continuing development pressures and we need to ensure that they contribute to the quality of the local environment and promote sustainability. It is a fact that the benefits of tourism are unevenly distributed across England. Some areas are overwhelmed. They suffer congestion and degradation. Others simply do not get enough tourists, perhaps because of poor facilities or poor infrastructure. I certainly do not want to single out particular areas in that way. Our strategy document of last year, Tomorrow's Tourism, places significant emphasis on the importance of rural tourism. It is no coincidence that the first of the 15 action plans in the strategy is a blueprint for the sustainable development of tourism to safeguard our countryside, heritage and culture for future generations. That has been the theme of this debate.

A number of noble Lords welcomed the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit report on rural economies. That has demonstrated the need to modernise government policy frameworks so that we focus on encouraging support for productive, sustainable and inclusive rural economies. We recommended fostering the enterprise environment, lifting the burden of regulation—the noble Lord, Lord Wade, was particularly eloquent on that point—with planning controls which are more supportive of the needs of rural businesses. I shall say more about that later, but I wanted to mention it now to recognise its importance. There has to be increased support for farmers' contributions to the environment, better traffic management, better rural transport—I shall come back to that point—and improved access to the countryside. The point of all of this is that when we are looking at rural economies we see tourism as a key contributor to sustaining them.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that some of the press coverage of this document has not been entirely accurate. We certainly do not plan to have a mandatory congestion tax, as has been suggested in some of the press. This is, after all, a discussion document. Some of the points it raises for discussion should not be taken as firm government policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to IT and the rural areas. Yes, of course, some forms of broad band technology cannot reach more than a certain number of kilometres away from exchanges, but ISDN is available in rural areas. The Government are keen to see that IT is generally available.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked me who is responsible as the lead body for the strategic development of tourism in England. That is certainly the English Tourism Council, which was born out of the Tomorrow's Tourism report. Of course, because of the international aspect, it must do so in collaboration with the British Tourist Authority, but there is no doubt as to who is in the lead: it is the BTA and the English Tourism Council.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I certainly did ask that question, but I went on to ask who is actually responsible for helping farmers or anyone else in the rural community who want to develop the industry and need help and advice in formulating the business.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, for that, because there are many different problems and issues, there are many different agencies. But I do not think that there is any overlap between them. If one is looking for help for farmers, one looks to one agency. If one is looking for help in planning, one is looking for help in small businesses. Different people are concerned, but that does not mean that there is overlap.

I was pleased to hear the general welcome for the consultation document on rural tourism from the English Tourism Council and the Countryside Agency. Like many other noble Lords, I am looking forward to seeing the responses to that consultation document and to contributing to the Government's response to it. Yes, it is true that field sports are not included in the 22 key issues for consideration, but it is up to noble Lords to respond and to add field sports to the 22 key issues if they want to do so.

I was asked about the timing of the rural White Paper, which everyone appeared to be awaiting eagerly. That is also good news. Consultation is still going on. The discussion document was launched in February of last year. We have had about 800 comments, which are now still being considered. When that is complete, we shall publish as soon as possible. It is not possible for me to give a date for it, but I can say that there will be a strong tourism development aspect to the rural White Paper.

In case I neglect it, I want to respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about zoo regulations. The revised standards of zoo practice were announced last month. The Zoo Licensing Act 1981, to which they refer, does not apply to farms, as farms do not generally exhibit wild species. If they do exhibit birds of prey, wallabies or animals like that, they will fall within the provisions of the Act as such birds and animals are not normally domesticated in this country. Perhaps I may finish by saying that there is a common theme here. We are concerned with the protection of the public from attack and the protection of the workers in zoos. Above all, we are concerned with public health, because there are issues here which affect wild animals, wherever they may be.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I shall do so briefly. Is he aware of the representations that have been made by the Farm Attractions Network with regard to the fact that it has been informed by the Government that farms will be affected because there are family farm attractions which have animals that are not normally domesticated in this country? One example given was of a llama; another was of a dormouse. I must admit that I have never yet felt under threat from a dormouse.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have, my Lords. I am scared of all animals. Of course the views of the Farm Attractions Network will be taken seriously by the department.

This is a debate about tourism in the rural economy rather than a more general debate about agriculture. What we might say usefully about the very major problems and opportunities for agriculture in the context of a debate of this kind is quite limited. However, reference has been made to the Action Plan for Farming announced last week by the Prime Minister, with its £200 million pounds of funding. It is true that there are parts of the country and types of farm where diversification in to tourism is not possible. But there are many measures that could be of use in developing tourism in the rural economy.

For example, £6.5 million will be available for the provision of on-farm advice through the Small Business Service. A free consultancy service will be available to any farmers wishing to seek approval from the planning authorities for a diversification project under the England Rural Development Plan. There will also be a doubling of the regional development agencies' redundant buildings grant to £8 million in this new financial year. MAFF already works with farmers and with its agencies, including the agricultural development agencies, advising farmers working to diversify in to tourism—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. That will ensure that they are able to benefit from new initiatives such as LEADER + and the England Rural Development Plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made a familiar but none the less serious complaint about there being too many agencies concerned with rural tourism. While acknowledging that there has been in the past a considerable degree of what might be called "iniativeitis", we nevertheless need to bear in mind that different parts of the country and different parts of the rural economies have different needs in terms of tourism development. This is not a case of "one size fits all". It is true that people with different needs go to different bodies for support. They approach the regional development authorities, on occasion the regional cultural consortiums, and particularly local authorities, specifically mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.

It is true that many of the powers of local authorities have been eroded over the years, especially under the previous government. But local government legislation under this Government seeks to restore powers to local authorities and in particular the power to decide for themselves how they spend some of their money. I hope that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, will feel that that is a step in the right direction.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Lords, Lord Wade and Lord Plumb, spoke about planning issues and urged that our planning systems should be quicker and more flexible. I acknowledge the need for that. We are firmly committed to sustainable development and the need to integrate the environmental aspects of development with the economic and social aspects, which was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade.

Clearly, new tourism development must be assessed with all those points in mind, and planning guidance has been amended to take account of them. Publications by the DETR such as Planning for Sustainable Development: Towards Better Practice is evidence of our determination to do that.

The noble Earl, Lord Peel, asked how planning policies can be made more flexible. Tomorrow's Tourism aims to ensure that all tourism development is more sustainable by ensuring that it is aesthetically attractive and in keeping with the landscape. Again, that is why planning policy guidance is being revised.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, perhaps I may come back to the Minister on that point. He has not answered my specific point as to why there is a statutory obligation to examine environmental matters and no statutory duty on planning authorities to take into consideration the economic needs of their region. That has not been changed by any recent planning guidance.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

No, my Lords, I acknowledge that it takes a great deal longer to turn around statutory obligations than it does to affect the way in which planning authorities operate through planning policy guidance—which is why, seeing the urgency of the noble Lord's point, we are relying on planning policy guidance at the present time.

Many noble Lords talked about the importance of rural transport. I was slightly surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Monro, saying that some of this does affect tourism. I suspect that he was referring to specific examples such as support for rural bus services. Much of our transport policy has been directed at tourism. One such example is the abolition of the air passenger duty in the Highlands and Islands, which I hope the noble Lord welcomes. Unfortunately, I am not sure that I am qualified to answer about Eurostar connections to the West Country since Eurostar is a private company and its network and timetabling is not a matter for the Government.

I was surprised to hear noble Lords talking as though there were a possibility that the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill could actually damage tourism. I should have thought that the reverse was self-evidently the case and that access for a wider public to more of our beautiful countryside was bound to be helpful to tourism. The Bill contains protection for landowners. We shall be able to debate its provisions in detail when it comes before this House. I certainly reject the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that it will turn England into a massive theme park.

The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, said that this is not the time to debate hunting. Indeed, the Government will not make any public statements about the matter until they have received the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and have had time to consider it. The debate has been not merely about hunting but about shooting, fishing and riding. It would be perverse to suggest that those are not important parts of the rural economy, and they are important to tourism as well. There is no threat to those field sports. There are many ways in which the Government are acting: our approach to infrastructure, accommodation and access will undoubtedly help field sports.

I could refer to the daughter document to the transport White Paper on inland waterways, which will include, for example, angling issues. I do not have time now to go into the detail on the others, but I could refer to the Rural Enterprise Scheme. The annex to the published scheme refers specifically to the needs of riding schools. I could certainly refer, if I had more time, to the Small Business Service and the importance of what it is able to do for small businesses in rural areas. After all, tourism in rural areas is largely a matter of small businesses. I acknowledge the validity of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lords, Lord Harrison, Lord Phillips and Lord Montagu, about the role of small businesses and the need for support to be provided to them.

The unanimity of views expressed in the debate has been impressive. I hope that I have shown in the time available to me that the Government agree wholeheartedly with the emphasis that has been given to the importance of tourism and in particular its importance to rural England.

8.8 p.m.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. We have heard from a wide range of experience in terms of geographical accounts of tourism. Some clear and supportive themes were developed throughout all the contributions.

One of the most interesting aspects, about which I feel particularly strongly, is the need to identify the tourist regions and the United Kingdom itself. I was rather taken by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that the harmonisation of culture was a deterrent to tourism. That was a very helpful way to crystallise the difficulties that might be faced. That observation was somewhat at odds with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and his vision of what might be described as European tourism in which the local pub would become known as the "Drag and Hounds" and the sterile theme park nightmare, to which many noble Lords have referred, would creep upon us.

I was greatly disappointed that, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, there were no other contributions from the Government Back Benches. Given the importance of this matter, I am surprised that greater interest has not been shown in it.

Many noble Lords felt strongly about planning. From the reply of the Minister, I detected some recognition on the Government Benches of the need for flexibility in planning. The Minister said that farming had perhaps played too large a part in the debate. I do not agree. Frankly, farming is such an integral part of rural Britain that if that is what we are to sell to tourists, it must be viewed with that clear objective in mind.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I did not put it quite like that. I said that in the context of the subject-matter of this debate it was not possible to do justice to the importance of farming. I did not say that farming was not important.

Earl Peel

My Lords, that was not how I understood the response of the noble Lord at the time, but I accept what the Minister has said.

The Minister can be under no illusion as to the strength of feeling, certainly on this side of the House, about the importance of field sports to tourism. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, said she believed that when the report of the inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is produced, the economic importance of field sports will be recognised. However, I detected some reluctance in the tone of her voice. That is a pity because it is contrary to the views expressed by her right honourable friend Charles Kennedy when he addressed the Game Conservancy Trust at the Game Fair last year. I was rather encouraged by what he said then about field sports and their importance to the countryside. The theme which emerged in many speeches of noble Lords is that one is not concerned solely with the economic value of field sports, but with their contribution to the maintenance of the landscape.

The Minister said he believed that it was up to noble Lords opposite to ensure that field sports featured in the final paper on tourism. I believe that it is up to the Government, not us. We have presented the facts. We hope that the noble Lord will take note of what has been said and report to the relevant departments. Surely, the importance of field sports has been so clearly expressed from these Benches that the Government cannot but accept the importance of field sports to tourism, the landscape, and rural Britain. The Minister said that he did not wish to see any division between town and country; nobody wishes to see that. However, if the Government insist on forcing the wishes of one on the other, divisions are bound to develop. I hope that the Government will give very careful consideration to that matter in future. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.