§ Mr. Simon Coombs
To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on his Department's review of regulations in the tourism industry.
§ Mr. Sproat
I told the House on 14 June that my Department proposed to carry out an urgent and detailed inquiry into the damaging effects of regulation on the tourism industry. This was because I was extremely concerned at reports of the expensive and time-wasting consequences of many regulations, and of their harmful effects on the competitiveness of our tourism industry.
I promised that I would report to the House before the summer recess on what the inquiry had achieved by that date. This I now do.
Following my announcement of an inquiry, I wrote asking for facts, examples, opinions, and proposals for change to the chairman of every regional tourist board, to scores of tourist-related trade associations, other relevant bodies, such as local authorities, and individuals such as hoteliers and restaurateurs. I also wrote personally to some 60 Members of Parliament with constituencies where tourism is a significant industry. I held meetings with the chairman of the British Tourist Authority, who is also chairman of the English tourist board, and with the chairmen of the Scottish and Wales tourist boards. I also met many delegations of those directly and personally involved in the tourism industry. I have met the chairman of the Retail and Tourism Task Force and the task force members representing the tourism industry, who have already done much work in this area as part of the deregulation initiative.769W
Officials of my Department have also had many detailed discussions with appropriate individuals and bodies.
The result of all this activity has been a deluge of valuable information from the industry on the subject. I am very grateful to the tourism industry for the swift, detailed and helpful responses I have received.
As a background to action that will follow from this inquiry, I want to make clear two matters: these regulations, or their interpretation, derive from several very different sources. These sources are the British Government, the European Community, local authorities, NDPBs, individual officials of local authorities and NDPBs, and rumour, ignorance, and misunderstanding; and regulations are, or are perceived to be, damaging for very different reasons. Here are 12 of many such reasons:
- (i) Some regulations are damaging because they are inappropriately conceived from the start.
- (ii) Some regulations were well-intentioned in theory but have proved ill conceived in practice.
- (iii) Some regulations are interpreted in far too heavy-handed or officious a way.
- (iv) Some regulations are applied in different ways in different parts of the country.
- (v) Some regulations are applied in different ways in the same tourist outlet, such as a hotel or restaurant, by different officials at different times.
- (vi) Some regulations are applied in a way where the punishment for non-compliance appears wholly disproportionate to the original breach, or alleged breach, of the regulation.
- (vii) Some regulations are applied without a clear and straightforward right of appeal against an enforcement.
- (viii) Some regulations are communicated in language so ill-written, or with guidance so complicated or so lengthy (or both), that they cannot be readily understood.
- (ix) Some regulations require an implementation which is contradictory to another regulation.
- (x) Some regulations are enforced strictly in the United Kingdom but are enforced laxly, or not at all, in other parts of the European Community, thus damaging the United Kingdom's competitiveness against tourism overseas.
- (xi) Some regulations are damaging because they were promulgated originally with other industrial sectors primarily in mind, and without necessary thought being given to their effects on the tourism industry.
- (xii) Some "regulations" are not regulations at all, but are misinterpretations of regulations by individual bodies or by individual officials of those bodies, or by firms and companies in the pursuit of contracts.
In addition to the damaging effect which individual regulations may have on individual businesses at individual times, there is a damaging effect brought about by the accumulation of these regulations—a damaging, cumulative effect which can be far greater than the sum of its parts.
I should also wish to emphasise most strongly that many regulations are wise and practical.
My Department's review has so far identified more than 80 pieces of legislation and regulations which affect the industry. It may be that we shall discover even more. I intend to investigate each of these individually and in detail in order to assess whether it imposes unnecessary burdens on tourism businesses.
Having identified the more than 80 pieces of legislation which I mention above, my inquiry has focused on the damage caused by burdensome regulations, and in 770W particular the seven areas most often complained about. These are the subject of detailed and on-going study by my Department. These areas are:
- (i) Food Safety and Hygiene;
- (ii) Fire Safety;
- (iii) Package Travel Regulations;
- (iv) the Electricity at Work Regulations;
- (v) Public Entertainment Licensing;
- (vi) Tourism Signposting; and
- (vii) Price Display Regulations.
Drawing on the information received from tourism businesses, and my Department's consequent research into the regulations concerned, a number of preliminary conclusions and recommendations have been arrived at in each case. I intend to discuss these conclusions and recommendations with ministerial colleagues.
I also intend to take up two further issues which have been raised with me where the interest of the tourism industry were not primarily considered:
First, I want to ensure that sufficient account is taken of tourism interests when air services agreements are being negotiated, and that benefits to regional airports can be maximised.
Second, there is growing concern, particularly, but not exclusively, in coastal resort towns, about the number of hotels which are being converted to hostels for benefit recipients, and about the unpleasant and harmful effects which this change of use is having on tourism, and the quality of life, in those areas.
My Department's review has also produced the preliminary recommendation that the Department should establish better communications with the grass roots of the tourism industry. My Department must also in future be even more closely linked into the Whitehall consultation process. This is in order to ensure that the implications for tourism of any regulatory proposal are recognised and fully taken into account.
The preliminary overall conclusion of my review is that the complex proliferation of regulations is unquestionably having a damaging effect on the tourism sector. This should now cease. I intend it to do so.
In addition to the detailed work which will now be undertaken on individual regulations, my Department is now advancing five guiding principles to be adopted whenever new regulations are being proposed:
- (i) the specific nature and size of the problem or ill which the regulation is designed to curb must be identified and substantiated, clearly and in detail, before any regulation is proposed;
- (ii) there should be both a compliance cost assessment, and risk assessment, for every regulation, to produce a cost-benefit analysis which should make specific reference to the impact on small businesses and on tourism;
- (iii) the Department concerned should consider the new regulation in the context of the body of existing regulations, assess the cumulative effect of this body of regulation, and look at the case for excision, rationalisation or streamlining;
- (iv) an automatic review should be built in, so that after a set time the Department concerned will assess whether the regulation is achieving its purpose, and is still necessary;
- (v) consultation machinery between the Department concerned and the tourism industry, and between my Department and other Government Departments, will be improved; in particular, so that the views of the tourism industry are more fully taken into account.
I wish to emphasise strongly that this inquiry, and the specific actions that flow from it, are only the start of a continuing campaign to rid the tourism industry of unnecessary regulatory burdens. I shall continue to welcome advice and information from the tourism 771W industry on this subject. During the summer recess, I intend to see representatives of every regional tourist board, in my office, and then to visit every regional tourist area in the field. I shall also be seeing more delegations from those involved directly in the tourism industry.