HL Deb 25 January 1978 vol 388 cc400-50

5.42 p.m.

Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE rose to call attention to the contribution made to the economy by tourism; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to call attention to the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and to move for Papers. I am grateful for this opportunity to open this short debate on the contribution of tourism to the economy. It is indeed some time since the House last had the opportunity of discussing an industry which now ranks as our largest invisible export, having overtaken insurance and shipping for the first time last year. It is an industry which produced estimated foreign currency earnings of £3,000 million in 1977–50 per cent. greater than the estimated contributions made by North Sea oil to the balance of payments in 1977. It is also, my Lords, an industry which provides some 1¾ million jobs.

As chairman of a regional tourist board, a non-statutory body, I am not bound by the restrictions on speaking which apply to the chairmen of statutory boards. However, I should like to declare my involvement in the work of the London Tourist Board. I am particularly pleased to see that a number of noble Lords who are members of regional tourist boards have put down their names to speak in the debate this afternoon. I am also particularly pleased to see that my noble friend Lady Birk is going to reply to this debate, as I know that she and her Department, although not responsible for tourism, have done much to improve the amenities which are enjoyed by tourists.

In my view, the health of the British tourist industry depends to a large extent on the continuing vitality of London as a tourist attraction. Because we just have experienced a bumper inflow of tourists, we must not be lulled into a false sense of security about the future health of the tourist industry. We must remember that constant efforts are needed if we are to remain an attractive venue for overseas visitors.

I should like to deal with a number of problems which face the tourist industry at the present time. First, I should like to raise the question of the degree of priority which the Government gives to tourism. Within government itself, tourism is the responsibility of the Department of Trade, and within that Department it is a junior Minister who is responsible for tourism. He also has a number of other responsibilities, such as export credits, newspapers, film publicity and distribution service trades. No Minister is solely responsible for tourism. I think that positive consideration must be given to the appointment of a Minister for Tourism. Whether such a Minister is one who is appointed in the same way as a Minister for Sport in the Department of the Environment or whether he will be a Minister with a separate Department is a matter for discussion. In either case it would serve to illustrate the Government's concern about tourism.

What would also underline the Government's concern is for the Civil Service Department to refrain from continually promoting or transferring the principal civil servants who are responsible for tourism. At the top level, the industry has had to deal with seven civil servants in the past seven years. No sooner does each new holder of the office become conversant with the needs of the industry than he is whisked away. The creation of a Ministry for Tourism would mean that tourism would be dealt with at a higher level within the Civil Service. I know this suggestion has been made before: I do not hesitate to make it again, although I know there are some who feel such a course would just increase the bureaucracy within the tourist industry, adding yet another layer of authority, and a complication, above that of the national boards. However, I do not see it in that way. Government machinery is already there for dealing with the national boards, and such a move would primarily serve to demonstrate to the industry, and not just to the tourist boards, the Government's concern and desire to understand the needs of all facets of tourism, upon whose continuing health so many sections of the community depend.

Last year, in opening the Brighton Conference Centre, the Prime Minister looked to the new jobs which tourism could provide, in the absence of new jobs in manufacturing industry. Of course, we all welcome the fact that tourism is providing an expanding number of jobs, but I am sorry that all too often these jobs are seen as "second-class" jobs, not to be compared with jobs in manufacturing industry. This, I fear, is one of our national faults. We regard service jobs as inferior jobs, unlike many European countries, where hoteliers and restauranteurs enjoy the highest standard. I should like to remind your Lordships that, during the past five years, employment in the hotels and catering sector has increased by almost 25 per cent., whereas employment in the manufacturing sector has decreased by 10 per cent.

It is almost 10 years since the Development of Tourism Act reached the Statute Book, and it is time to consider how well it has worked. In many ways it has worked remarkably well, but the establishment of a hierarchy involving the British Tourist Authority and the national and regional boards has inevitably led to conflicts and overlapping responsibilities between the different organisations. The British Hotels, Restaurants and Caterers' Association argued in their tourism policy document in 1976 that the British Tourist Authority should have a full-time chairman. That, in fact, has almost happened now with the appointment last year of Sir Henry Marking as a four-day-a-week chairman in place of a two-day-a-week chairman.

The British Hotels Restaurants and Caterers' Association also argued for national board status for the London Tourist Board because of its strategic importance as a tourist centre. That has not happened and I am very doubtful if it ever will happen, as all Governments find it extremely difficult to accept arguments for special treatment for London. However, that does not detract in any way from the strategic importance of London to the tourist industry. London is the gateway to Britain for the vast majority of inter-continental and European visitors. In fact, 92 per cent. of all overseas visitors arrive in Britain at one of London's five airports or at one of the seaports in the South-East corner of England. Only if London can continue to attract overseas visitors will the tourist trade in the rest of Britain flourish.

For this reason, we have to be very concerned about London's ability to compete in overseas markets. Already we know that a recent survey of top hotels showed that London's hotels were only marginally less expensive than the hotels of Geneva and Paris. Any strengthening of sterling would further reduce that price advantage. Added to that, the shortage of hotel rooms in the summer months can act as a further disincentive to visitors. The Government must consider whether the time is ripe to re-introduce the Hotel Development Incentive Scheme as an encouragement to additional hotel building. However, if past experience is anything to go by, I would consider that to be the wrong way to tackle this problem, as it would lead to indiscriminate hotel building. The Government should give serious consideration to speedily agreeing to the classing of hotels as industrial buildings, thereby enabling capital allowances to be granted for tax purposes. If we accept that tourism is an industry on a par with manufacturing industry, there should be no difficulty in coming to that decision. I know that the Government are held back from it for financial reasons but, in equity, it is a decision which should and must be made.

Besides being the gateway for holiday visitors, London is Britain's number one convention centre. Based on the number of international conventions held, London vies with Paris for the European accolade. But we do not, as Paris has, have a purpose-built, centrally-situated convention centre capable of seating up to 5,000 delegates. The organisers of international conventions are not tied to any city; they want the best deal for their members. We can offer numerous hotel venues for conventions of a few hundred—Grosvenor House and the West Centre Hotel, for example, are there for conventions up to 2,000. Already, the Wembley conference centre, and soon the Barbican Centre, will be able to offer facilities as good as any in the world for conventions of between 2,000 and 2,700 persons. Some other halls, such as the Royal Albert Hall, can house larger numbers but not in a purpose-built conference facility.

London's conference business is important to Britain. This is a field where London competes for Britain with other European and American centres in a very competitive international market. It is wrong to think that many other British towns can be promoted in competition with attractive and popular resorts in Europe such as Monte Carlo, which will shortly open a superb new convention centre. We must not forget that London is the magnet which brings people to Britain and therefore we must make certain that London can compete on equal terms.

The fact that we have not got a large 3,000-plus, centrally-situated convention centre means that this is an area in which we cannot compete. Such a centre may well lose money for its owner and consequently private enterprise is unlikely to embark on the project, but it would certainly make money for the city and the country in which it was situated. That is why there have been large injections of public money into the centres established by our competitors in so many towns in Europe, America and Asia. In the past there have been proposals for such a centre in London. This is an issue which obviously merits continued investigation. In my view, the ideal place for a centre of this kind would be at Hyde Park Corner, in the heart of hotel land. When Government come to decide what it is going to do about St. George's Hospital in the mid-1980s when it is no longer needed for National Health Service purposes, they ought to decide that this is the right site for such a centre. In the 1990s we shall certainly be needing such a centre.

May I now come to an area where I should like to see more practical assistance being provided by Government for our effort to win international conventions for Britain. By this, I mean the annual congresses of international associations. In order to succeed, it is usually necessary to persuade the local British association affiliated to whatever may be the international body in question to act as host, to shoulder the burden of organisation, and, usually, to provide some of the finance, at any rate in the early days. Knowing how valuable to our economy, directly and indirectly, such international conferences are, many British associations would like to do this. However, while they have the enthusiasm, they often lack the finance. What is needed is the availability of bridging finance to get such meetings established until the income from delegate registration starts to flow. This may take a period of up to three years or more.

I would ask that the Government consider a method of underwriting this preliminary investment. If a float of, say, £100,000 were maintained for the purpose, all repayable in due course, I am sure we should win far more international conferences than we do and bring many millions of pounds of foreign currency into the country, to say nothing of the valuable gain when professional people such as doctors and scientists and trade unionists from all over the world come to Britain's capital to meet and share experiences with their British counterparts. There are probably few instances where such a moderate investment could bring such magnificent returns and I believe that the idea deserves close consideration. After all, many of the countries with which we are competing offer far more than this in incentives and inducements.

I have spent some time in talking about the convention scene. I make no excuse for doing so because convention business is particularly valuable business which may not otherwise occur. A large convention such as the Sweet Adelines, which came to the Royal Albert Hall last November, is worth something of the order of 3 million dollars.

Last year we were debating the Berrill Report. If I had had the opportunity of taking part in that debate, I should have asked that overseas embassies and consulates should be more aware of the potentialities of London as a convention centre. The British Tourist Authority maintains representation in 22 cities overseas, of which four are in the USA. Wherever there is BTA representation there is a good working relationship and awareness of the situation but in many other overseas locations there is little awareness of the convention potential of London. This is a task which the diplomatic service should take on in a more systematic way. Obviously, it would be more satisfactory if the British Tourist Authority was able to increase the level of its overseas representation instead of continually having, for financial reasons, to cut the number of people employed in its overseas offices.

Despite the increasing revenues enjoyed nationally from tourist earrings, the British Tourist Authority has had to cope with rapidly expanding business on a frozen income. For two years, there has been no real increase in the Government grant for this vital work. Some of its leading overseas counterparts have received greatly increased grants; for example, the figure is up 30 per cent. in Denmark and 12 per cent. in Germany in real terms. Action on this is essential, if we are to realise the future potential for travel to Britain. The British Tourist Authority estimates that by 1985 tourism can generate some £9,000 million expenditure per annum. The implications of this growth are important, particularly in job terms, creating perhaps another half a million jobs, many of them in small industry.

However, this is not a mater solely for central Government. There is a need to secure the full commitment of local authorities to the development of the country's tourism potential, not only in a financial sense but also in a planning sense. For example, an adequate transport infrastructure is just as important to the resident as to the tourist. As our economy improves, we must expect a larger movement of British people abroad which will make more room for overseas visitors to Britain. Indeed, accommodation, transport and other travel establishments will need the extra foreign business to make up for the lost home business.

However, we should not take all of this for granted. International competition could well increase. We could lose more of our competitive edge, if the pound continues to go up and not down. We must ensure that world travellers get the standards of service they expect. They want value for money on standards judged internationally and not by what is acceptable domestically. Surely, in the light of the high level of unemployment, Government will wish to take special action to encourage the recruitment and training of staff in the service trades, especially tourism.

Another matter which I have not mentioned so far, and which I shall mention only in passing as I know that a number of other noble Lords intend to deal with it, is the role of tourism in conserving the heritage, contributing to the environment and, potentially, to urban renewal. It is quite wrong to consider tourism as a destroyer. Thirty per cent. of the audiences in London's 50 theatres, and at concerts by London's five symphony orchestras, two ballet companies and three opera houses are international visitors. Twenty per cent. of all visitors to historic houses are foreign. Without this support, the heritage would certainly be out of business.

I have already referred to London's role as a magnet in attracting visitors to London. London needs the business, and visitor spending keeps many amenities going, as well as having an important side effect on manufacturing. London is now an international shopping centre. Tourist spending on textiles, for example, is equivalent to one-third of the value of all direct textile exports from Britain. How many firms are now dependent on visitor spending and on London's retailing skills? One does not know, but it would certainly be unwise if Government guidelines discriminated against London.

In conclusion, let me say that if we want to keep the substantial benefits of international tourism business, then the tourist trade must be given a major place in our priorities. We must take it seriously. In recent years, cool, cultural Britain has done better than many hot, sunny, beach resort areas, which have suffered seriously. Our share of world tourism has increased from 3 per cent. to 5 per cent. over the past decade. The position can be reversed. The tide can go out. But the job cannot be done by Government alone. All aspects of the tourist trade have their part to play. One of London's greatest dangers is that the image may be tarnished, not by realities but by the cries of critics condemning London, its facilities and, worst of all, the tourists themselves. Such people are ready to pocket the visitors' money, but they do not wish to be bothered to act as friendly hosts.

I look forward to hearing the contributions to the debate this afternoon and, particularly, to hearing any plans which the Government have for the future of the industry. My only regret is that this is a short debate, and that the contributions which follow mine will inevitably have to be limited, as I know that the Minister who is to reply will require some time to answer all the points. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House is very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who has just sat down, and who has made such an excellent and expert speech on a subject which has brought no fewer than 12 expert speakers to your Lordships' House. As the noble Lord has pointed out, tourism and the industry associated with it deserve such a list containing so many experts who can give the House the benefit of their practical experience.

I wonder whether any of your Lordships can disclaim an interest in the tourist industry, when all of us in this House spend so much time in the warmer months of the year dodging visitors from all over the world who throng to see us and to listen to our proceedings. Indeed, the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, who I am happy to see will be speaking later in the debate, may recall that one morning when I turned up at your Lordships' House at 9 o'clock I found a group of Americans waiting at the Peers' entrance. They had flown the Atlantic the night before, but they were so keen and resilient, both young and old, that they listened to a debate in your Lordships' House on, I believe, cruelty to dogs, and then went on a tour of the House conducted by myself. As I said, they had just flown the Atlantic, and any of your Lordships who have done that will know that one is not then in a very fit state to do a lengthy tour of both this House and the sights of London.

I think the House will wonder what it is that attracts so many visitors to Britain and, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, to London. Is it merely our hospitality, is it the quality of our life, is it our historic buildings and traditions, or is it indeed the Royal Family? Surveys cannot give much more than relatively fleeting impressions of what is good or bad in what we have to offer to our visitors, yet none of us can doubt that tourism is more and more a part of our lives, both nationally and individually, as well as being an enormous source of earnings to us.

Tourism provides approximately 16 per cent. of our invisible exports year by year, and even the projected figures for both the number of overseas visitors and what they spend here have been swept aside during 1976 and 1977. Various estimates that I have managed to glean show that over 11 million visitors arrived in the United Kingdom during 1977, and they spent approximately £2,500 million. That is a very large sum. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out that it is comparable with, or indeed superior to, the benefits from North Sea oil. The surplus on this account rose from approximately £240 million in 1975 to over £1,000 million in 1977. We should not forget that, in addition to this very large figure, the United Kingdom earned over £600 million in transporting these foreign visitors to our shores and back home again. Thus, it is absolutely right that the Government should heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and of all the experts who are to take part in this debate, and I hope that the Government will be able to give encouragement to the tourist industry when necessary.

Everybody is aware of the marvellous work done by the British Tourist Authority and the other bodies mentioned by the noble Lord. The British Tourist Authority receives over £9 million in funds from the Government, but what is interesting is that it is able to call on no less than £3 million from other sectors of the trade; for example, British Rail and British Airways. I do not think anybody could seek a better form of co-operation, when the British Tourist Authority receives such a large amount, voluntarily, for promotion and advertising from its fellow members of the industry.

We must remember—indeed, we can scarcely fail to notice—that tourism is not all good. The centralisation of the tourist industry means that almost all of the visitors to the United Kingdom wish to spend at least some part of their time in London. This fact has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. It is in this city that most of our historic buildings and traditional sites lie. One of the surveys which I looked at during my research showed that overseas visitors in 1977 spent approximately 32 per cent. of their holiday funds on bed and breakfast accommodation and over 45 per cent. on shopping Those Members of your Lordships' House who travel far and wide in the United Kingdom, as I do every week, cannot envisage the existence of enormous shopping precincts in, say, the Western Highlands of Scotland or in Snowdonia. Therefore, it appears that most of the shopping takes place in and around London. I believe that it is this aspect, just as much as the historic sites, which is responsible for the wish of almost all visitors from overseas to spend at least part of their time in or around London.

Nobody who spends the summer in London can fail to be aware of the problems as well as the benefits which result from what I can only term the masochistic wish of overseas visitors to join millions of their fellow compatriots and others in and around our capital city. It seemed that the great hotel building boom which followed the Development of Tourism Act 1969 would lead to overcapacity in London hotel accommodation. This view was expressed in 1972, 1973 and 1974. However, visitors who wish to come to London have to stay as far away as Brighton and Oxford because London hotels are overflowing. Therefore, all of us must admit that the development of hotels in London was a very wise course of action, especially when we consider the huge amounts of money which are spent by visitors in and around London.

London in high summer presents, I regret to say, the ugly face of tourism, with huge crowds in the stores and at the historic building sites. Public transport in and around London is barely adequate. The theatres, cinemas and what I may call eating houses are all full, yet our visitors are almost entirely happy, so far as we can understand, with what London has to offer them.

The benefits to London are enormous, despite these very large disadvantages. It seems that 7½ million visitors spent £900 million in London during 1976. The nearest estimates we can obtain for 1977 show that 8½ million visitors came to London and spent over £1,200 million. This represents a very large proportion of the total expenditure by tourists. While staying in London these visitors would be paying on average over £2 per night in the form of rates. So, it is interesting to note that the public good also benefits from this influx of tourists. London Transport have informed me that they believe that in 1977 visitors put over £50 million into the ticket machines. It seems that London's contribution to our total national tourist industry is out of all proportion, yet the British Tourist Authority wishes to enables those of us who live or work here to benefit, albeit slightly, from this influx of tourism.

Intensive advertising over the past five years or so has been successful in pointing out that Britain is unique. I am afraid that the United Kingdom cannot compete on equal terms, or indeed at all, with Spain or Italy when it comes to what may be called the sand and the sun league. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, pointed to that fact very clearly. But there are many other interesting things to see and to do in both the spring and the autumn. First, I believe it to be important that the tourist authorities have spent a great deal of time upon advertising the fact that the season for visiting Britain is very wide. The tourist season does not cover just the summer; the spring and the autumn are also very good times for visiting Britain. The advertising carried out by the tourist authorities has done much to increase the spread of visitors and to ensure that their spending throughout the country over the year is far wider.

Secondly, the advertising carried out by the tourist authorities has been successful in encouraging visitors to see all that they wish to see in London but also to see other parts of Britain. Visitors pour into Stratford-upon-Avon, which is one of the other ugly faces of tourism in the United Kingdom. Very large numbers of visitors also go to Scotland. The proof of the success of this project is evident from reports that foreign visitors spend under half of their time in or around London, yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, mentioned, 92 per cent. of the visitors who come to London arrive at either the South-Eastern seaports or the airports. This proves that they want to spend at least part of their time in London.

I believe that both the "spread" of tourists and their spending is one of the major successes of the many tourist boards and authorities in opening up Britain to tourists who otherwise might well not have considered visiting other parts of our country. As we have heard, the 1969 Act encouraged spending on tourism, especially in the development areas and in areas of high unemployment. I am given to understand that tourism employs 1½ million people nationwide, both full-time and part-time. We have also heard that tourism is a labour-intensive industry. For this reason, any Government aid which might be forthcoming—we look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness has to say—will be both welcome and beneficial. Tourism makes a tremendous difference to the lives of us all, both individually and collectively.

In the short time available I have touched upon only some of the details and examples which illustrate how tourism works. Many noble Lords who are to follow me in this debate have specialised knowledge and a very great deal of practical experience of coping with, encouraging and entertaining tourists. We look forward to hearing their contributions, and we await the reply of the noble Baroness.

I believe that all noble Lords wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for raising this subject. The House has found his speech most informative and relevant. I believe that in moving for Papers this afternoon he has done the House a service, especially in giving it the opportunity to discuss this massive export industry—because that is what tourism is. If tourism is given the kind of judicious and farsighted aid that it was given in 1969, I believe it is capable of growing during the 1980s as swiftly as it has grown during this decade.

6.18 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, a feeling of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for having introduced this very important topic this afternoon. I must begin by declaring an interest. In a minor way I have the same kind of interest as that of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I am the chairman of my district Area Tourist Organisation and am a representative of that organisation on the Highland Tourism Council and on the Scottish Tourist Consultative Committee. In a small way I am also a hotelier. Furthermore, I have a son who works in the tourist industry in London. Therefore, I have an interest in and some knowledge of the subject.

I feel that I ought to be able to help noble Lords by at least telling them something about what happens in the Highlands of Scotland. We have already heard of the indeniable importance of tourism: of the £4,000 million or so which are turned over in the economy and of the £3,000 million of foreign currency which is earned. We have heard that 1½ million people are directly employed, and 2 million or so indirectly employed, in the industry. We have also heard that tourism is an intensive employer of labour. If we improve tourism—make it better and give it a greater capacity—we do not necessarily need to reduce the rate of employment of people within the industry. At this time of high unemployment this is a very valuable point.

These facts are reflected in even greater magnitude in remote parts of Britain such as the Highlands of Scotland, In the Highlands we entertain 2 million visitors every year with a population of about a quarter of a million. About £100 million goes into the local economy. This works out at roughly £300 per head of the population—men, women, children and babies—and if we extrapolated that on to the national scale it would mean that the United Kingdom was earning something like £16,500 million out of tourism.

So your Lordships can see that we go in for tourism in a fairly big way in the remoter areas. Tourism employs some 10 per cent, of the working population in the Highlands of Scotland and like elsewhere it gives a great deal of part-time employment and is an important source of part-time income to people who otherwise might find it difficult to make ends meet in their chosen professions and occupations. Bed-and-breakfast, farmhouse accommodation, crofting accommodation and so on, all add to the income available to people living in these remote parts. Indeed 20 per cent. of the income of people living in rural areas of Scotland comes from tourism, and of course we get the spin-offs. These have been mentioned—museums, theatres, music, the arts, festivals. The Edinburgh Festival would not exist if it were not for tourism. Then there are the sports: we have golf courses and swimming pools in the remoter parts of the country which are there for the local inhabitants to enjoy and which would not exist if the tourists were not there to make use of them in the season.

We also get basic services: we get road, rail, air and ferry services. We get shops, and so on. In fact I am told that Caledonian-MacBrayne, who run many of the ferry services to the outer islands of Scotland, get 70 per cent. of their turnover from tourists. We get other development spin-off in the Highland area as well. Many of our craft industries depend directly upon tourism and they give full-time jobs for the people who work in them. We have potteries, we have glass factories—to mention something in which I also have an interest. We have all sorts of craft industries and other industries that are helped by the tourist trade. In the Highland area, in the remoter parts of Britain, tourism is still a growth industry, and it could grow more if we were to do the right things for it. That is why it is so valuable to have this debate today. As has been pointed out, if we can get growth in the outlying areas and the rural areas of Britain, we can get growth in the total tourist industry of Britain without necessarily overloading London.

How then do we suggest that we should develop this priceless asset? I suggest the first thing we must do is to improve our transport, making it better, cleaner, faster, cheaper and not London-orientated. It is a fact that it would cost me more—and does, in fact, cost the taxpayer more whenever I come down here—to fly from Wick to London than it would to take Freddy Laker's flight to New York. That is a journey within Britain. It is a fact that on the Highland line we are traveling in carriages which I knew as a boy. I have no doubt that if I looked hard enough I should probably find my initials carved on a seat somewhere. They look as though they are that old, too; they feel as though they are that old, and if we are to get visitors to move around the country we must give them decent transport to move in and we must give them good, fast services at a reasonable price. Unless we do that, we shall simply not be able to bring the tourists out to the outlying areas. Indeed we cannot be complacent about tourism in the remote areas because last year Scottish tourism fell in value by some 8 to 10 per cent., and in Scotland we are convinced that this was due largely to the high cost of transport and, particularly, to the high cost of petrol. Petrol is zoned from the South outwards and in the remoter areas we are paying something like 6p a gallon more than is paid in Aberdeen and probably a great deal more than people are paying in the environs of London. So, if we can do these things to reduce the cost of transport and to reduce the high cost of petrol in the remoter areas, we shall in fact be doing things immediately to help tourism in those areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, mentioned this very important point of treating hotels as though they were commercial premises—manufacturing premises, one might say. I feel that we should seriously consider the derating of hotels and allowing hoteliers to amortise the expenditure which they put into the development of their businesses in the form of expansion of hotel rooms, and so on. People ought to be able to write off the high cost of providing this accommodation, because it is extremely expensive. Only this morning I was speaking to the secretary of the club where I stay in London and where they are about to refurbish the bedrooms. Simply to refurbish the bedrooms in London will cost £3,000 a room. One can imagine what it would cost to add a wing to an hotel or to build a new hotel. The prices are rising every day. So if we are to give hoteliers a chance of recouping their money, of keeping down their prices and giving service at the same price in improved accommodation, then we must treat the hotel trade on the same footing as a business which manufactures something and which brings in the sort of foreign currency that has been mentioned.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, we must give proper support and a proper degree of priority to the industry. Indeed, this was mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. We must give more money to the BTA, which is the body responsible for selling abroad. That is the only body responsible for selling abroad, and it is ridiculous that when we are trying to increase the amount of tourism that we attract to this country we are not increasing the money which it has to spend. We must give proper support to tourist-orientated projects. We really should look at this in a regional sense and ensure that, if there are projects which are not exactly tourist in themselves but which have a tourist element in them—such as the provision of golf courses or swimming pools—these are properly looked at from the point of view of the value that they bring to the tourist industry. The Government should lean towards them and give them proper financial support if they can really show that they are tourist orientated.

We must see also that it pays to work in the industry, whether people are employers or employees. There is still a good deal of underpayment of people within the tourist industry. There are people being paid wages which no other industry would consider adequate for somebody to live on. We must see not only that the rates of pay for people working in the industry are adequate but also that the employer of these people should be able to earn the money to pay them.

As I have said, there is no room for complacency. I have already mentioned that Scottish tourism fell last year: we must try to bring tourism back to the level which it had reached previously, and indeed we must try to exceed it. For that reason we must tackle travel problems and petrol costs. We must overcome people's inability to afford to holiday in the remoter areas. We must sell harder, especially abroad, and we must think of the possibility of internal packaging because we save a great deal of foreign currency by giving people holidays at home. We must use all of our ingenuity, and to this end I would certainly support what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said; we must give a degree of priority to tourism as an industry.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lady Phillips and I have changed places. I hope that that is acceptable. I should like to thank Lord Ponsonby for this debate, and, if I may say so, for the most excellent speech with which he opened it. He raised many different questions that we should all like to pursue, and I hope he will realise that it is not lack of enthusiasm but lack of time which makes it impossible to do so at the present moment.

Over 1½ million people in Britain depend for their jobs, directly or indirectly, on our travel movements, and, unlike many other trades in Britain today, the tourist services urgently need more people. Last year, there was a record number of some 12 million tourists and overseas visitors to this country. They spent over £3,000 million in Britain and on fares on British carriers. The Prime Minister recently said: Tourism is a world phenomenon and Britain is now placed among the countries of the world to attract international tourism". This is an internationally competitive business, and I want to suggest that Lord Ponsonby has given us this debate at exactly the right time. It will come as a most useful curtain-raiser to 1st March, when the British Airports Authority is to give a presentation on Heathrow to members of the British Tourist Authority and others with a particular interest. I think that this presentation may well not be confined to Heathrow. Sir Henry Marking, Chairman of the British Tourist Authority, says that from the point of view of the Authority the welcome that a visitor from overseas arriving by air in London receives is of immense importance because it colours his whole attitude towards Britain. Indeed, he went on to say that airlines, Her Majesty's Customs, the Immigration Service, taxi-cab drivers, all have their part to play. I want to add one more—the new underground link between Heathrow and Central London, and I should like to spend the remainder of my remarks on this subject.

This link should be a golden opporttunity to welcome visitors to Britain and an equally golden one to speed them on their return journey. It is not. It has one considerable drawback. It is not meant to service all passengers but only those with hand luggage. Almost five years ago, on 2nd April 1973, I raised this matter in your Lordships' House. At that time, most people had imagined that this new rail link would be for the benefit of all travellers. Not so, we were told; this had never been envisaged. There would be no porters anywhere, nor any access for that section of the community going out to the airport, although this was not stressed at the time. If anyone who is sufficiently interested can obtain a copy of Hansard for 2nd April 1973 and read the comments on the proposed rail link made at col. 107 by Lord Kinnoull, I think our joint anxiety will be clear.

I think it fair comment today, and true, to say that this rail link is excellent for business travellers, for the staff at Heathrow and for passengers with hand baggage. Unfortunately, no consideration has been given to those with baggage going on holiday or returning, not forgetting our foreign visitors. It does seem quite extraordinary that a new link to Heathrow airport, constructed at considerable public cost, should expressly exclude use by air travellers with luggage. After ail, this is a normal condition for people who are going away. I believe that foreign visitors—the tourists whom we are talking about today—with luggage, as well as we ourselves with luggage, who have helped to pay for the rail link, should be able to use it.

Having said that, I should like to put forward a suggestion. Gloucester Road underground station is on the Piccadilly line—the Heathrow link—and it has a lift. I am asking London Transport to make this lift available from street level to Piccadilly line level, to have porters also available, to site a taxi rank outside, and to publicise such arrangements. From this debate, backed, I would hope, by the influence of Lord Ponsonby in the world of tourism, and by the words of the Prime Minister himself, there should go out a demand for an attempt to be made to rectify this omission. I should like an immediate inquiry into which station or stations on this rail link can offer entry from ground level outside to platform level below for travellers with luggage who are unable to cope with escalators. Surely we could appeal here to London Transport, to the British Tourist Authority and to the Airport Authority. Also what about the interests of all the airlines? After all, people going on holiday do pay air fares. They are entitled to some consideration. They, too, would like to use this new link.

One final query and I shall have finished. London Transport tell me that it is an essential part of the scheme that the coach service should be retained. When I made inquiries some years ago, London Transport told me the position was that these buses were operated by London Transport on a cost-plus basis under contract to BEA. I wonder if the same arrangement is operating today with British Airways. Speaking for all those who so enjoyed using this bus service up to the early 1970's, and who cannot afford private transport, I must tell London Transport and British Airways that it is not enjoyable today. Until there is access to the rail link from street level for travellers with luggage, may we take it that the coach service will not only be retained and not reduced but that the frequency will be increased if necessary?

So I am asking only two questions today, and the Minister has had notice of both. First, may we have an inquiry into which station on the Heathrow/London rail link could best accommodate travellers with luggage, and have this treated as a matter of urgency? Secondly, will the coach service be retained and, if necessary, increased until a station is made available? After all, looked at purely on an economic level, if our visitors brought in £3,000 million last year alone, we could afford to do what I am asking in order to give them a better welcome. Let us not throw away any golden opportunity that Lord Ponsonby and our own tourist economy has given us.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank Lord Ponsonby for initiating this interesting debate on this important subject. As an owner of an historic house which is visited by many tourists and as President of the Thames and Chiltern Tourist Board, I feel that I can claim to have a little knowledge of the tourist industry. Your Lordships have already heard how important tourism is to our economy. I should like to put forward some proposals for improving the facilities for our visiting tourists.

Let us start when an overseas visitor arrives in this country. While I do not have first-hand experience of many of the airports, I know Heathrow well enough to say that I think the facilities and overall impression the traveller gets leaves much to be desired. I believe that the first impression one gets is always very important. I have often seen long queues of visitors awaiting immigration clearance, and if any of your Lordships were fortunate enough to be going on holiday last year, but were, unfortunately, using No. 2 terminal, you will recall the chaos and confusion caused by the rebuilding work. I must point out that this was before the air traffic controllers problems; it was even worse after that. The airport employees were working under appalling difficulties, and the cooperation and help they gave was much admired and appreciated by the travellers. But why cannot we plan ahead for these eventualities. Is the British Airports Authority too large? Does it control too many airports? I believe we need an airport policy document to enlighten us on this important question.

I now come to four specific points which I believe would assist the development of our tourist industry which, as has already been pointed out, is one of the few growth industries which contribute enormously to our balance of payments. First, reform of the Shops Act 1950. That Act was passed before the growth of inland resorts and touring areas. Although it would seem to have relatively little effect on trading in traditional seaside resorts, there is substantial evidence that it is seriously hampering the development of tourism in inland areas. While the Government's position on this Act is that any inland area can obtain a designation as being a resort and therefore be entitled to open on 18 Sundays a year, this is unsatisfactory since, from a retailing point of view, consistent opening ail year round is necessary.

The inland areas of England do not have the heavily seasonal pattern of visitors which is characteristic of the seaside resorts. Moreoever, the limitations imposed on what can be sold, by the Seventh Schedule relating to Section 51 of the 1950 Act, are such as to make Sunday opening for most shops very difficult. The Government's policy is to support tourism in the parts of England which have not hitherto benefited from it. If that policy is to become a reality then the number of permitted Sundays a year must be increased from 18 and the Seventh Schedule must be greatly broadened.

My second point is the reform of the licensing laws. The Committee of my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale came up with a series of well thought out recommendations for reforming the licensing laws which were widely accepted among the hotel trade and others in the tourist industry as good, commonsense recommendations. It is ridiculous that someone having a holiday on the Thames should be forced to buy drinks at different hours depending on whether he ties up on the left bank or the right. In the Thames and Chiltern Tourist Board leaflet Eating and Drinking Along the Thames we have had to explain at what point on the river Berkshire ends and Oxfordshire begins. I believe that there will be widespread support for the introduction of some of the recommendations of the Committee of my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale, yet the Government have simply shelved this issue.

My third point concerns a Government loans scheme for hotel extensions. This varies slightly from the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. At present, there are virtually no new hotels under construction anywhere in Britain. Building and land costs are so high that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a room rate which gave a realistic return on investment. If our tourist industry is to expand and continue to grow, more rooms will be needed. The best way to achieve that is through the extension of existing hotels where the owners already have the land and already know their market. A very great difficulty arises in borrowing money over a reasonably long period of time. The clearing banks will generally lend for only five years, sometimes seven years. While in practice they will often extend the loan well beyond the initial agreed time—perhaps in the form of an overdraft facility—it is vital that the small businessman or independent hotelier knows at the time of borrowing that he can rely on a 12, 15 or perhaps even 20 year repayment programme.

We have heard that the Government wish to help small businesses. I think that we shall hear more in the future about them wanting to help small businesses. Therefore, I believe that a fixed interest loan scheme would in fact cost the Government very little and the pay-off in terms of assisting new hotel extensions would be substantial.

My fourth point concerns a low level grant scheme for tourist projects outside the development areas. Under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 the Government are empowered to make grants and loans for tourist projects inside the development areas. In recent years the grant element for these schemes has been as high as 50 per cent. The Minister has consistently refused to extend this scheme outside the development areas.

I believe that if there were a Section 4 scheme available in, for instance, the Thames and Chiltern Region with grant assistance as low as 15 or 10 per cent. of the total capital cost, then a substantial number of new projects would be forth-coming. Again, the cost to the Government would be very little and the pay-off would be very much higher than is possible in the present development areas. Both of those last two proposals would help the unemployment problem.

During the debate attention has been drawn to the social and economic importance of tourism and to its contribution to the economy. However, the importance of tourism is not recognised at Government level in terms of ministerial responsibility. As noble Lords have heard, the secretary of State for Trade and Industry is responsible for tourism at Cabinet level, but within the Department of Trade and Industry, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary is responsible for many subjects. Jostling with such matters for the attentions of a Minister with comparatively junior status represents a completely inadequate provision for the needs of tourism policy and the complexities of the industry. That situation is also reflected in the level of Civil Service responsibility for tourism.

What happens elsewhere? In Australia, Canada, Spain, France, New Zealand and Turkey there are now Ministers solely responsible for tourism and related matters. It therefore seems essential that the Government should consider appointing a Minister of State within the Department of Trade with special responsibility for tourism trades and policies. Such an appointment would confirm that the Government recognise the importance and complexity of tourism matters, and would give greater impetus to the development of a national tourism policy and to the resolution of policy problems in dealings with other Government Departments involved in tourism.

Let us be proud of our thriving tourist industries. Let us praise and thank all those who have helped to make this a real success story—especially, the British Tourist Authority—but, at the same time, let us not be complacent. We must remember that tourist competition is growing very fast. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that we continue to develop new ideas and improve existing facilities.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for introducing this debate, I should like to offer him congratulations for the wonderful work that he has done both as chairman of the Tourist Board and for London generally in the many activities that he has pursued.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, I, too, love tourists, except when they are on my bus, on my pavements or in my shops. However, when one sees them around Buckingham Palace or outside the Houses of Parliament and listens to their admiring remarks, one realises that, in fact, here are people who have actually come to like us. Indeed, it is worth recalling, what the tourists say to me about the British. They say that we are cheerful—one may wonder about that on a Monday morning—that we are civilised and courteous and they always compliment us on our theatres and taxi drivers. They say that our taxi drivers are honest and courteous.

My particular interest in this subject is that I am President of the Institute of Travel and Tourism. That Institute is concerned with the people who work in this very exciting industry. I noted that one noble Lord referred to the fact that for all too long this has been found to be a second-class job. Indeed, those who sell either travel overseas or tourism here need to very fully trained and of a very high calibre.

In 1955 the Association of British Travel Agents set up the Institute. It was at that time called the Institute of Travel. The idea was that it would have a national training programme and pre-school link courses. I found that that was a great way of inspiring enthusiastic youngsters to enter this profession. There were also day-release schemes and the issuing of diplomas.

Over the years that idea has gradually grown. I should like to place on record that this is, in fact, an industry which has attempted to set its own house in order and which I believe deserves commendation for that fact. We now have among our members the promotion and information officers of tourism; the people who act as carriers, the tour operators; anybody who provides amenities for tourists; travel and tourist retailers and some 1,500 students in different centres; a whole mass of correspondence courses are provided and there is a general movement towards uplifting people towards professionalism. What does the Institute ultimately hope for? It hopes that qualifications will be required by more and more people within the industry and that the Government will eventually recognise that a travel agent or any component part of the industry—any worker in the industry—must have fully-trained staff qualified to the highest possible standard of professionalism. There is no need to say that they need be any different from the professional who is a solicitor, doctor or dentist. They are in a highly-skilled business.

We have heard reference to the fact that so many of our overseas visitors come to London. As a Londoner I rejoice in that, particularly as they always say that they like our city. I understand that half a million of those visitors flock down Oxford Street for shopping. There is little doubt that we have the best shops in the Western World. That is why people come here to buy.

What do they buy? Clothing and footwear account for 86 per cent. of what they buy. Frequently, one sees gentlemen—Arab gentlemen in particular—wheeling out whole racks of clothing—one wonders whether it is for their wives or whether they have some shops at home. China, glass, silver and leather account for 10 per cent. There is a distaff side to this. There are a few people who do not buy, but who actually take goods without paying for them. In my work in the prevention of theft, I have learnt that unfortunately there is a very bad Press in their countries, which seems to suggest that the British do something to these people which causes them to act differently here from how they would act abroad.

I appeal to the tourist boards to have some kind of colourful and attractive leaflet—and I should be happy to collaborate with them in its preparation—explaining the joys and snags of buying in Britain. It is an exciting operation, but no doubt it can be confusing. It would be a pity if anyone was to be involved in something that could be embarrassing because he or she did not really understand the process. I believe that we, the British, who carried our skills and talents in previous days all over the world, now welcome the travellers to our shores and show them that we can still lead the world in what we have to offer.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to declare a family interest in a small group of hotels in the Provinces. Tonight I particularly want to base what I have to say on my experience as the President of the Association of Conference Executives, which is abbreviated to the attractive title of ACE, which makes it easier to comment.

Although ACE specialises in giving advice on conferences and exhibitions, the officers have found that almost as a by-product their normal work leads them to play an increasing part in extending British tourism. Indeed, that is particularly evident when one realises that delegates to conferences are spending something like five or six times as much as the average tourist who comes here purely for a holiday.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who leads the London Bureau, is a member of ACE. I should like to support all that he said about the great work that has been done in London to make London such an attractive venue for world tourism. But, of course, London is not the whole of Britain. There are attractions and inducements outside London, although one would not want in any way to depreciate the great part that the magnetism of London itself plays in bringing both tourism and conferences to the city.

However, outside London we have the new National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham, the new Brighton Conference Centre and the Harrogate idea will come on stream very shortly. It should be on the record that since the Birmingham Centre was completed some two years ago it has attracted 63 exhibitions which have brought in about 3 million visitors, and that during the 12 months ending September 1977, at a conservative estimate £25 million of revenue has been brought to the Midlands as a result of its activities. So it is justifying its existence in a very real way. For example, there were 14,000 overseas visitors at the recent INTERPLAS exhibition and that was 34 per cent. of the total attendance at the exhibition. So the part that that is playing in bringing people from other parts of the world to this as a conference and a tourist centre is a very real one. The Birmingham National Exhibition Centre is very optimistic that by 1980 it will double the business that it is at present doing, which will bring it pretty much up to its capacity.

Having said that about the big conference halls and exhibitions that hit the headlines, it is worthy of note that about 80 per cent. of the conferences and meetings held in the United Kingdom are of a size which often do not exceed 200 in number. So in addition to the major venues, there are many hotels, small conference centres and, indeed, country houses, which can accommodate such meetings and exhibitions. That is a great help in the height of the tourist season when it is so difficult to get bedrooms in London for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, outlined.

The conference business itself is now running at an annual expenditure of about £300 million in the United Kingdom alone. I believe that this is a contribution to tourism which is not inconsiderable. But it could be greatly improved upon if more companies and hotels became more professional in seeking out the great and growing potential of business in this conference field. That is the special contribution that ACE is trying to make.

ACE arranges training courses designed to extend such professionalism among its own members and among the British Tourist authorities, the tourist boards and the tourist-conscious local authorities. If they can give us their support and backing, I am convinced that the returns which they will receive from the experience that we are able to share with them will be very worth while indeed. For instance, ACE has helped local authorities by bringing this professionalism to them, by arranging exhibitions and meetings and by arranging visits of inspection. As a result of one such recent visit of inspection, some 30 senior organisers went to Bournemouth and £450,000 of conference money will now be spent there over the next two years. That is what professionalism and really getting down to it, instead of merely talking in headline language the whole time, can bring about.

I submit that Government Departments and Parliament should find ways of seeking to encourage such private enterprise endeavours as the work of ACE is proving to be. If they could give their help to bring people along to our workshops and to fit in with the plans that we are making to give them training and to share expertise, it would pay very good dividends indeed.

In France, a similar organisation known as ACCER has clear Government support. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, is very eager that I in particular and others in general should not speak at any great length tonight. In return, perhaps she would undertake to use her influence at the Departments of Trade and Industry to meet me and my officers to see whether we cannot tell them ways in which they could help us, so that we could help to bring conferences to this country and encourage tourism. If she could give me that undertaking, it would be a very good reason for me to cut down my two-hour speech to the eight minutes which I know she has in mind.

There is some competition here. About a year ago the Association of Conference Executives was established in Australia. We are doing our best to bring it to Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy and the Scandinavian countries, because they are getting this expertise, because they want to share this world tourism, and this world conference business which very clearly exists. The special attraction which ACE has for me as a business man, if I can claim to be that, is that its guidance and advice come mainly from active business executives. Their members are usually senior executives of companies and businesses; men who have their ordinary businesses and responsibilities apart from arranging conferences and exhibitions. Therefore, their approach is a practical one based on experience rather than being merely a theoretical textbook approach, which is so often the case when one has these seminars.

For such people to work in close cooperation with the tourist authorities in Britain, we have to get a partnership both with them and with the Government involved. That is why I call upon the appropriate Government Departments to encourage them. No time should be lost, for I venture to add my words to the warnings that have already been given. We are not the only nation which recognises the potential in this field. Many other national tourist offices are bidding hard to attract conference business away from the United Kingdom. This is very much evidenced by those who have enrolled to come to some of the ACE courses to get the training and expertise in order to do that.

My one plea to the noble Baroness is this. Could she use her influence to get Government action as regards the theatres? We remain absolutely supreme in only two fields. We are supreme in the world with our Queen and monarchy system; we are supreme in the world of the theatre. In most other things we are still high up, but not supreme. In those two we are. So far as the theatre is concerned, Government action which is crying out for a quick move is to relieve the theatre industry of VAT, particularly as regards the commercial theatre. The commercial theatre does not have the subsidies which go to the civic and State theatres, but it is still the main line of production for theatrical talent, and we shall let it die at our peril.

My final words are not mine at all. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, in a quick word to me a minute or two ago, said, "I don't want to take up time in debate, but try and emphasise that, apart from buildings, apart from conferences, apart from stately homes, one thing which can make a place an attractive tourist venue is if the local population show good manners and helpfulness." There is just a possibility that in some fields we have seen a deterioration in what used to be the traditional good manners of the people of this country. If we can get some return to the normal courtesies which are inherent in us, together with all the mechanical ideas, that will help us to keep at the forefront of perhaps the most promising of the growth industries in the world today.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, with the natural modesty and reticence that is native to the Welsh, I rise at this time to present to you the arguments that are relevant to Wales in the context of tourism's contribution to the economy. I would begin, if he would allow me and forgive me, by taking up a point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, who found that the Government failed to understand the complexities of the tourist industry; that they did not properly relate at ministerial level to those problems; and that they were wanting in some regard in their attitude to the tourist industry generally. I want only to say that in the excellent publication which I hold in my hand of the Wales Tourist Board, Bwrdd Croeso Cymru, he will find a statement that seems to show other experience. The chairman of that tourist authority, Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies, while expressing thanks to his own staff in the area for the excellent level of work that has gone on there, also says that he appreciates the help which we get from our colleagues in the British Tourist Authority and in the Welsh office. Since taking office, I have had frequent contact with the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. John Morris, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mr. Barry Jones. I have been greatly encouraged by their interest in tourism and their appreciation of its contribution to the economy of Wales and I want to thank them most sincerely for the courtesy, advice and kindness which I have personally received from them". I do not make that as a political point; I put it in the balance in this debate in the short time available.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales recently asked the Welsh Tourist Board to carry out surveys into the possibilities for new developments in what he described as "fragile areas", which could absorb more visitors without damage to their environment, and where there was a potential to promote features with tourist appeal. It is really reporting on that which is the basis of this report of the Welsh Tourist Board.

In common with other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord ponsonby, for his contribution. I apologise for missing it, but I have read his speech and have made my apologies to him. The revenue from tourism in Wales is estimated to have grown by an average of 10 per cent. a year in the past decade. In 1973 tourism earned some £170million for Wales and in 1974 £200 million was reached for the first time. This figure had increased to £300 million by 1976, and when the 1977 figures are available it is anticipated that a further increase to about £350 million will have been recorded. In 1976 a record 5.6 million holidays of 4 nights or more were taken in Wales making it—this surprises me—the second most popular tourist destination in Britain. The Wales Tourist Board is concerned about the effects on family hotels—which subject has been mentioned—of the recession in the domestic market during the 1977 season, and is currently engaged in a promotional campaign aimed at restoring the image of family holidays in Wales. However, the overseas market continued to expand in 1977. We have a phenomenon in Wales of a very greatly increased interest in our particular area, and our areas of beauty, from the Continent and our partners in the EEC, who seem to be discovering us in large numbers. The overseas market continued to expand in 1977 and it is hoped that this position will be maintained in 1978.

The growth in tourism in Wales is supported by the Government through the grant-in-aid to the Wales Tourist Board. The Board has the responsibility of encouraging people to visit Wales and to take their holidays there and to encourage the provision and improvement of amenities and facilities for tourists in Wales. The total amount of Government funds directed towards the promotion of tourism in Wales in 1977–78 is £2,388,000. The Board's operating expenditure, which includes the cost of its excellent publicity, promotional campaigns and general administration, amounts to £1,395 000 and the sum of £993,000 is allocates to the Board to enable it to make grants available for projects qualifying for assistance under Section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act. These projects are designed to provide and improve tourist amenities and facilities of all kinds in the development area and it has long been the Board's policy to give special consideration to those parts of Wales where the contribution which tourism can make towards strengthening the economy is most needed. It is probably a phenomenon of the whole of Britain that those most beautiful areas, the most attractive, the ones which are most remote, in fact suffer most from unemployment.

Following a review of tourism policy by an inter-departmental working party, the emphasis of Government support for tourism is being geared less to the generalised promotion of places which need no advertising and concentrated instead on areas with under-utilised tourism potential which remain relatively unknown to visitors. There are still such places, thank God! in Wales.

Particular attention will be given to developing the untapped tourism potential of certain parts of the development areas with the capacity to benefit from an increase in the number of visitors.

One area which has been selected in Wales for this purpose is Blaenau Ffestiniog. The Wales Tourist Board is building on the success of two projects which they have already assisted, Llechwedd Quarry Tours and Gloddfa Ganol—if I am flagellated a little for being half a second over my time, might I point out that words have more syllables in Welsh than in English. The completion of the restoration of the Ffestiniog narrow gauge railway back to Blaenau Ffestiniog will complement these developments and help to encourage visitors to spend more time in Blaenau Ffestiniog itself. As part of this exercise the board has organised local discussions to determine how the tourism potential of the town can be more fully realised.

During 1977 the board also held tourism presentations in Milford Haven, which we have mentioned before this evening, and Anglesey. I would tell the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, that 1st March is a rather important date for presentations in Wales as well as at airports in London. The object of the presentations in Milford Haven and Anglesey were to increase employment through tourism, and the Board considers that the capacity exists to expand tourism in both these areas, and much could be achieved if the local authorities and the local tourist operators responded to its initiatives. I thank noble Lords for having listened to what is frankly a "commercial" for the beauties of my country; and I hope you will come and stay with us.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, in this debate and I should perhaps begin by declaring my interest, having been involved in tourism for almost a lifetime. I am president of the Southern Tourist Board, president of the Historic Houses Association, 400 houses of which are open to the public, and I am the owner of one of Britain's largest tourist attractions.

It was 25 years ago that I was embarking on my first lecture tour in America on behalf of tourism and stately homes. It was certainly not clear then—it is now an historical fact—that, as sunshine has been a winner for Spain and Italy over the years, so our heritage would prove a winner for Great Britain. Consider the extraordinary figures: in 1952 there were 200 houses both private and Government-owned, open to the public—in fact only about one-quarter of them were private and they attracted only 1½ million visitors. Last year we had 800 buildings open to the public and attracting 50 million visitors—quite a success story.

It has been a double blessing, for, as the heritage makes an important contribution to the success of attracting tourists to Great Britain, so tourism makes a vital contribution to the conservation of the heritage itself. All over the world conservation costs money and there is no building or work of art that can be relied on to preserve itself. It is also clear that our ability to keep them in good order and to prevent them from being exported will depend primarily on political and fiscal decisions. I pay tribute to the Government for all they have done to help in the last few years and we await the forthcoming Budget with great interest.

I also wish to pay tribute to the part played by the living arts and the museums. It is indeed sad to see the plight of some of our great museums. For example, the Victoria and Albert is giving an ever-decreasing public service; noble Lords may have been following the correspondence in The Times. I could not help but give a wry smile at the irony that many of the people signing the letters were the people who, in 1974, were vociferously leading the campaign against museum charges. Personally, I deplored the decision that was taken to cancel them when the present Government came to power. We now have a situation in which the national museums, which have so much to offer to tourism, contributing nothing, unlike the DOE properties which make a very significant contribution to the Treasury. Hence, the museums have lost their ace card when they are arguing for larger grants, and thus our tourist facilities are diminished, particularly for overseas visitors who are willing and able to pay.

Looking forward, I think it can be argued with some force that at least some of our North Sea oil revenue should be invested in making our heritage more attractive and accessible, and I hope that the Government will tonight accept at any rate the principle of such thinking. It will indeed be money well spent. It will certainly have public support and the Government should have no difficulty in persuading themselves that there are good economic reasons for doing this.

Looking back over the past 25 years, it is right that we should remember the remarkable success story of the British Tourist Authority which, with little resources, has done a superb job the world over, selling tourism to Britain against stiff competition. I pay tribute to Sir Alexander Glen, the recently retired chairman, whose energy and foresight have done much to lay sound foundations for the future, and all those concerned with tourism welcome the appointment of Sir Henry Marking; for once, exactly the right man has been appointed for this really important post.

I do not entirely agree with Lord Ponsonby on the question of a Ministry of Tourism, though as the success of tourism depends on so many organisations, we need more co-ordination. However, I think it has been a good thing that we have not had a Ministry of Tourism because, if we had had such a Department, I do not think we should have achieved the success we have. This industry should not be subjected to the somewhat stifling effect of Whitehall and the political whims of different Ministers.

However, more co-operation is certainly necessary and whoever is appointed should have his job properly defined. We should welcome the fact that civil servants today appreciate the benefits of tourism, which so much affect our invisible earrings and which so often represent the difference between profit and loss on our monthly account, far more than they did 25 years ago. As has been said, tourism buys many jobs for men and women of all ages and—and this has not so Far been mentioned—it provides jobs for many school-leavers.

Lord Ponsonby was bound to say a good deal about London and I shall not disagree with him about that, but it is also important to get people out of London. Tourism makes an important contribution to regional prosperity and especially to small businesses. We must not forget that, outside London, the tourist industry is largely dependent on the domestic market. For example, in the Southern Tourist Board area, £225 million is spent every year, but 82 per cent. of that is spent by British tourists. At the other end of the country, in Northumbria, £75 million is spent, 84 per cent. of which is spent by the domestic market. We should, therefore, pay credit tonight to the regional tourist boards which, in spite of an economic situation which has left their market largely static, are nevertheless still responsible for 32 million domestic tourists. Comforting it is to feel that so many of our own people still appreciate the beauties of the British Isles. However, the tourist boards can and should contribute more to expand this market and local government should be urged to take tourism rather more seriously.

What can be done? First, I support noble Lords who have asked the Government to give the BTA a real increase in grant in the next, vital years. Other countries are doing it and it will be money far better spent than expenditure on propping up any ailing nationalised industry—better to invest in success than in failure. Many BTA offices overseas are starved of funds to do their job properly, and that even includes money to get their leaflets translated into foreign languages.

Secondly, the Government are always calling for new investment. Why should the tourist industry and services to tourism be discriminated against? Hotels and other tourist amenities do not get industrial building allowances and even the modest grants for tourism are largely allocated to areas which many people do not wish to visit. Key resorts are neglected and will in due course fall behind internationally and be unable to compete. The regional tourist boards are keenly awaiting the Government's White Paper on airports. As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, successful tourism depends on good communications and internal airflights in Great Britain are deplorably bad and expensive compared with the United States.

Cannot the Government and their Ministers proclaim loudly and clearly their faith in tourism as being greatly beneficial to Great Britain? It is indeed of permanent and lasting value, and will be there when the oil runs out. Will they not perhaps stand up against the current little Englander attitude of some vocal groups who greedily seize the benefits of tourism but deplore the source?

We are all tourists now and we should perhaps all deplore the attitude of those people who visit Switzerland and the South of France in the winter and return home to complain in the summer about the Swiss and French coming here. It is because we have a balance of £1,000 million on our travel account that they are able to travel so freely. Nor can we turn the clock back to the time when travel was the privilege of the favoured few. We in this country are blessed with the fact that millions wish to visit us. Let us welcome them and let the Government formulate constructive and long-term policies which will give us all the confidence to provide the ways and means for the country's benefit and for the benefit of our visitors.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, although this debate, so admirably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, is a short debate, it is nevertheless a very important one. I should first like to say a word about Scotland, where I have spent a good deal of my life. Yesterday's issue of The Scotsman quoted figures by the Scottish Tourist Board showing the increase in tourism in Scotland in 1977. It was 15 per cent. above the previous year, and £150 million was spent in 1977. I particularly commend the marvellous efforts made by that wonderful theatre at Pitlochry, in Perthshire, which has had a great success in helping the tourist industry there.

I have no financial interest in tourism to declare, but I have three close relatives in various stages of seniority in the hotel and catering industry, and I should like to make a very special plea for more help to be given to the smaller hotels, particularly those on our very lovely coastline. There are many hotels which, quite rightly, have had to spend substantial sums of money on improving their fire precautions because of the recent Act, and this has inevitably put some in financial difficulty. This is perhaps only temporary, but, although I believe that there are certain allowances under the local employment Acts and other statutes, I wonder whether enough is being done here, particularly for these hotels on the coast and in areas of great beauty.

Reference has already been made to training in the hotel industry. I believe that tourists visiting this country like to see hotels which have British-born managers and British-born staff attending to their needs, because, although it is a popular conception that some of our European colleagues are more efficient at running hotels, I do not think that that is always the case. I wonder, therefore, whether enough is being done by the Government to assist the Hotel Training Board to encourage more, so to speak, home-grown youngsters to come into this industry, which has a great potential for helping tourism.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, mentioned the insurance industry, with which I have been connected since 1948, and the fact that tourism is now bringing in more money than the insurance industry. This is very true. Lloyd's of London attracts many thousands of overseas visitors every year. Some come on business, some are students, others are on holiday. I have personally taken round a number of groups, and I am sure that what they see is an enormous help towards getting more of their friends or relations over to see this great industry, among others. Here, I should like to pay tribute to the information office in Lloyd's, which has been of substantial help to me and others who work in that sphere, encouraging overseas visitors to come.

I think it should also be remembered that it is not only the Americans and those from the Middle East who visit this country as tourists. Many come from New Zealand, where I have strong family connections; from Australia; and from Scandinavia, notably Finland—a country which has sent an increasing number of tourists over here, some of whom I have had the pleasure of taking round your Lordships' House and also round the insurance industry. Finland is a country which has an enormous potential in this field.

Also, not every tourist coming over has an unlimited budget, and here it should be remembered that our smaller hotels have a great part to play. It has to be remembered, of course, that hotels have tremendous overheads these days—higher rates, more costs in electricity and so on. This is not the time to make special pleading on any scale, but it is to be hoped that the smaller hotels, many of which belong to the great chains—Rank, Trust House Forte and so on—may be recognised as places where help is needed; because there is no doubt at all that, whatever the future fortunes of this country may be in years to come, tourism is something which has to be actively encouraged.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I want to speak about something which has so far hardly been touched on in the debate this evening, and that is the question of the costs of tourism to the community. Let me preface this by saying, please do not misunderstand me; I am not "knocking" tourism. I agree with every single other person who has spoken that the tourist trade is a fine thing for the country. It is civilised, it brings in money, and I am all for it; but I think we should look at the costs. My life has recently taken me, perhaps more so than in the case of most of your Lordships, into countries in Southern Europe where there is even more tourism than there is here—and there is a limit. I do not know if it is generally known in this country that, if you want to climb the Matterhorn in summer, you are allotted a 10-minute time slot, party by party, to get to the rock faces—there is that degree of crowding—and that, for one or two days every summer, the local authority has to close the mountain (can you imagine it, my Lords?—they have to close the Matterhorn altogether to climbers) in order that parties of guides may go up to the top with spades, buckets and pickaxes to bury the human excrement on the summit. We know that the top of Snowdon will have to be physically replaced because it has been worn away by people's feet—and this, of course, is just the beginning of it.

It is not really the environmental cost which exercises me so much as economic cost. I have been looking at the documents put out by the tourist authorities, statutory and otherwise. There is a useful one called Tourism in Context, put out by the British Tourist Authority in November 1976. It says that it has been produced to challenge some of the myths and misconceptions which have been at attached to tourism activities in recent years by a wide range of critics". It refutes the often canvassed view that tourism is a major source of environmental congestion, pollution and damage. This is a document extolling the benefits of tourism, and does not touch upon the costs except to point out from time to time in rather curious language that the residents of our cities and towns themselves create social and economic costs simply by living there. Perhaps I can give your Lordships an example: Any increment in the numbers of visitors and of cars in an area conspicuously adds to the existing pressures created by its residents. Poor old residents; they ought not to be creating pressures at all! Again: if there were no holiday staying visitors in Inner London at all, the problems of congestion, litter and so on would hardly be lessened. So much for Londoners! Then, in this marvellous sentence, speaking of tourists, it says: their use of the transport system is doubly welcome". Try saying that to a Central London bus queue at any time between 1st March and 31st November and see how it is received!

There is another document, Tourism in Britain, the Broad Perspective. Once again, I expected an objective, balanced view of the benefits and costs. It is published by—well, everybody: the British Travel Association and the English, Scottish and Welsh Travel Boards; but it is not dated. The thinking may be out of date. There is one small paragraph called "Costs" in this 24-page document. It says: Every industry operates at some cost to the environment. It expands that a little—and I quote textually: While the argument of congestion gains a hearing there is little appreciation of the benefits of tourism in combating loneliness in remote areas. It is also said that the foreign exchange earnings of tourism are exaggerated since they arise as a result of large-scale importing to cater for the tourist influx. In fact the import ration of tourism (46 per cent.) is considerably lower than that of manufacturing industry (60 per Cent.). So somebody had done one sum somewhere. That is the end of the treatment of the costs of tourism in this document.

Last April, I asked the Government by Questions in this House how many foreign immigrants were working in the tourist trade, in the hotel and catering trades; what was the total number of their dependants; how many of those dependants were of school age; what was the cost arising from all that to the Health Service and the Education Service in this country—that is, what was the cost of the foreign workers in the catering and hotel trade? I asked what sums were repatriated by hotel and catering trade workers, with the permission of the Bank of England. Nobody could answer about sums repatriated without permission. I also asked what social costs of tourism had been identified by the British Tourist Authority or the Government; what was the cost to the taxpayer of the burden laid on the Police and the Immigration Services by the arrival and departure of tourists; and what calculations had been done? I ended up with the provocative question: why, if no calculations of costs have been done, does the British Tourist Authority assume that the arrival, sojourn and departure of 10 million tourists in 1976 will benefit the country more than the 9 million who came in 1975? My point was not that I doubted but to ask why there was the assumption that it was so, if, as I suspected, no calculations had been done.

In a series of courteous Answers, my noble friend Lord Oram replied that none of the facts asked for was obtainable by the Government; that they did not know and neither did anybody else; that the cost benefit analysis I called for was impossible and that it was not worth the Government's while to obtain the facts so as to form some judgment of the cost and benefit. He afterwards wrote me a long and helpful letter about the difficulty of obtaining facts of this kind. Of course, they are considerable. Nobody would dispute that. He ended by saying that the facts could not be ascertained and, therefore, it would be wrong to make any effort to do so.

I wrote to him saying that I understood the difficulties that one is always up against in trying to obtain estimates of the cost of things whose benefits were easily estimated, and I suggested that he might think of setting up a working party of statisticians and laymen to look into the difficulty. I suggested that it might be better to do it now than to do so after being forced into it by a Press campaign—and pointed out that this might happen—and that the first sign of difficulties on the economic front in tourism can be seen in the form of the resource rationing by purse which is being introduced by the Cambridge colleges. You are not allowed to visit a Cambridge college now unless as an organised party below a certain size and you pay to get in. That will spread.

My point in bringing up all this now is not to cast doubt on the desirability of a rational expansion of tourism. It is merely to ask another Minister—with perhaps, greater hope of success—would it not be possible to call together trained minds to tackle this particular example of the quite familiar difficulties of a situation where all the good things about it are readily calculable and all the bad things are not? Or it could be the other way round: all the bad things are calculable and the good things are not. Society has time and time again faced such issues and, by the application of ingenuity and determination, has come to a way of getting some sort of cost benefit analysis, some balance going. I urge the Government to try to do that in the case of the tourist trade and I repeat for the third and last time that I am not against it, that I love it as do you all.

7.35 p.m.

The Marquess of HERTFORD

My Lords, I must declare an interest as I am deeply involved in the tourist trade myself and I am President of the Heart of England Tourist Board. I should explain that the Heart of England area consists of the six counties always previously known as the West Midlands until somebody came along and created a new county and called that West Midlands. Although it is our duty as a regional tourist board to attract tourists away from London, I want to endorse every single word said by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, with regard particularly to the importance of developing and looking after the attractions in London. It is clear that London is where most people want to go. Our job in the regions is to get people to come out of London after they have been to London. We are "as well as" and not "instead of". I would not grudge a single penny spent on improving London's tourist amenities.

On the subject of finance generally, I think that the financing of tourist regional hoards is not entirely satisfactory. I should like to quote a comment made by my own regional director, Mr. John Brown. He said: The regional tourist boards (I hope you will agree!) do a good job; yet much of the time and resources at their disposal are spent in having to raise revenue within their own region, from the private sector and from local authorities. While there are undoubtedly desirable side benefits from these activities, such as improving the knowledge of tourism among those approached, this does mean that people in my job are much less effective than they might otherwise be in the work of selling and developing their own regions. Apart from what may seem a waste of valuable and expensive time, it has always seemed to me extremely unfair that certain local authorities can decline to support their regional tourist hoards while continuing, inevitably, to receive a good deal of benefit from our activities. I should have thought that by now the widespread advantages of the great golden flood of dollars which comes sweeping across the Atlantic every summer are too obvious to need stressing; but far too many local authorities place tourism under the general heading of "recreation" and then decide to cut down on it, as though it were just another expense with no corresponding source of income. I appreciate and, indeed, share the Government's reluctance to make anything compulsory, but I do think that the Government could at least encourage local authorities to play their part and to pay their fair share of the relatively small cost of developing the tourist industry.

I have always envied the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, his ability to speak without notes. I feel that to answer any of the points he raised—although I long to do so—would take a long time. But there is one small point about London Transport. Those of us who have anything to sell, such as a seat on a bus or a ticket to an historic house, are very anxious to have more customers rather than fewer. We like to be crowded.


My Lords, the noble Marquess will agree that those who need to buy something, for instance, a seat on a bus, may need to do so in order to get to work and in order to get their children to school. They cannot do so daring the rush hour in London.

The Marquess of HERTFORD

My Lords, I think that with fewer customers, the price of the seat may have to be increased yet more.

I should like briefly to take up one point made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, about our licensing laws, which are a frequent source of annoyance to a large number of people, including me. I should like to ask two brief questions without making a major speech. First, am I right in thinking that this is in fact the only country in Europe in which, if a man is feeling thirsty at five o'clock in the afternoon, he cannot buy himself a drink unless he is a member of a club or possibly a Member of this House? Secondly, is this the only country in which during opening hours a man cannot buy a glass of Coca-Cola, or whatever, for his children in a public bar? I should like to suggest that Parliament might consider extending to other people the privileges that we ourselves enjoy in this building.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, may I first join with other speakers who have taken part in this debate to say how grateful I am to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the contribution which tourism makes to the economy. It is clear from the calibre of the speeches and from the number of people who wanted to speak and who have, if I may say so, exercised the most enormous self-restraint in the length of their remarks, that the whole subject deserved a far longer debate. It was also particularly interesting that, in addition to my noble friend who opened the debate, we have heard the Scots and Welsh "commercials" very well put over and seductively put forward.

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby spelled out very fully the facts and figures, and I shall not take up time in repeating them. What I will say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, loudly and clearly, is that the Government recognise the value of the tourist industry. They are concerned and value the industry's contribution to the balance of payments, to employment—both directly and indirectly—and to our commercial and industrial vitality.

Tourism is the second largest invisible earner of foreign currency. I am aware my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said it was the first; I am not going to argue about statistics, otherwise I shall also get into a tangle with my noble friend Lord Kennet. I am obviously backing the horse each way; my noble friend backed it to win. Nevertheless, whether it is first or second, tourism is a large invisible earner. The importance of United Kingdom residents who take their holidays at home must not be overlooked. Those who do so by choice are indirectly helping our balance of payments problem, as are those who take an occasional trip to stately homes, museums or visit the country. I am going to emphasise the point that both the people who visit Britain and their motivations are extremely varied. This is not surprising, since our magnetism lies in the diversity of attractions we can provide. Like a supermarket, every country has its shelves of tourist goodies and also temptations for the impulse buyer. Some have a short shelf life, others longer, and Britain's shelves are no less beguiling than those of our competitors. First and foremost is London, Edinburgh, Chester, Oxford, then the West Coast of Scotland, the Cotswolds, Yorkshire Dales, our marvellously beautiful countryside everywhere and, in case I omit it, of course the whole of Wales. All have their particular magic.

We have the most superb theatre. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, about this. Although the matter rests with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I will certainly point out to my noble friend the Minister for the Arts once again this vexed question of VAT on theatres. I know he is sympathetic. We have good music, very good ballet; outstanding museums and lovely old houses. We are able to offer sports facilities, both for participants and spectators. There are few other countries that can offer more—except the sun.

Tourism not only feeds on but contributes to this country's quality of life. This has been pointed out by most of the speakers in this debate. London's theatres could probably not survive—certainly at present standards—were it not for overseas visitors. Most of our ancient monuments, historic buildings and stately homes rely, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, pointed out, to a substantial extent on foreign tourists. Our catering industries and shops also benefit.

However, it is also true that many people have a double-edged attitude. My noble friend Lady Phillips and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, also pointed this out. They like the economic benefits from the invisible exports emanating from tourism but wish the tourists would remain invisible too. Of course, large influxes of human bodies, however friendly, bring problems in terms of overcrowding, congestion and wear and tear. But the social cost umbrella often covers tendencies which are more "little Englander", I agree, than genuinely social. And since one of the reasons foreign visitors give for coming here is their appreciation of our way of life—which we as masochists are often too ready to knock—we must approach the social cost with a welcoming smile on our faces while doing something about it.

My noble friend Lord Kennet asked me a number of what I can only describe as post-graduate questions on the social and economic costs. I shall, with great pleasure, pass them on to somebody who can answer them far better than I can: the chairman of the British Tourist Authority. I shall ask him if he will write to my noble friend direct. There is a fine balance to be struck. This was something that my noble friend Lord Kennet touched on as well. Wearing my environmental hat, I am constantly having to bear in mind this fine balance between giving people, whether from home or abroad, access to our heritage and, at the same time, protecting it from overcrowding, erosion and even destruction.

There are a number of ways in which we are trying to cope with this. For example, take that most famous and most visited ancient monument, the Tower of London. We have over 3 million visitors a year there. I recently had to raise charges there. It has been done in a way which I hope will encourage home visitors to go out of season so that visitors from abroad—and I am afraid we are having to do this by price—will be left with more opportunity to visit the Tower during the height of the season.

Another example is the gradual erosion and damage to Stonehenge. This is a particular headache for me at this moment. This is a matter of balancing the wish of people to have as near access as they can get to an ancient monument with the need to protect it not only for posterity but even during our own lifetime.

The same applies to the countryside; for example, the preservation of our national parks may conflict with some opportunities for people to enjoy them. We must give priority to conserving natural beauty where the two purposes are irreconcilable. While tourism brings benefits to local communities in terms of jobs and spending—and I very much take the point made by the noble Marquess regarding the variation in different local areas—more visitors mean demands for car parking, caravan and camp sites, congested country lanes and village streets. For the most part, local authorities resourcefully meet the planning challenge that tourism creates. One of the problems is to ask them to spend more at a time when cuts are made in public expenditure. I agree that, when the tide turns economically, it is something that they should be encouraged to do.

Even so, much of Britain's beautiful countryside sees only a handful of visitors—and these concentrated in a very short period—and would benefit, as many speakers have pointed out, from more visitors or a more even spread. The ideal is not to stern the flow but to endeavour to spread it out in space and time. This has been Government policy since 974, but it cannot be taken to perfectionist ends. Of course everyone wants to come to London, and it would be a sad day for our capital city if tourists did not. I believe people who come to Britain, especially for a second or third time, should, for their own sakes as well as London's, be encouraged to explore less well known but very rewarding places. The British Tourist Authority and tourist boards are energetically and imaginatively promoting the variety of what Britain has to offer.

I listened very carefully to everything my noble friend Lord Ponsonhy, the dedicated chairman of the London Tourist Board, said in his speech. One of his main points concerned a new, large convention centre in London, and he mentioned Wembley, the Barbican and the dear old Albert Hall I think, frankly, it is difficult at this time to justify another centre in London as a high priority. In any case, before my noble friend casts his acquisitive eye on St. George's Hospital, I would remind him that it is a listed building and he would have to get my permission to knock it down.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, made a very good point when he stressed the need for exhibition and convention centres, even outside London. I have visited the Birmingham Exhibition Centre and believe that there is a great deal of potential, though there has not yet been the opportunity for it to be realised. As part of a deal I made with him across the Floor, I will certainly try to arrange a meeting with my opposite number at the Department of Trade.

Now I turn to the Government's role which is mainly promotional. Sixteen million of the 20 million a year spent by the Government directly on tourism goes to the statutory tourist boards, mainly for marketing and publicity. Four million goes on encouraging selective tourism investment, improving tourist amenities and facilities in those parts of the country where they cannot be left to the market. Of course the tourist industry would like a heavier Government grant. I only wish I were in a position to offer it and hand it over this evening, but, being a healthy thriving industry, I am afraid it is not at the head of the queue, especially in times when cash is scarce. One hopes that the future will bring an easing of some kind.

My noble friend made an eloquent plea for capital allowances to be introduced for hotels, and that was followed up by other speakers. The Government recognise that there are strong arguments for such a step. As your Lordships are aware, this is a matter for the Chancellor and was discussed not long ago during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. However, I will bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend again. But I would remind my noble friend, and others who have pressed this point, that for several years now hotel plant and machinery has qualified for capital allowances. Also, the help that was given for small businesses in the last Budget assists the tourist industry.

The question of getting staff for hotels was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, and others. That is not so much a Government problem as a question for the industry itself. One point which occurs to me is that the split-shift system which is used in this country but not, for example, in the United States, as I understand, probably makes it more difficult to get staff. I think that is something which the industry itself should probably look at.

The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, spoke about the contribution made by the heritage, and particularly by country houses, which are a great attraction to the tourist. I thought that the noble Lord was restrained on this occasion and did not refer to the financial difficulties with which the owners of country houses usually face me, and of which I am well aware. It has been, and remains, Government policy to encourage the owners to live in and maintain the houses and to make them available for visitors. The fiscal measures taken by this Government have gone a great way to helping in that. I realise they have not gone as far as is wanted, or indeed, is needed. I hope and expect that we shall be able to do more as financial conditions allow. In return, owners will of course continue to live in their houses, to maintain them and provide adequate access to them. Those noble Lords who are concerned about this know that they have my support here.

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby, supported by the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, argued that there should be a Minister solely responsible for tourism. That is a matter for the Prime Minister, of course, although I must say that I am not personally taken with the idea and would need a considerable amount of persuasion. Frankly, I cannot see its being of any great advantage: in fact, it could even be counter-productive. In this country we do not in general have a separate Minister for a particular part of an industry, which is what was being advocated here. The present arrangement, where the Secretary of State for Trade, assisted by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, has ministerial responsibility for tourism, and where other Government Departments bear tourist interests strongly in mind, seems to work well. Obviously it can work only if it is done, as it is at the moment, in conjunction with a responsibility for tourism discharged by the British Tourist Authority and the National and Regional Boards, including, of course, the London Tourist Board through relevant agencies.

Since the chairman of the BTA has direct access to the Secretary of State for Trade and to the Chancellor, I think that fact rather balances out some of the other arguments. Although this is not the moment to launch into a long discourse on Government and the Constitution, I do not always think that the health and prosperity of the industry would necessarily benefit by employing more civil servants and hanging a plate on the door of another Minister.

My noble friend Lady Burton, who was kind enough to warn me of the question she was going to raise, mentioned passengers with heavy luggage travelling between Central London and Heathrow. I am very sorry but I have been into this matter carefully and find myself unable to agree with her on this, since the new Underground rail link is really meant to be for the lightly-laden as far as luggage is concerned and for business people, or people going on a short trip, who can get out and in to Central London very quickly. It is an extension of the Underground system to carry large numbers of passengers quickly. Lengthy stops at any station, if luggage was being carried, would disrupt the whole service.

My noble friend also asked about the coach service. There is no question of cutting down the coach service: if it is necessary to increase it to meet demand, that will be done. I shall also be at the presentation at Heathrow which my noble friend will attend, and all this can be thrashed out then with the people directly concerned: the chairman of the British Airports Authority and also the BTA.

In answer to the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, the White Paper on Airports Policy will be published very shortly. He will be delighted to hear that the major redevelopment of Terminal 2—and I entirely agree with him that it is absolutely appalling there—is nearing completion and should be ready before the beginning of the tourist season, although more work will need to be done after the summer is over.

I am not despondent in case the fact that the pound is recovering its strength may be bad for tourism. I am pleased that the pound is recovering its strength and I do not think we need to be concerned that tourism will suffer. If we can maintain standards and avoid the dangers of overpricing; if we can improve quality in some areas like catering where our reputation, though improved, is certainly not excellent by international standards; if we can get the balance right between conservation and enjoyment; if the tourist authorities and the boards continue with their same enthusiasm, and if we can keep to the different and interesting environment that people come here to see—receiving from us the civil manner that they expect, and frankly do not always get (I think they are sometimes very long-suffering unless, fortunately, they may not always understand what we are saying)—then we can face the future with optimism.

I am quite aware that I have not been able to answer every point that was raised, nor have I been able to give any financial help or even future hope of it in the short run. But I do hope I have said enough to show that interest in tourism spreads right across the Government, that their concern is very great and that the efforts of everybody who is working in tourism in any form are very much appreciated.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Birk very much for her reply. I cannot say that I agree with everything she said, but this is not the opportunity or the time to enter into a long discourse. I should also like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. A great number of most useful and interesting points have been made. I think every noble Lord who took part managed to raise a new point and not to repeat points which had been made earlier. With those words, my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.