Tourism

Petition – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1979.

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2 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Thanet West

Tourism represents many facets of our life. The beautiful countries in which we live, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, are represented by the English, Welsh and Scottish tourist boards with the support of the British Tourist Authority. They cover villages, lakes, historic houses, public houses, theatres, fine arts, music festivals, shooting, riding, racing, sport of many kinds, the need for conferences and the infrastructure that is necessary in this country—for example, the South-West, which needs water and sewerage, and the South-East, where most conference centres are needed.

To co-relate tourism is a difficult task and it was one in which we felt that Back Benchers might well be able to assist the Government, strengthen the Ministry and help to raise the status and prestige of this vital industry. Therefore, for the first time in the House a specialised committee has been set up for the purpose. I shall be in the chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Rom-ford (Mr. Neubert), with his knowledge of tourism and trade, is vice-chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) is the secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), with his knowledge of Northern Ireland, will look after Northern Ireland affairs, and my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) will look after the London interest. Welsh interests will be looked after by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best), Scottish interests by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Mackay), the interests of the West by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Colvin), my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), with his considerable knowledge of these matters, will tender his advice, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) will look after the interests of the North-West. These are only some of the hon. Members who will try to take up the particular interests of the regional areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich, who has sponsored a Bill on licensing, will pursue that and the question of the Shops Acts.

The committee representing these direct interests will be of assistance to the Minister and to those concerned with heritage and the infrastructure of the Ministry of Transport and other matters. We recognise that it is not a question of asking the Government for money, and we are not aiming to do that in any way. We are aiming to see what improvements can be made within the budget and to discover the many aspects where improvements can be made with little or no cost.

There is a need for staggered opening hours for petrol stations. It has been felt by those abroad that they could not visit the country as there might well be a petrol shortage and they might not be able to travel to Scotland. There has been a marked fall in the summer's tourist intake into Scotland. The Minister, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Transport, should make plain that that is not the case. Much could be done to secure staggered weekend opening hours of petrol stations to meet the need where it is necessary. However, there is abundant petrol in Scotland for all those who wish to go there and there is no truth in the suggestion that visitors will find themselves in difficulty and short of petrol.

Passing from that matter of immediate need, I turn to what I believe to be the most important matter—the need for tourist development areas generally and not only in assisted areas. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, speaking at the ABTA luncheon this time last year, said: Her Majesty's Government would cease to single out only industrial development areas for special tourism projects. We have made it quite plain that our policy is to have special tourist projects, irrespective of the industrial development areas.

There have been many advantages hitherto for projects under section 4. About 1,000 projects have taken place and about 100 are being assisted. None of the projects is in the South or South-East of England because neither area is an assisted area. However, excellent projects are progressing in Cumbria, where there is a caravan project which will enable the area to be an effective gateway to the lakes. In Northumbria there is the Beamish industrial museum project.

In Yorkshire there is the North Yorkshire moors railway project, which is an admirable idea. Scarborough has the advantage of a good conference centre, plus the upgrading of many of its hotels. It should be noted that this privilege is in marked contrast to other resorts in other parts of the country.

In Buxton there is an opera house, and in the West Country, within the assisted areas, a great deal has been done to assist "winterizing" accommodation of the small hoteliers. All those projects are admirable, but what is not admirable is that they are limited to particular parts of the country. Those areas would not necessarily be chosen by those concerned in the English Tourist Board or in the regions. They are limited because they had to take place in industrial development areas. I hope that the matter can be looked at urgently and I hope it will be ensured that the EEC, which grants aid for many of these projects to the Treasury and thence to the boards and the particular project concerned, will be able to consider other areas for tourist development projects.

I trust that, with the full backing of the British Tourist Authority, we shall endeavour to promote Britain abroad. I hope that there will be no cuts in the authority's tiny budget. From everything that it spends we are rewarded many times over for its successful efforts.

Turning to legislation, we need to cut the licensing of buses and to amend the Sunday trading and Shops Acts. The Ministry of Trade can encourage the necessary legislation by the Home Office to secure that they are brought up to date. My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich takes a particular interest, as do I, in the possibility of changing the licensing laws. I believe that that can be done largely by all-party endeavours. Such action will benefit tourism considerably.

I hope that in the next Budget the tourist industry will be put on all fours with manufacturing industry. That would involve changing the allowance from 20 to 50 per cent, to put it on all fours with the capital building allowances. A cut in the development land tax could also be of great assistance to the industry.

I wish to deal with the subject of the registration of accommodation. On 30 July this year, for the first time, an order governing the price marking of food and drink in certain premises comes into effect. It will ensure that prices in hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, bars and so on will be known to clients. This is right and accords with the general run of events in other countries.

I hope that we shall be able, without invoking any bureaucracy, to take similar steps to ensure the proper registration of accommodation. This is required not only for hotels but for small boarding houses, guest houses and farm accommodation. It will enable tour operators to know what accommodation is avail- able. This can be done by precept through the local authorities, which have a great part to play in ensuring that people have the opportunity to advertise their services.

In return for such facilities, I believe that those who own accommodation should mark up on the doors of their premises the prices which they charge so that that information will be generally known. I do not share the view that such a system will require a paraphernalia involving inspectors. I believe that it can be undertaken by local authorities, in co-operation with local boarding house associations and the BHRCA. I hope that everybody will play a part in seeking a sensible system. If we operate the system in the right way, we shall enjoy all the facilities that we find on visits overseas, without the necessity for the bureaucracy which is so often associated with control. Linked with this desire is the growing part to be played by local authorities in promoting tourism.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade recently said that local authorities should be given greater discretion, within cash limits, to promote tourism. I hope that we shall carry that policy into effect and will encourage local authorities to play an effective part in tourism. This should relate not only to seaside resorts but to cities and towns throughout the country, including London. I emphasise the need to ensure that prices in all establishments are known and that the availability of accommodation is fully publicised.

I wish to refer to one matter which I know is close to the heart of the Minister. I hope that the Government, on behalf of tourists, will take up the cudgels with IATA. The power which IATA imposes on Brussels is well known, but, unfortunately, it militates against our interests in seeking lower fares and better facilities. I trust that we shall pursue a policy aimed at maintaining and encouraging air travel and lower fares.

Customs and immigration control go hand in glove with that policy. I trust that we will ensure that the procedures are adequate and that airports are cleaner and more efficient. In an earlier debate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) dealt in detail with immigration control. We recognise that many such controls relate to individual cases. I hope that we shall pursue the system which has recently been permitted at Manston in respect of immigration controls and customs procedures because such practices enable an airport to operate effectively. It is most important to see that the customs and immigration officers are available in sufficient numbers at airports and that the procedures are adequate for the job.

One could deal with a multitude of subjects under the label of tourism. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will liaise with our committee in order to create a co-related policy. There is still much to be done in assisting those who run historic homes. One appreciates that the EEC is always ready to give assistance in any transport infrastructure problems. A great deal can be achieved without the costs falling upon the Exchequer.

Although we may not require a Minister for tourism, I believe that it is essential for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to spend almost the whole of his time dealing with matters connected with tourism and aviation, because transportation is part and parcel of the success of the tourist industry.

I mention these matters in that new spirit, and I hope that we shall soon have further opportunities to deal with this problem. I appreciate that this is not an occasion on which my hon. Friend will wish to lay down any new lines of policy. However, I hope that he will be able to give the House some idea of the Government's plans to ensure that we maintain an industry which at present, for the first time, is showing a fall in the number of tourists coming to this country, following many years of immeasurable success. It is difficult, in the light of a strengthening pound, to keep the position stable. However, we shall be able to maintain the drive if we continue to act together in the right way.

2.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Waltham Forest Chingford

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) for giving the House the opportunity to discuss tourism. His brief opening survey of the industry showed a close interest and an expertise which have been gained over many years. My hon. and learned Friend was closely involved in the consultations over the Development of Tourism Act 1969. As a consequence of his interest, that legislation was improved during its progress through the House.

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on attracting such an array of talent to his parliamentary committee from among our colleagues, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), who is now present in the Chamber. I know that the members of the committee will be offering their help both to me and to the tourist industry in promoting tourism in Britain.

My hon. and learned Friend stressed the valuable contribution made by tourism to the economic well-being of the country, and indeed to our general well-being. Although we may find that occasionally tourists are filling what we think of as "our" theatres and other attractions in London and other points of tourist pressure, I believe that it behoves us to remember that many of those attractions would not be economic, and indeed in many cases would not exist at all, if it were not for the revenue provided by tourists who come to this country throughout the year. A record number of 12½ million overseas visitors came to Britain last year, and spending by those visitors earned the nation £2·5 billion. Even allowing for expenditure by our own countrymen on their visits and holidays abroad, we calculate that the net earnings to our tourist industry approach the figure of £1 billion. That puts tourism firmly in the top league of invisible earners.

I do not believe that we can expect to maintain the phenomenal growth of tourism that this country has experienced in recent years. That occurred mainly because holidays in the United Kingdom were extremely cheap. There is already, as my hon. Friend underlined, some evidence of a decline in tourist visits. That has happened principally because of the strength of sterling, which has changed the relative costs of holidays spent in this country compared with holidays abroad. I also believe that this winter's chaos had something to do with the fact that a great many tourists decided not to visit Britain. The newspaper headlines did not make encouraging reading for those overseas who were made aware of the industrial relations and economic chaos engendered by the then Labour Government.

Following that, we had the fuel crisis and the extremely unnerving stories of terrible petrol shortages in the regions. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West was right to mention those because, although the Government were able to do something about correcting the stories, the best and most effective correction was made by the tourist boards—the ETB, the Scottish and Wales boards and the English regional boards.

I am happy to confirm that there are no parts of England, or indeed the United Kingdom, which are without petrol. As my hon. and learned Friend said, there is a difficulty sometimes at weekends because garages tend to close, but that will soon be straightened out by normal competitive pressures. The tourist authorities and I will do anything we can to encourage garages to run, say, a roster system to make sure, especially in the more remote rural areas such as Scotland, that there is always somewhere that tourists can buy petrol even on a Sunday.

A number of points have been raised, and I shall do my best to answer them. On the subject of tax incentives for hotels, the Government are in favour of such incentives as a means of helping to regenerate the economy. In this respect, hotels have always qualified for the 100 per cent. allowance for investment in plant and equipment. They now qualify for an initial allowance of 20 per cent. of capital investment in buildings, and an annual writing-down allowance of 4 per cent. to hotels meeting specified requirements.

It is correct to say that that is less than they would receive if they were industrial buildings. A powerful case has been made that there should be some changes in that area. I had better not say more about my feelings in that respect, except that I am aware of the case that has been made. Equally, I am aware that my colleagues at the Treasury would be reluctant to do anything that would reduce unduly its take of tax in these hard times. However, there is a balance to be struck and I hope that it will be a balance that we can demonstrate as sensible to the requirements of both raising revenue and encouraging investment.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget, was able to introduce measures to help small businesses, which make up by far the greater part of the tourism industry. He raised the threshold of corporation tax and reduced the rate of development land tax. We will bear in mind the need for further action in that area.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the unfair exclusion of the tourist industry from State aid in non-assisted areas. That applies to all sorts of industry, and I think that it is perhaps unfortunate in some ways that so much of the tourist industry is in areas that are not assisted. The object of regional assistance has been directed towards, not particular industries, but problems of unemployment in the region. In general, there is not massive unemployment in the South-East, although I accept that in some of the traditional holiday areas there are high rates of unemployment. We are looking at those matters in a review of the tourist industry which I am undertaking to see how we can best help it.

I noticed what my hon. and learned Friend said about the problems of bus licensing and the licensing laws. Those matters are for my colleagues at the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport. I can assure him that the Department of the Environment has already told local authorities—in April—that they should be encouraged to participate in tourism activities. That and the extent to which they comply with our advice are matters that are best decided by the local authorities rather than by me from Whitehall.

There is a good case for registration of accommodation, but it must be voluntary. We should not attempt to take powers, and then enforcement powers, with a further bureaucracy and inspectorate devoted to chasing landladies around because they have not registered their accommodation. I shall not comment on other reasons, although I can hear some muttering in the Chamber.

There are excellent guides, especially abroad, which are extremely accurate in listing available accommodation and prices. Although we may not do that quite as well in this country, we do pretty well.

I recollect that a year or two ago I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) about hotels in his part of Scotland. He promptly supplied me with brochures from the Scottish Tourist Board which provided excellent lists and an excellent account of the facilities and prices of those hotels.

My hon. and learned Friend raised the question of my dual responsibilities—more than dual, indeed. I am responsible for the airline industry, the provision of airports, and tourism, and I think that it is the first time that those topics have found their home in one section of one Department. It is helpful that I should have all those responsibilities together.

I am aware of the problems of the somewhat high fares in Europe, and in some areas the fares are very high indeed. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, the IATA fare-fixing edifice has been crumbling fast in recent years, principally due to the entrepreneurial activities of Sir Freddie Laker and others like him. In addition, we have begun to accomplish real reductions of fares in Europe. I think that we will continue to obtain those reductions within the limits of what is possible considering such problems as the price of fuel. Even the traditionally non-competitive airlines are beginning to accept that in the modern competitive world they will have to keep their fares down or they will go to the wall.

I take the point made by my hon. and learned Friend about the possibilities of gaining from funds available through the European Community for the assistance of industry. I should not like to attempt, in the time available to me, to go very far into those matters. However, we are looking to see in what way we can use the European regional development fund, to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, and the other funds—principally, for example, those made available by the European Investment Bank.

There are considerable difficulties in the way of both of those, not least because the funds are available only in designated assistance areas. If we are to overcome that problem we must see either whether it would be possible to designate tourist areas or whether we could persuade our partners in Europe to take a slightly different view of the tourist industry from that which they take of other parts of assistance to the regions.

I am not unduly optimistic about either of those prospects, but certainly we will do our best to ensure that any money that is available from Europe will be directed to the tourist industry wherever possible.

There are one or two other matters that my hon. and learned Friend raised that affect other Departments, notably the problem of customs and immigration controls at airports. I have been well aware of the problems there and have asked my colleagues to see what they can do to help.

As my hon. and learned Friend said, there are so many matters that one could raise about this industry. He has raised a number of them and, to the best of my ability, I have dealt with them briefly. I look forward to co-operation between my Department and my hon. and learned Friend's new committee and, indeed, the boards and other authorities concerned with tourism. I hope that when I review these matters with the assistance of the boards and my hon. Friends we shall find that the future for tourism in Britain will remain bright despite the temporary difficulties.