To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to introduce further regulation in the tourism sector.
My Lords, we continue to work hard to shape the regulatory framework so that it is underpinned by common sense, as outlined in the Government’s Tourism Action Plan. We are also working closely with the hospitality and tourism sector to identify areas where less, or indeed more, regulation would support additional growth.
I thank the Minister for his response, but there is concern in the tourism industry that regulation of the accommodation sector has not kept pace with technology and that some platforms are operating on the very margins of regulatory compliance. In the sharing economy, there is no distinct system in place to ensure that adequate fire and safety standards are enforced. There is also no legal requirement to ensure that hosts purchase public liability insurance. What will the Government do to rectify this and would the Minister be willing to meet me and representatives of the industry to discuss it?
My Lords, I take the noble Baroness’s point seriously. We are of course concerned not to overregulate but to support the industry. However, we understand that the most important thing is the safety of all travellers, whether domestic or from further afield, and we will consider any proposal that results in a safer or enhanced experience for tourists in the UK. The guidelines for smaller businesses are currently being reviewed by the National Fire Chiefs Council, using input from a wide variety of accommodation providers, including Airbnb and the Bed and Breakfast Association. We have not yet come to a conclusion about a registration scheme, but the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism would be delighted to meet the noble Baroness.
Does the Minister accept that uncontrolled and unsuitable tourist development can threaten the natural beauty and environment of many areas, especially in national parks? Will he therefore write to the directors of the national parks, including the Lake District National Park, reminding them of such?
I agree with the noble Lord but it is a question of balance. We want to encourage the tourism industry but a UNESCO world heritage site, for example, attracts an increased number of visitors. We generally promote and accept that but I understand the concerns about overtourism. We are working hard to ensure that we maintain a sustainable balance in all tourist areas.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is now great abuse in the holiday letting sector, using premises that would normally be available for people in London to live in, and the Mayor of London has drawn attention to this. If tourism operators were regulated so that people had to prove that leases permitted them to let on a really short-term basis, would that not be helpful in controlling the completely unauthorised and illegal short lets that are doing such damage?
I am aware of my noble friend’s interest in this matter—we know that she has referred to the issue of leases before. However, a lease is a contract and the remedies for breach of that contract are the same as for a breach of any other contract. There is a potential £20,000 fine for hosts who exceed the 90-day limit, and we think that is a strong disincentive.
My Lords, further to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, I am grateful that the Government have belatedly identified the loophole whereby some second-home owners in tourist destinations avoid paying council tax by declaring that their property is available for letting but then avoid paying business rates by making no effort to let it. Can we be assured that, following the end of the consultation next month, the Government will act rapidly to close this loophole and bring benefit to legitimate holiday letting businesses, to local councils and to local communities, and that they will do so in time for next summer’s season?
I am informed by my noble friend sitting next to me, whose responsibility this is, that the department is looking at that precise question.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former president of Friends of the Lake District and currently as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. I assure the Minister that many of us feel that the parks should play a crucial role in tourist development—but tourist development to ensure that people have access to national parks. The Minister says that the Government are trying to maintain a balance between different interests, but will he agree that until recently it was specifically spelled out in legislation that scenic beauty and character were to take precedence in all decisions affecting development in national parks? They are not there as theme parks.
I cannot completely agree with the noble Lord, although I sympathise with his general approach. For example, if a village or town in a national park needs mobile signal, a mast may be necessary. I am afraid that the natural environment and natural beauty do not always take precedence.