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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:42 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Chair, Finance Committee (Lords) 4:42 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, I want to focus the attention of the House on an industry that brings £127 billion a year to the UK economy, attracts £24 billion of spending in the UK from abroad, contributes a further £7 billion a year in tax and provides 3 million jobs in the UK. That industry is tourism. It is therefore regrettable once again to see no mention of the industry in the Queen’s Speech, especially since urgent reform of regulation around failed airlines is now needed.

The tourism industry has great potential and I want to set out some specific proposals to harness that potential. Hospitality is, by definition, both international and hierarchical. It provides jobs all over the world, the majority of which are entry level. We therefore want to see the Government work with industry to help young people, in particular, by doing two things. First, we want them to use access-level jobs, say in a McDonald’s or a Burger King, as a gateway to international placements in those businesses, enabling young people without the means to “go travelling” to work for the company in another country. With a guaranteed job to go to and an income, they would have the opportunity to learn a language and experience living in another part of the world—an opportunity they would never otherwise have.

Secondly, there should be clear ladders and pathways for young people working in the industry to progress. Someone decanting chips into cardboard containers today should have the chance to become a chef tomorrow, if they wish. Someone cleaning bedrooms in a hotel today should have the opportunity to learn about the economics of the business and to progress into management. Initiatives like these could be life changing for those people who benefit, but it will take a concerted effort by government to get the big companies engaged in the agenda. The tourism sector deal is welcome, but it does not go anything like far enough. What is needed is a real partnership between business and the state.

UK tourism brings great benefits to host communities and for many places in Britain it is the very life-blood of the economy, but it comes with challenges. Populations increase exponentially during the summer season, placing a strain on local infrastructure. Some seaside towns with an excess of cheap property have become home to the very difficult HMO market. On the other side of the coin, some local housing markets are distorted by second home ownership and short-term lets. Both increase property purchase prices and put local rents beyond the reach of people who grew up in the area.

I therefore urge the Minister to consider three proposals: first, creating a planning use class for second homes so that young people can remain living locally and contribute to the local economy; secondly, allowing councils—as the Scottish Government are allowing in Edinburgh—to introduce a tourist levy on hotel rooms, with the money raised being ring-fenced for the benefit of the visitor economy; thirdly, and most substantively, legislating for councils to run a statutory registration scheme for all guest accommodation, which would permit both control over the number of short-term lets in a given place and a revolution in consumer safety.

It might have gone unnoticed that Airbnb, a principal player in the guest accommodation market, is trying to play both poacher and gamekeeper by launching a “voluntary” registration scheme of its own. This will allow the good players to opt in, leaving the bad ones free to opt out. By proposing this, Airbnb has acknowledged the problem but is avoiding a genuine solution; what we urgently need is a mandatory scheme administered by councils and funded by fees from the accommodation platforms. Registration and spot inspections would drag up standards, ensuring, for example, that every property marketed to the public has a working smoke alarm. The fact that it is legal to let properties without a smoke detector is nothing short of a scandal and a tragedy waiting to happen.

It is time to upgrade the status of tourism within the Government themselves by reorganising DCMS as a department for tourism, culture, communications and sport. That would give the industry, which has had 15 tourism Ministers in 20 years, a consistent senior voice at the Cabinet table, speaking up for this vital sector of our economy. I urge the Minister to consider all of these proposals as a package which would work together and show clearly that tourism in the UK is thriving and that our country is open for business.