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Brexit: Tourism

Volume 795: debated on Tuesday 19 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to guarantee the adequate staffing of tourism and hospitality projects following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

My Lords, the Government have been clear that we want EU nationals who have built their lives here to remain and that EU nationals will continue to be able to work or study in the UK. We will continue to engage with the sector on the future immigration system, which will cater for a range of skill levels across sectors. The tourism sector deal is in negotiation, and it has a strong focus on future-proofing the sector.

Is the Minister aware that KPMG forecasts that we will lose 1 million workers in the tourism industry over the next few years? In Llandudno—where I am from of course—there is great concern over tourism job losses. Not only that, but there is a threat to Welsh agriculture following our new status and the threat of a possible loss of 7,000 jobs at Airbus. In Parliament, I am told that over half of our catering staff are from outside the United Kingdom. Do the Government wish to be remembered for causing the worst recession in nearly a hundred years?

No, my Lords. Tourism in Wales, to which the noble Lord referred, is a devolved competence and Visit Wales is in charge of that as part of the Welsh Government, but I am not going to rely on that. We have been engaging with the sector extensively over the last two years, and we are aware of the immigration priorities. The sector has submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee on the shortage occupation list. In respect of specific levers to mitigate workplace shortages, we need to improve productivity, invest in skills and career development, and reduce high turnover. These are a key focus of the proposed tourism sector deal, which has now entered into formal negotiations; we hope to announce it shortly.

My Lords, I understand that the review body has accepted the case for farm workers being given a special deal after Brexit. Who has this review group been talking to? Is it talking to tourism industry groups and musicians et cetera? It seems to me to have lost the ability to see what is going on in the economy.

I do not know what review group the noble Lord is referring to, but I can assure him that, via the Tourism Industry Council, the tourism sector is engaging and the Home Office has said it will engage on the issue of seasonal workers. We need a provision, where if an industry is reliant on seasonal workers, like some agriculture is, the future immigration system is capable of handling that.

Would my noble friend like to bring a sense of balance to this discussion, and perhaps some common sense?

Thank you. Like other Members of this noble House, has my noble friend noticed the latest employment figures from today? They show a record number of jobs in the UK economy, a fall—again—in unemployment and a record level of women in employment: the highest number of women employed in our economy in our history. Does he not think that that should be emphasised rather more than all the doom and gloom we keep getting?

Of course, I agree with my noble friend that it should be emphasised. The issue this brings for certain sectors is whether they can compete in attracting the workforce. As far as the tourism industry is concerned, this sector deal will try to address that, because we need a higher-wage economy which will increase productivity. We need to use things such as automation and training to avoid the turnover that exists in the tourism industry. However, I certainly agree with my noble friend that the Government’s record on employment is excellent.

My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to say at the Dispatch Box that any university student who is offered a place by a British university, as registered under the Higher Education Act, and anybody employed as a researcher or an academic at those universities, will be able to come here without any question being raised about how much they are earning?

I think it would be foolish of me to make Home Office policy at the Dispatch Box without having considered it very carefully, but I will look at what the noble Lord says and tell my noble friend from the Home Office about it.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, referred to high employment. That is the very problem: hotels and restaurants in the tourist industry, in Wales and elsewhere, are unable to find labour. Some of the workers who had come from continental Europe are going back, partly because of the value of the pound and partly because of uncertainty. In these circumstances, there needs to be a positive programme to ensure the availability of labour; otherwise, industries such as tourism, which are vital to Snowdonia and elsewhere, will crumble.

I am sure that Visit Wales is addressing the problems for the tourist industry in Wales. As I said, the tourism sector deal is trying to raise career prospects in the tourism industry by increasing skills, reducing turnover and enabling technology such as automation to help. From 2021, the new immigration system will address some of those points, and the Home Office has clearly said that it will engage over the next few months—that is the point of a White Paper.

The Government have introduced a seasonal agricultural workers scheme to address that sector’s reliance on migrant labour to do seasonal work. This is very much to be welcomed. Could the Minister explain when the Government plan to do the same for the tourism industry, which faces exactly the same problems and brings into the UK economy £127 billion a year?

The noble Baroness is correct: it represents 4% of the UK’s GVA, so it is an important sector, as I mentioned. I completely understand the issue. The only specific exception that the immigration White Paper has talked about so far is for seasonal workers in agriculture. There is a case to look at other industries, such as tourism, and that is why the Home Office has said it will engage. We at DCMS will certainly liaise and engage with the tourism sector—there is a meeting of the Tourism Industry Council next month.

My Lords, do the Government know exactly how many workers have been lost to the hospitality and tourism industry in the last couple of years, even before Brexit happens? What are the Government doing to assist those companies that feel they might close down?

The issue is rather the other way: the tourism industry has increased dramatically. The number of visitors has increased. I am not aware that the number of jobs has fallen; I think it is the reverse. There is a shortage of labour that has been filled from the EU. That is why, in the next two years, we will encourage and welcome EU workers. That is why we have said that, until the new immigration system comes in, those who are here already are very welcome to stay and work.