To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union would have on the United Kingdom’s tourism and hospitality industries.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.
My Lords, in 2014, visitors from the European Union spent a total of £9.6 billion in the UK. France and Germany were the largest markets. Withdrawal would mean putting that important industry at risk. Therefore the UK will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed EU.
With two-thirds of our overseas visitors coming from the EU and the hospitality sector being manned substantially by EU migrant workers, one understands why tourism and airline chiefs and trade bodies such as UKinbound and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association support us remaining in. Would Brexit not be an absolute disaster and a supreme folly for our tourism and hospitality sectors?
My Lords, I am aware of the public position of many of the tourist trade bodies. As the noble Lord, Lord Lee, mentioned, UKinbound has come out publicly to support remaining in the EU; 84% of its members believe that staying in the European Union is important for their business.
My Lords, does the Treasury not estimate that the pound might fall in the early stages of Brexit, which would be helpful to our tourism industry? When our economy inevitably strengthens later, will our elected Government not be able to lower our VAT rates, to the advantage of our tourism and other industries?
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is well aware, the tourist industry is of enormous importance to the United Kingdom. It employs nearly 3 million people and contributed £59.6 billion in economic output in 2013. As the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, said, nearly two-thirds of our inbound visitors—60%—were from the European Union.
My Lords, Britain’s museums and galleries are a major attraction for visitors from overseas—I declare an interest as a trustee of the British Museum—and they benefit from co-operation with equivalents across the EU. Does my noble friend the Minister have a view as to whether that co-operation would continue and thrive were we to stalk away from Europe?
My noble friend gives her point of view. I am sure that the different venue points that visitors come to in this country work with similar venues inside the European Union. I should say that 52% of EU holiday visitors visit gardens and parks, 49% go to the pub, and 42% visit museums or galleries, so when visitors come to the United Kingdom, a large number of them visit those sorts of attractions.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that continuing EU membership is also important for the arts and cultural industries more generally, not least in permitting artists—indeed, all citizens—to work, travel and study abroad without question, enabling cultural exchange, which is of mutual benefit to all countries?
My Lords, the noble Earl is well informed on matters of the arts. The actual exchange is very important; visitors come to this country and visit art galleries, and people of all nations of the European Union are enabled to come to this country on tourist visas.
My Lords, given that tourism and hospitality is the quintessential single market industry, could the Government not do more, for instance by reviewing the decision on air passenger duty and the moneys given to VisitEngland and other organisations that help to promote this most dynamic of all industries?
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, is quite right about the dynamism of this industry. He also mentioned the VisitEngland programme, which tries to ensure that more people come to visit the United Kingdom and that once they come to the United Kingdom, particularly to the capital, London, they venture outside London to visit attractions all over the United Kingdom.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that EU environmental law on wildlife and habitats protection, clean beaches and clean rivers and so on, as well as EU funding for those purposes, helps to maintain our country and its countryside as green, pleasant and inviting, and that Brexit could undermine all that?
As far as our green and pleasant land is concerned, I am very happy to live in the Cotswolds, where I have had much to do with the environment over many years. I am sure that the noble Baroness is correct in what she said.
My Lords, does my noble friend not think that the Government are in danger of looking ridiculous by arguing that, if we left the European Union, people from Europe would not want to come to this great country, because they come from every country in the globe?
My Lords, I respect my noble friend enormously—in fact, I served in his department when I first joined the Front Bench many years ago—but as regards tourism to this country, being part of the European Union certainly makes it easier for people to come and visit here.
My Lords, this must be the first time since I joined your Lordships’ House that we have not used a question about tourism to talk about British Summer Time, which I am not going to do. I was pleased to hear the noble Earl make a positive statement about the upcoming European referendum, and long may he continue to do so. But when he thinks about it, can he also think about the issues that currently affect tourism, including the difficulty that many people have in getting tourist visas, as that would make a huge difference?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct, and Her Majesty’s Government are looking at ways of making tourist visas easier to obtain. As a result of our recent visit to China, visas obtained there will make it easier to visit the United Kingdom.