HC Deb 27 July 1998 vol 317 cc8-10
8. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

What plans he has to implement the recommendations of the domestic tourism working group. [50774]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith)

The domestic tourism working group is one of nine working groups formed from the Tourism Forum that are helping me to devise a comprehensive strategy for tourism. We are looking at how best to make use of their ideas, which will form part of the strategy that we shall publish later this year.

Dr. Ladyman

There are two major seaside towns in my constituency—Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Broadstairs has a well-defined brand image, but needs to build business. Ramsgate needs to go through a more dramatic regeneration. Following the work of the working party, what assistance might those two seaside towns and other similar towns get?

Mr. Smith

We are working with the tourism strategy working group to produce a strategy document on tourism policy in October. We are looking specifically at the particular needs of seaside resorts. The need to boost domestic tourism—encouraging British people to take at least some of their holiday in Britain—must be one of the central features of tourism policy for the coming decade.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Is it not an insult to the tourism industry that the Secretary of State should make his announcements away from the House, particularly when they herald the abolition of the English tourist board? Surely the domestic tourism working group relies on a strong independent central voice as well as the regional development aspects of the Department, which, as the Secretary of State knows, I have long supported.

The difficulties that I have with my voice this afternoon are a result not of the British hospitality industry, but of the excellence of British dentistry.

Mr. Smith

Coming from a member of the Government that cut so savagely the funding for tourism in this country—

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

And dentistry.

Mr. Smith

I forbore to mention dentistry.

I am afraid that the right hon. Lady's comment is a bit rich. We have ring-fenced the funding to support English tourism. However, we have sensibly asked whether the current structures for delivering that support are the right ones. People across the tourism industry are asking that. It is important that we get the issues right. That is why we are consulting the industry, local authorities and interested people during the next month and a half. We want to get the answers right—the right hon. Lady did not.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on hanging on to his job; nobody is more delighted than I that he has done so. May I join those who are asking him to apologise for failing to explain to the House on Friday the consequences of his meddlesome departmental review? If he feels the need to behave like a control freak, we might at least be told why. Will he admit that, in contrast to the bland reassurances that we have just heard, he sounded on Friday the death knell of the English tourist board, against the interests and wishes of thousands of small businesses?

Mr. Smith

We tabled the written answer at 9 o'clock on Friday morning and provided all relevant documents to the House of Commons Library, as, indeed, would be only right and proper. I am astonished, though, that, after such a major series of announcements on Friday about improvements in the arts, museums, sports and tourism, and a radical change in the way in which we approached those matters, the only point on which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends can fasten is the timing of the announcement. Is it not about time that we had some grown-up opposition?

Mr. Ainsworth

There is plenty in that document to consider and criticise, such as the abandonment of the arm's-length principle and massive Government interference across the board, but let me return to the tourism industry. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the speech made by the chairman of the English tourist board only last week, in which he drew attention to the grave concern expressed by the industry about the then rumours that the English tourist board would be abolished? Did not a recent telephone poll by Travel Weekly[Laughter.] That laughter from Labour Members shows their extraordinary ignorance. The publication is the leading weekly trade journal of the important tourism industry. The poll revealed 97 per cent. support in the industry for enhancing and strengthening the English tourist board.

Before the Secretary of State sets out on his flight to Tuscany, still heaving sighs of relief, will he please reflect on the fact that he will be returning later in the year to an industry that has had to put up with not only the lousy weather, for which we do not blame the Government—[Interruption.] It is tempting to do so, but I shall not. However, we shall blame the Government, as will the tourism industry, for the Chancellor's high tide of the pound. The industry will not forgive the Government for trampling on its hopes and aspirations like small boys on sand castles.

Mr. Smith

What an interesting speech. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to hear what the English tourist board said on Friday. It said: The ETB welcomes the DCMS' recognition of its Agenda 2000 consultation in formulating clearer priorities for supporting English tourism. Just a few weeks ago, the British Hospitality Association said: The industry has never received so much interest from Government and we are happy that we have built up a very fruitful relationship". The chairman of the Tourism Society said: It is extremely regrettable that the Select Committee report created such a critical impression when the reality is the opposite". I prefer to listen to them than the hon. Gentleman any day.