HL Deb 26 June 2001 vol 626 cc209-12

2.51 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will now give the English Tourism Council the leadership role foreseen in their Tourism For Tomorrow strategy and restore its marketing functions with appropriate funding as originally exercised by the English Tourist Board.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the English Tourism Council has a focused remit that allows it to provide leadership to the industry. The ETC retains a strategic policy overview of marketing, carries out relevant research, and advises on best practice. It is the British Tourist Authority's job to market abroad and that of the regional tourist boards and the industry itself to do so within England. There are no plans to change the ETC's remit, and a recent three-year funding agreement sets out clear responsibilities for the ETC to deliver against demanding targets.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, in warmly welcoming the Minister to her first visit to the Dispatch Box on behalf of tourism, and in declaring an interest, perhaps I may ask whether she is aware of the deep concern and disillusionment felt by many in the tourism industry that, in spite of the current crisis, there was no mention of tourism in any of the announcements from Downing Street. There was no mention of who would do what, of which ministry tourism would come under or of which Ministers would be involved in the running of tourism in the country. Surely a Minister of State should have been appointed to make quite sure that joined-up government was effective.

Does the Minister also accept the strong view in the industry that the structural changes introduced by the previous government—namely, the subsuming of the English Tourist Board and the establishment of the English Tourism Council with no powers—were a grave error, and that flawed legislation made it incapable of reacting authoritatively at the time of the foot and mouth crisis? Is it not clear that a new review is needed to ensure that things go better in the future?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Lord has posed a number of questions. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for tourism and for the tourist industry. Responsibility remains within that department. My honourable friend Kim Howells is Minister for Tourism. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the industry is in capable hands.

It is not true that the remit of the English Tourism Council is unduly restricted. The council has an important strategic role to play in examining ways in which we can develop our tourist industry, which is an important one, as everyone is fully aware. So far as concerns the recent foot and mouth crisis, the Government have put additional money into the marketing of tourism in Britain and abroad.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, the Minister describes accurately the situation today. Might one be forgiven for thinking that with the bodies that she has described acting in the way that they do the tourist industry could be facing a gap in its promotional efficacy? All this is against a background over a number of years of a tourism deficit. More people are going abroad to spend money than are coming to Britain. There are structural problems for the industry. To put it at its simplest, transport and good quality, cheap hotels are needed. Can that be done given the present set-up? Would it not be better to allow the English Tourism Council greater responsibility and greater funding in order to deal with these basic problems?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I accept the importance of joined-up thinking and a joined-up system to ensure that we get as many people as possible to visit the UK. However, I remind the noble Viscount that Britain remains fifth in the world in terms of the number of international tourist visits. But, of course, we need to do more to get people within England to visit the many marvellous tourist spots in this country.

It is important to retain clear boundaries between the responsibilities of the different organisations; otherwise, there will be nothing but confusion and muddle. It is for the BTA to market tourism abroad; it is for the regional tourist boards and for the industry itself to market tourism around the country. I accept that in the particular case of foot and mouth disease it was necessary to do something more. The English Tourism Council was given extra funding to do just that.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, will my noble friend acknowledge that the ETC has added considerably to the value of the work of the regional tourist boards in promoting domestic tourism, especially through its thematic programmes? I refer, for example, to sports tourism and country house tourism. But is it not time that this country started taking tourism seriously as an industry? Ought we not to implement the Government's Tourism for Tomorrow strategy in full today?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government do take the tourism industry extremely seriously. It is a major contributor to our economy. I agree with my noble friend that the ETC is doing an excellent job in carrying out the necessary research. It is also doing a very good job in attempting to raise standards in the industry; that is the key to encouraging more people to come to this country. Together with the AA and the RAC, there is now a joint quality standards scheme for all serviced accommodation. I believe that the scheme is working well.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Scottish tourist industry is allowed to spend £14 million on marketing in the domestic market and the Welsh tourist industry £9 million? The Minister has reinforced the point regarding the strategic role of the English Tourism Council. However, the English Tourism Council is not allowed to spend any money on the direct marketing of English tourism in England. What is now happening, for example, is that there are advertisements in Manchester by the Scottish Tourist Board encouraging people to go fell or highland walking in Scotland, but there is no advertising for walking in the Lake District, although that is the area that has been so badly hit as a result of foot and mouth disease.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, it is a matter for the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly to decide what they want to spend on marketing their own tourism. I can confirm the sums mentioned by the noble Baroness. I readily accept that the Lake District is one of the areas hardest hit by foot and mouth disease. It is up to the regional tourist board in that area to try to get tourism back on track as soon as the situation improves. It has been allocated extra government money via the English Tourism Council to do just that.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, in replying to my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, the Minister spoke of three-year funding for the ETC. Will she advise the House when that funding started; and is it three years rolling, or three years finite?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the ETC was set up in 1999 and funding began at that time. I cannot give the exact basis on which the funding will move forward, but I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord.