HL Deb 10 May 2001 vol 625 cc1076-9

11.59 a.m.

Viscount Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What results they expect from £12 million they have committed to advertising British tourism abroad.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government have made available an additional £14.2 million rather than £12 million to the British Tourist Authority in this financial year, bringing total funding to £49.7 million. The BTA anticipates that that will set it on course to generate around £1.1 billion in additional expenditure by overseas visitors to Britain. The Government expect that to help to minimise any adverse effects of the foot and mouth outbreak on Britain's receipts from inbound tourism in 2001. We expect that tourism to the UK will receive a further boost in 2002, the Golden Jubilee year, and that demand will be stimulated for future years.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, the House will accept the figures given by the noble Lord and dissociate itself from his remarks as regards foot and mouth disease.

Is the Minister aware that when, on this coming Saturday, I lay out my Ray-Ban sunglasses and leather trousers in order to ride my motorcycle to the Cannes Film Festival—this is a serious business—I shall do so in the absolute certainty that on the way there I shall be travelling on good roads, eating good food, staying in a clean and cheap hotel and receiving excellent service? Will the Minister consider the remarks made by the influential Lonely Planet guide to Britain? Although complimentary about some of the attractions in this country, in its summary it offers the view that Britain is an expensive country with bad weather, undesirable food and questionable service.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, this is not the first occasion on which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, has sought to denigrate the attraction of Britain as a tourist destination in comparison with other countries. I do not say that his denigration is absolute, but certainly it is in contrast to what he says about other destinations. I have to say to the noble Viscount that the Government do not take that view. Income from inbound tourism has continued to increase over the years, so something must be going for this country, and the Government are not responsible for the weather.

Lord Crickhowell

My Lords, in view of the devastating damage still being caused to the tourism industry as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak, along with the fact that any upturn in inbound tourism is not likely to take place for some time to come, what steps will the Government take to help those parts of the tourist industry which will have the greatest difficulty surviving in any form until the upturn arrives?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the first role of the Government must be in line with the Question and Answer which has already taken place; namely, to try to overcome the problems by encouraging inbound tourism. That is exactly what the Government have been doing. In addition to those efforts, the Government have offered significant extra support for domestic tourism. Only this week we announced funding of £24 million for the regional development agencies' Rural Business Development Fund to help tourism in the worst hit areas. Grant aid of up to £15,000 is available to help small businesses. Assistance is offered with promotion to help encourage visitors to return. Furthermore, there has been an acceleration in rural regeneration projects. All this must be seen as complementary to our efforts to bring visitors back.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, is it not the case that Labour governments have helped the British tourism industry, as exemplified by the Development of Tourism Act 1969, while Conservative governments have failed to help, as exemplified by the airport departing passenger duty, which represents a stealth poll tax on American, Japanese and Korean visitors coming to this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. When I answered the third Question of this Parliament by stating, "My noble friend is absolutely right", I had been waiting 14 years to use those words. Now that I am answering the last Question of this Parliament, I am glad to have the opportunity to repeat myself.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I recognise that an awful lot of electioneering is taking place today, but I think the Minister will agree that it is the case that most tourism in this country is home generated. The injection of £24 million is rather pathetic and represents only peanuts for the regional development agencies. Although that sum is at least something, is there any chance that, during the last two days of this Government, some effort could be made to increase it by a factor of at least 100 per cent?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, over the last two days of this Parliament, Ministers will continue to carry out their duties. However, the noble Baroness will be aware that from this stage onwards it is not considered proper for new government ventures to take place.

I do not think that the financial help I outlined in response to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, is peanuts. The sum represents significant assistance. Furthermore, in addition to the help being offered to businesses themselves, we have made available additional funding of £3.8 million to the English Tourism Council. That money was not included in the figures cited in my original Answer. It has been made available on top of the very significant increases in real terms to funding over the current three-year period.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that his original Answer to the Question put by the noble Viscount was rather short on results overseas? Can he offer any tangible evidence of such results? I speak as someone whose American cousins are unwilling to come over to stay with me in Dorset because of the alleged foot and mouth outbreak.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I think that it is still early days to look for results in terms of bookings. Of course it is a fact that the BTA has recorded a significant decline in bookings, in particular from the United States and from some, but not all, European countries. However, the combination of direct marketing activity and the efforts being directed at encouraging travel agents and tour operators based in other countries to return to this country will, I am sure, achieve an effect over the coming months.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister slightly further on this point. Will be accept that this question is not of a party political or electioneering nature? I, too, have American friends who have expressed the fear that, if they visit this country, they will then take hoof and mouth—as they call it—back to the United States. Can the British Government issue a categorical denial that that is not in any way a possibility? Such a denial would greatly assist farmers, not least in my diocese, who have suffered as the result of both farming problems and the loss of bed-and-breakfast custom.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, not only could we do that; we have been doing so. Ministers, staff representatives of the British Tourist Authority in other countries and our Diplomatic Service have been energetic in their promotion of the truth about foot and mouth disease. Unfortunately, many people think that it is the same thing as BSE.