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English Tourist Board

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 2 July 1998

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3.14 p.m.

Why they are considering abolishing the English Tourist Board.

My Lords, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review every department has been required to look critically at whether the best possible use is being made of public money. Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are looking at all aspects of the department's work and that of its sponsored bodies, including the English Tourist Board. No final decisions have yet been made.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I welcome the fact that for the moment there are no definite plans to abolish the English Tourist Board. Does the Minister feel that the Government have the balance right, when grant-in-aid to the Scottish Tourist Board is nearly £5 per head and to the Welsh Tourist Board £6, but only 25p. per head to the English Tourist Board?

My Lords, although I answer for the whole Government, when I am asked about the English Tourist Board I do not prepare myself in relation to the other departments to which the noble Lord referred. His facts are right. They reflect the priorities that the Scottish Office and Welsh Office place on tourism in their areas. That is their right.

My Lords, if the English Tourist Board is to continue, does my noble friend agree that the approach must be to provide it with a reasonably level playing field? Is the situation not ridiculous when it is not even competing in the same league? Surely, if the board is to continue, which I hope it will, it should receive adequate funding similar to that being provided in other parts of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, as I acknowledged in response to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, it is certainly the case that there are great differences between the different countries within Great Britain. Expenditure by tourists in England, at £440 per head of population, is very much the same as it is in the other countries. To that extent my noble friend's fears are somewhat exaggerated.

My Lords, given the amount of assistance that the tourist trade provides to this country's balance of payments, would it not be the height of folly to get rid of the English Tourist Board?

My Lords, the tourist industry in this country is enormously important to our economy. I acknowledge that straightaway. The department is by no means neglecting tourism as part of its functions, even though the word "tourism" has been left out of its title.

What the Government can do for tourism includes not only the work of the national tourist boards but also of the British Tourist Authority and the regional tourist boards, as well as the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland tourist boards. The noble Lord should look at the whole range of government services to the tourist industry.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some of our representatives abroad who are trying to promote English tourism are seriously hampered by the fact that they have so little money to spend compared to other European countries, which spend a great deal of money in this country on their tourism?

My Lords, the budget for the British Tourist Authority is that which was left to this Government by the previous government and which we determined to continue. It is true that there are differences. However, there are possibilities: for example, greater efficiencies and economies through co-operation between the British Tourist Authority and the British Council in many parts of the world.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, with the forthcoming devolution of tourist interests to Scotland and Wales and to the rural development agencies, there is an ever-increasing need for co-ordination? If the regional development boards have separate tourist policies, as may well happen, it could do great damage to tourism nationally.

Yes, my Lords. When we see the final form of the devolution Bills and the Bill for the regional development agencies, I am sure that Ministers will agree with the noble Lord that that will have an effect on the operations and ethos of the British Tourist Authority. We have that very much in mind.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the admirable support for London which the Government are showing, taken together with the rumoured abolition of the English Tourist Board, might lead one to believe that the rest of country was being ignored? Can he give us an undertaking that in future government policy equal attention will be paid to the rest of the country?

My Lords, I shall certainly not fall into the trap of welcoming the noble Viscount's comments about our admirable support for London. That will lead the other regions to feel that they are being neglected. The noble Viscount asks me to say whether I have stopped beating my wife.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the English Tourist Board came into existence because of a Back-Bench revolt in the then Labour Government as a result of their neglect of the English dimension? Does he consider that perhaps the Government are running the risk of ensuring that they make history repeat itself?

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for his lessons in history. Since I have already said that no decisions have been taken about the sponsored bodies of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I do not think that I can answer his further supposition.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that however energetic tourist boards may be, the main difficulty facing the industry is the price in our hotels?

My Lords, tourism is one of those industries where the fundamental provision for accommodation is in the private sector. It is true that prices in hotels have been higher in this country than in the past, but the English Tourist Board is recording a welcome increase in the number of budget hotels. We have a remarkable range of bed-and-breakfast accommodation which is not equalled by many other countries of which I am aware.

My Lords, as a supplementary question to what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, will the Minister be kind enough to consider looking in Hansard at the proceedings in Standing Committee E on 18th March 1969 on the Development of Tourism Bill? The then Minister of State at the Board of Trade, who is now a Member of your Lordships' House, made a concession to cross-party views—from England, Scotland and Wales—to establish an English Tourist Board. He persuaded the Treasury that it was a right, wise and proper thing to do. If the noble Lord looks at that report, he may find that very good arguments were deployed by the Minister of State at that time for continuing the board as it now is.

My Lords, was not the Minister of State at that time a Mr. W.T. Rodgers? I am grateful to him for his history lesson.

My Lords, in the answer given by the Minister, he tended to imply that the responsibilities of the English Tourist Board, the British Tourist Authority and the regional tourism boards are identical. They are not. They have quite specific responsibilities. Does he agree that there is a great responsibility on the Government to ensure that our seaside resorts are looked after? They depend on tourism. The Minister will also remember that it was the Opposition, when in government, who over 10 years reduced the grant to the English Tourist Board from £29 million to now just under £5 million?

My Lords, the House is very much indebted to all noble Lords for the history lessons. If I implied that the role of the different bodies was identical, I apologise. I did not mean to. I meant, of course, that they are complementary.