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Visit Britain: Chairman

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2006

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made towards the appointment of a new chairman for VisitBritain.

My Lords, because of the importance of the post, further applications are being sought from suitably qualified candidates to supplement those already received, following advertisement of the vacancy in the national press. Our objective is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport should make the appointment this autumn.

My Lords, I realise that the Minister is somewhat removed from this particular situation—I say that in the nicest way—but does he accept that the chairmanship of VisitBritain should be a much coveted position that involves leadership of our tourism sector at home, relations with the Government, the media, the RDAs and Scottish and Welsh tourism, and a huge ambassadorial role overseas, especially with the build-up to the Olympics? The idea that it is a two-day-a-week position—or even less, as is apparently now suggested by the Government—is ludicrous and an insult to the industry. Seemingly, there is not even a peerage at the end of that role. I believe that the chairmanship should be a near full-time position that is paid appropriately and sufficiently to attract a high-calibre individual who is capable of carrying our national tourism banner with professionalism, authority and energy.

My Lords, the remuneration that is on offer and the time required should attract good candidates, and we expect it to do so. I hear what the noble Lord says about the need for a full-time appointment. That is not the view of the Government, nor do I think that it is the general view of the tourist industry, except that, by definition, it would hope for the maximum time possible. This post has been filled in the past as a part-time appointment. It is important and requires leadership. That is why we want good candidates to come forward and that is why we have extended the timescale to make sure that we do have good applications.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the noble Lord, Lord Lee, was Minister for tourism in another place? I followed him into that position, whereupon he promptly defected to the Lib Dems. I am not sure whether that is connected. However, I find myself again agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Lee. Is it not the case that the industry, which is worth £14 billion a year to the economy, should have an important person leading it? To cut the number of days a month for the job from eight to six is disgraceful.

My Lords, I am grateful for the potted biography that the noble Viscount presented. I was aware of the credentials of the noble Lord, Lord Lee. We have reduced the time because we want the highest calibre of appointment. It is a part-time post; nothing comparable to it has ever been a full-time post. We expect a contribution to be made from someone who is working professionally the rest of the time in a high-level occupation but who can bring those skills to bear on this responsibility. We have no doubt that just as in the past VisitBritain has been served well at senior level, it will be in the future.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in light of the overstretched transport and other facilities in London, more should be done by all the organisations concerned to ensure that visitors from abroad go to all sorts of other places in the United Kingdom apart from the capital?

My Lords, that is certainly the case. It is part of the requirement for the post that the chairman succeeds in identifying the other attractions of Britain apart from London, but we face the obvious fact that a very high percentage of visitors to Britain come to London because it is one of the greatest tourist centres in the world.

My Lords, is not the lack of attention paid by the DCMS over the chairmanship of VisitBritain entirely consistent with the approach taken by other parts of Government? The Minister will of course remember the letter from the Prime Minister to the Secretary of State in May which set out seven challenges for the DCMS—the 2012 Olympics, the BBC charter, digital switchover and so it goes on, with not a single mention of tourism. How can the Minister explain that, when tourism accounts for some 6.5 per cent of gross domestic product?

My Lords, if the noble Lord is about to list the achievements of the Government I offer him every encouragement, but, in addition to winning the Olympic Games, there is the success of tourism. He may not have noticed—the House will have done—that tourism increased by 9 per cent last year in this country, and its value by 8 per cent. It is a growth industry because we have increasingly attractive provision for overseas tourists. Noble Lords opposite may suggest a picture of gloom, but this, far from it, is a picture of undoubted success under a Labour Administration.

My Lords, the salary is £45,155 per year for around six days per month. That should attract high-level candidates.