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Volume 767: debated on Tuesday 22 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to give further recognition and support to the tourism sector, in the light of the number of jobs being created in that sector and the future growth potential.

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.

My Lords, our five-point plan for tourism makes clear the Government’s support for our tourism industry. The spending review reiterated this by increasing GREAT funding and providing a £40 million Discover England fund to provide direct investment to support growth and tourism in England, specifically ensuring that overseas visitors explore beyond London. We have revamped the English Tourism Council, with a focus on jobs and skills, and have established a Business Visits and Events Board to support business tourism.

Having pleased the tourist industry by leaving the core funding unchanged and lifting the GREAT moneys, as the Minister referred to, and by allocating £40 million to its Discover England Fund, the Government now have sadly shot themselves in the foot by merging VisitEngland, which markets England domestically, with VisitBritain, which markets all Britain overseas. Does the Minister realise that this subsuming, without any industry consultation, flies in the face of what the DCMS Select Committee, then chaired by the present Secretary of State, recommended, arguing for a clear delineation of separate roles? Does he realise that this has caused the 52 tourism trade bodies and key individuals in tourism to write to the Secretary of State strongly objecting, caused the chief executive of VisitEngland to resign in protest and severely compromised the relationship of VisitScotland and Visit Wales with VisitBritain? Now England joins an exclusive club of two—Chechnya and the Vatican—in not having a stand-alone tourist board.

I think that what the noble Lord is trying to say is how important it is that English tourism has a strong voice. However, this is not a merger. VisitEngland is already part of the British Tourist Authority, which trades as VisitBritain and VisitEngland. All we are doing is clarifying governance arrangements and lines of accountability with the BTA. This will ensure that there is clarity of direction, and will drive efficiency and effectiveness.

My Lords, at the start of Questions there is no official line to say who is next. I urge that one noble Lord give way to the other.

My Lords, given that tourism is an important economic industry, rather than fiddling around with existing successful structures, would the Government not be better advised to place tourism under the aegis of BIS or, at the very least, to include it in the title of the department where it currently finds itself, that of Culture, Media and Sport? Why not add tourism to the title to give it the energy that is required to treat it seriously?

My Lords, we do treat tourism extremely seriously, as was made apparent in the recent spending review. DCMS takes 1% of spending but contributes a sixth to the UK economy. We must also remember that employment in the UK tourism industry has increased from 2.66 million to 2.81 million jobs; that is almost twice the rate of non-tourist-related industries. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said about where tourism’s natural home is, and must admit that I feel it is in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

My Lords, at a time when the cathedrals and parish churches of this country, some of our greatest tourist attractions, are very much in the news, could my noble friend spare a moment to give thanks for all those volunteers without whom many of our tourist attractions, including those owned by the National Trust, could not properly function?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right in what he says on one of his most important subjects—he continually refers to the cathedrals and churches. He is right to congratulate the volunteer work done by so many people for no recompense whatsoever but for the sheer love of looking after these great areas.

My Lords, given that the Government warmly welcome the contribution of the creative industries to tourism, and will, I am sure, seize the opportunity to do so again today, is it nevertheless a matter of regret that the five core subjects announced in June for the baccalaureate for secondary schools exclude music and art?

My Lords, the noble Lord and I took part in a debate only last week about the music industry and small venues. Many of us reiterated during it how important music is, as far as exports are concerned, for the overall economy. The noble Lord also talked about education relating to music. As far as GCSE music is concerned, there is a rise in that sector, but of course we all take due account of what the noble Lord said.

The Minister interpreted the Question again but, on the key point, why the U-turn, bearing in mind that the department and the Select Committee reinforced the need for separation between VisitEngland and VisitBritain? What has caused this U-turn? Is it the Chancellor of the Exchequer cutting off his nose to spite his face, or does the Minister have an alternative view?

My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, the whole issue relating to the triennial review, which I think is what the noble Lord is getting to grips with, is that it was brought in by the Public Bodies Act 2011, in the early part of the coalition Government. We remain committed to the principle of the review, including the importance of ensuring clarity of roles for the tourist boards. But, as I said earlier, we have decided not to proceed with the separation of the two bodies because greater collaboration will enable us to extend the reach and impact of both brands. Separation would also incur costs and we decided that the money could be better spent on growing the visitor economy.