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House of Commons

Monday 29 June 1998

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Press Complaints Commission

1. Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): What meetings he has had with the Press Complaints Commission to discuss the effectiveness of the PCC code. [46311]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): I have had a number of meetings with Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. I welcomed the strengthening of the code of practice that was agreed on 19 December 1997, and I have made it clear that further changes should be considered to protect people in all walks of life.

Mr. Soley: I welcome that answer, but I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind the needs of children. For example, on 7 May the Daily Mail named and photographed a four-year-old child on its front page just because her mother had been sent to prison in unusual

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circumstances. Would the PCC not be more convincing if it intervened after publication to point out to editors that such cases fall well below the standards expected both in normal life and under the PCC code?

Mr. Smith: I know that my hon. Friend has corresponded with the newspaper concerned in that case. The PCC code agreed last December extends protection to children of school age, unless there is an overriding public interest in publishing details about them. Both the procedures followed by the PCC and complainants, and the nature of the public interest test require further consideration in the coming months.


2. Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole): What plans he has to encourage the growth of employment in the tourism industry. [46312]

The Minister for Film and Tourism (Mr. Tom Clarke): The new tourism strategy which we are developing with the tourism forum will seek to ensure that tourism fulfils its enormous job-generation potential, while the new deal will help to solve the industry's skill shortages and recruitment problems. The tourism and hospitality industry already supports 1.7 million jobs, and it is forecast to need many more people in future.

Mr. Fraser: I am interested in the Minister's professed interest in the tourism industry. Why has his Department consistently subordinated tourism to more glamorous and trivial matters?

Mr. Clarke: The plain and simple fact is that we have not. When I gave evidence to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, it was unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman appeared only for the last two minutes of it. I am not, therefore, surprised by his total ignorance of the Government's absolute commitment to a vital industry.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Has the tourism strategy examined the valuable, but neglected, British

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resource of historic buildings associated with the birth and development of the Labour movement? The Minister will be aware that the sole surviving Clarion house, which dates from the days of the old Independent Labour party, is in my constituency. It would encourage the people of Pendle if I could tell them that the Minister will take on board the development of a resource of which we have much in the north of England.

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend makes an extremely relevant point. That part of our country's heritage is important in attracting tourists. I am delighted that my hon. Friend mentioned his constituency, which I look forward to visiting. I know that, when he returns to Scotland, he will pay a visit to Robert Owen at Lanark and to the Summerlee heritage park in my constituency, which meets my hon. Friend's excellent point.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): What representations has the Minister received about the effect of the strength of the pound on the tourism industry? May I draw his attention to the profound gloom in the industry in Wales, which is combining with the collapse of livestock prices to lead to a crisis in the rural economy of Wales? Does the Minister accept that the combination of Government policies that are leading to the strength of the pound is having a serious effect on large parts of the country, and that the Government may have to pay a severe political price in the 1999 elections?

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point which was last discussed with me in Cardiff last Wednesday. The problems are transient, but I am happy to report that new figures show that expenditure by overseas tourists has declined by less than 1 per cent. on last year, which was a record year. Given the self-evident problems of the Asian market, the House will welcome the fact that expenditure from, for example, north America is up by 6 per cent. The Government are determined to build on those figures.

Design Promotion

3. Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): What role his Department is playing in promoting good design in (a) the media and (b) elsewhere. [46313]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): I visited the Royal College of Art's design, communications and humanities students' exhibition last week and was very impressed by the skill and flair of the works exhibited there. My Department works closely with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Design Council in promoting our designers and the importance overall of good design.

Mr. Sheerman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, often, the media, energetically aided and abetted by the Opposition, sneer at anything that design contributes to this country? Is it not a fact that Government Members cannot be complacent, because we have to champion design in every industry and Government Department? If we are to be truly internationally competitive, good design is paramount.

Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right about the importance of design and the quality of the Opposition.

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It is no accident that, for example, there are 150 different car types on the road whose designs have had input from Royal College of Art students. That is a very good record for British designers and British design, and a strength on which we should build.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Does the Secretary of State recognise that good design is about not only presentation but content? Is not his problem that he is so obsessed with pinning designer labels on everything that moves that the real issues are ignored? While he publishes airy rhetoric about design and goodness knows what, the tourism industry faces uncertainty, the arts are in crisis, the Royal Opera house is a shambles, the heritage has been designed out of the English language, and sport, music and design are being downgraded in our schools. Through all this, the Secretary of State dithers and does nothing, except cave in to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I agree he is good at. The right hon. Gentleman is known to be decent, so why does he not do the decent thing and go before he is pushed? He would bring immense relief to his friends, and might even find time to write a proper book.

Mr. Smith: I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman's first question as Opposition spokesman would have been more accurate and have better content. He knows that his analysis of the arts, opera, design and the creative industries would have held true 13 months ago but does not now.


4. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): What support he is giving to encourage tourism as a means of economic regeneration for seaside towns. [46314]

The Minister for Film and Tourism (Mr. Tom Clarke): The future of our seaside resorts has been a key consideration for the domestic tourism working group, whose final report, containing specific proposals, we received recently. These will be reflected in the tourism strategy to be published later this year.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for his support for tourism in my constituency through his recent visit to Lowestoft to present the national blue flag beach awards and open our new marina, which was built with European funding. On the Agenda 2000 proposals for reform of the structural funds, will he press the President of the Board of Trade to support the inclusion of problems faced by seaside towns as a new criterion for objective 2? Will he ask the arts lottery board to take into account the capacity of projects for economic regeneration in considering applications? Lowestoft is submitting a bid for a spectacular glass monument to mark its position as Britain's most easterly point, which would be of great economic benefit to the town.

Mr. Clarke: I very much enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend's constituency. I now understand--if I needed to learn--how popular he deservedly is. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Arts listened to the second part of my hon. Friend's question.

Tourism has already greatly benefited from European regional development fund money for projects that support and develop tourism and cultural attractions.

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The total value of objective 1, 2 and 5b programmes for the period 1994 to 1999 is expected to be more than 3 billion ecu, or £2 billion. As the Minister responsible for tourism, I can assure my hon. Friend and others that I shall press for that support to continue.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Is the Minister aware that Southend is a superb centre of tourism which he would do well to visit as soon as he can? Is he aware that some areas of high unemployment are included in travel-to-work areas of low unemployment, with the result that no funding can be provided for their special problems? Will he have a look at the unfair effects thereby created for some superb seaside towns such as Southend-on-Sea?

Mr. Clarke: I have not yet had the privilege of going to Southend, but I do look forward to it. I am sure that it is almost as attractive as Cathcart.

Unlike at least one Conservative Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Gentleman makes serious points--in this case, about employment. Seaside resorts are an extremely important issue for us, discussed time and again at our tourism forum--which has not been mentioned once by Tory Front Benchers. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his fair point, and assure him that, as tourism provides 7 per cent. of all employment, I should like it to offer constituents such as the hon. Gentleman's still more employment, especially via the new deal.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Does my right hon. Friend agree that areas such as mine need economic development not just at the seaside but more widely in the rest of the region? The region, after all, feeds the local tourism economy. Does he propose to have words with the regional development agencies, once they are set up, to stimulate regional tourism and the local economy by allowing local people an input?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The tourism industry in Great Britain needs a closer working relationship between the regional tourist boards and, in due course, the RDAs. I know that my hon. Friend has contributed thoughtful ideas in that respect; I can assure him that the membership of the forum is much concerned with his excellent point.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): How closely is the Minister working with the Heritage Lottery Fund on obtaining funding for piers, not just in my constituency but in many other places? I know that he will say that he has nothing to do with influencing such funding, but surely the Department can make recommendations.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman, for whom I and all hon. Members have a great regard, has both asked and answered his question. Of course we cannot intervene in lottery allocations; the problems affecting his pier, and of expenditure elsewhere in England, were made considerably worse by the reckless and inadequate policies of the Conservative party. Over the past 10 years, the Tories reduced public expenditure on the English tourist board from £25.8 million to a mere £9.9 million a year. They should hang their heads in shame.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): Does the Minister accept that many Labour Members are extremely

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supportive of and grateful for the Government's work on the new deal and appreciate their responsiveness to the particular problems of seaside towns and seasonal employment? What further representations has he received from the tourism industry in support and in respect of the new deal?

Mr. Clarke: I am happy to say that support for the new deal has been absolutely massive--[Interruption.]--as those who really work in their constituencies and in the industry understand. Would Conservative Members challenge Tim Bartlett, chief executive of the English tourist board, who said:

That is very positive. It appeals to us, but of course it would not register with Conservative Members.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): We have been told that a planned series of ministerial visits to seaside resorts this summer has been cancelled on the advice of officials. It was to have been called the seaside rock tour, or some such nonsense. Is it surprising that Ministers are afraid to show their faces at seaside resorts, given that all they have delivered so far to the United Kingdom tourism industry is a tide of European Union regulation and threatened abolition of the English tourist board? Was the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport not right to say that tourism is insufficiently glamorous for the current Secretary of State? Is it not true that, far from getting a kiss-me-quick on the promenade, any Minister who is rash enough to visit a seaside resort this summer is likely to be told where he can stick his rock?

Mr. Clarke: I know that Jonathan Aitken is not around these days, but one would think that the shadow Minister might have got a better scriptwriter. The fact is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I fully intend to visit many parts of the country; indeed, as the hon. Gentleman must know, we have already started. As for the speculation in which he indulges, it is that and no more. He encourages us to visit seaside resorts and we shall visit, with absolute delight, Labour Scarborough, Labour Blackpool, Labour Hove and many other resorts which will continue to return Labour Members of Parliament.

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