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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Was it not a disgrace that, year after year, the previous Government did nothing to ensure that people with conditionally exempt works of art opened up their houses to allow members of the public to see them, when the owners were given enormous tax breaks by that Government?

Mr. Smith: My hon. Friend is right to identify the enormous importance of making sure that we support excellence in this country--the best performances, the best companies and the best collections that are in our museums and galleries--and that ordinary people can get to see those performances, companies and collections, and enjoy them in ever greater numbers. That is the kernel of our arts policy: excellence and access going hand in hand. Conservatives, of course, do not understand any of that because they are interested only in tittle-tattle.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the effect of the Budget changes on historic asset items will be, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have had letters to say, that people will be forced to sell historically important artefacts, which will go into foreign hands, with the result that there will be no access for anyone in this country because those artefacts will no longer be in this country?

Mr. Smith: If the hon. Gentleman had followed the debates that took place in Committee on the Finance Bill, he would know that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is at this very moment conducting discussions with the Historic Houses Association, to try to ensure that we do not lose out in terms of heritage as a result of the tax changes that have been genuinely brought in to ensure that the loophole in the tax system could not be exploited by hundreds of people with no genuine heritage reason for doing so.

The hon. Member for East Surrey mentioned tourism, as did the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. The Select Committee, rather interestingly, said that I was somehow not interested in tourism. In coming to that conclusion, it ignored the fact that we have ensured that tourism has a real and prominent role in the work of the regional development agencies; that we have made sure that a proper grading scheme for hotel and guest house accommodation in England can be put in place; that we have established the tourism forum, which I chair on a regular basis, to bring all representative bodies from the world of tourism together; that we have a monthly meeting of the strategic tourism working group--which again I chair--to bring leading representatives of tourism together to put our tourism strategy in place; that we have ensured that the British Tourist Authority and the British Council have developed good working relationships abroad so that we can have real synergy--

Mr. Peter Ainsworth rose--

Mr. Smith: Wait. There is a longer list to come.

Those relationships have been developed so that we can have real synergy between the work of these important bodies. We have ensured that there will be enhanced

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funding for the British Tourist Authority and the important work that it does. We have gone out to proper nationwide consultation on the future of the structures of support for tourism in England, which has been a consultation exercise welcomed by many people in the industry. We have guaranteed to ring-fence the funding of tourism support in England. It is a consultation exercise about the best structures rather than anything that is driven by the need to obtain finance or cuts.

Mr. Ainsworth: Will the Secretary of State now give way?

Mr. Smith: I will now.

Mr. Ainsworth: Has the right hon. Gentleman finished his list?

Will he explain why it was that on Thursday 18 December 1997, he answered a written question from my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), stating:


Yet nothing has happened.

Mr. Smith: The reason for that is precisely the consultation exercise that we have launched. It would have been sheer folly to publish a strategic tourism document while we were consulting on an essential aspect such as the structure of support for English tourism. We intend to publish our tourism strategy in October, once the responses to the consultation have been received.

There were some interesting responses when the Select Committee produced its report. Conservative Members thought, "This is useful; we can make some fun and have a go at the Secretary of State with bits and pieces of the report." Incidentally, those bits and pieces were inserted by Conservative Members. Let us consider what the sensible parts of the tourism industry had to say.

Mr. Fabricant: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Smith: Talking of the sensible men, I will of course give way.

Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He was not privy to the private discussions of the Select Committee--I was there. At that time, there were 10 members of the Committee. Is he saying that my talents are so all-embracing, and my powers of persuasion so great, that one other Tory and I dissuaded a Committee including one Liberal Democrat Member and seven Labour Members, including the Chairman, from producing a glowing report saying how brilliant the Secretary of State was? Is he saying that I single-handedly persuaded those hon. Members to change their mind? The right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), told everyone that, but is he so naive that he believes it?

Mr. Smith: I am tempted to say yes, but, given the nature of the hon. Gentleman, such a response would

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clearly be absurd and untrue. The records of the Select Committee proceedings and the list of amendments tabled to and included in the report clearly show that the report's final form differed substantially from that which it took when it was first considered by the Committee, but the important aspect is the difference between what the report said and what the tourism industry thinks.

Let me tell the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), who is a member of the Select Committee, what the chairman of the Tourism Society had to say. On 11 June, immediately after the Select Committee had issued its report, he wrote to me, saying:


In a press release, the British Hospitality Association said:


    "The industry has never received so much interest from government and we are happy that we have built up a very fruitful relationship with both ministers and officials in government generally and at the DCMS in particular."

On 12 June--[Interruption.] Conservative Members laugh, but these are important representative bodies--the lifeblood of the industry in this country, not piddling little Conservative Members who do not know what is happening in tourism.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. I remind the House that contributions are normally made when hon. Members are on their feet. There are far too many sedentary interventions, and I should be grateful if they stopped.

Mr. Smith: I have suddenly realised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I perhaps got carried away and was verging on unparliamentary language. I withdraw the word "piddling" and insert the word "two-bit".

The Joint Hospitality Industry Congress wrote to me on 12 June saying:


That is the reality.

This is a debate on an Opposition motion that demeans Parliament and brings discredit on those who tabled it. There are real issues and real matters of substance to be discussed, real progress to be made, real achievements to be heralded, and genuine difficulties to be tackled, some of which will not be easy.

In the past few days, we have announced the largest ever new investment in the cultural life of our country. We have set in motion a widespread consultation that could lead to a radical restructuring, for the better, of the cultural heritage, tourism and sporting fields of activities and of Government support. That is what we should concentrate on, and what the world outside has welcomed and will study. It is a pity that the Opposition cannot find the seriousness of purpose to do likewise. Perhaps that is why they are, and will remain, the Opposition.

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