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6.25 pm

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) is a good advocate for High Peak, but I do not want to talk exclusively about the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. This is a question of style over substance.

We should have known long in advance that style would play the predominant role in this Government's life. Before the election, the clues were all there. I call it "The Colour Purple"--but not because of the film about racial discrimination in the deep south. That was far more subtle.

First, we saw the future Prime Minister change his tie. It was a gradual process. The tie changed from red to red with blue polka dots. Then there was a further transformation--a blue tie with red polka dots; then a blue tie; then the final transmogrification took place--the colour purple.

The backdrop at the Labour party conference--sadly, for the last time in Blackpool--changed colour from red to puce. It would have been pale blue, but that would have clashed with Tony's tie. Of course, those were the days when Labour considered Blackpool. After September, Blackpool will be no more--[Interruption.]--despite the protestations from the Minister for Sport.

It is not just about colour. The Government are about alliteration. Government policies must all begin with the same letter. We have seen welfare-to-work, but, sadly, all the predictions now are for work-to-welfare. Almost every day we hear of boom and bust--the Prime Minister used the expression twice today at Prime Minister's Question Time. Yet the Government are the product of bust before they have even boomed.

It is also a question of history. Drawing from the dustbowl of the American 1930s, there is Roosevelt's new deal. Away with YOPs--youth opportunity programmes, for those too young to remember. We have brought in the new deal. Is nothing original? Is nothing sacred?

We also have Americana. Spin-doctoring is an American expression, seized with enthusiasm here following the new Secretary of State for Trade and

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Industry's internship with the Clinton re-election campaign. However, I am pleased to inform the House that, thanks to the tastes of President Clinton, the prince of darkness has not had to reach an immunity deal with special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and will not have to give evidence to a grand jury without fear of prosecution.

If you want to know how the Prime Minister and the prince of darkness work, worry not about the dome. Just watch John Travolta in the movie "Primary Colours"--on release at a cinema near you soon.

Lottery money has been plundered, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) said, from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and the additionality principle has been cast aside like an unwanted toy, as have the Labour party's principles. Money earmarked for charities, the arts, heritage, the millennium and sport--normally starved of cash--has been diverted to health and education, because the Chancellor got his sums wrong when he was in opposition. Of course we value the national health service and education, but they have always been paid for by taxation.

What is the current spin? The hapless Secretary of State has just triumphantly announced that he can maintain the current spending on charities, the arts, heritage and sport into the next decade. A big hurrah. Where will the hundreds of millions of pounds a year from the millennium fund go when that is completed at the end of 2001? Will that be robbed from the Department, too? I invite the Secretary of State, who is leaning back comfortably, to say whether the hundreds of millions of pounds currently allocated to the millennium fund will be drawn back into the arts, heritage and sport. Will he answer me now? The silence is telling.

I should have thought that the Secretary of State would thank the Select Committee for its support. By branding him nice but weak and ineffectual, we have preserved his place in the Cabinet. It is clear that the Prime Minister decided that he would not be dictated to by the press or Select Committees, as witnessed by embarrassments such as the Paymaster General and the Foreign Office Minister responsible for Sierra Leone, who have also retained their salary cheques and Government drivers.

It is nice to see that both the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth)--who once served as a member of my party on the National Heritage Select Committee in the previous Parliament--and the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) are members of the team. The latter was also, in effect, on the same side as me, when we, alone except for Angela Rumbold, fought in Committee for Sunday trading and for ordinary people throughout the country who thought that they should not be dictated to by the nanny state.

The biggest example of style or spin, and one that I believe is an attempt to mask the Government's biggest mistake, is the so-called independence of the Bank of England. It is not truly independent. Alan Greenspan enjoys an independent Federal Reserve in Washington. "Independent" means that he can set interest rate and inflation targets; but the Bank of England has no such authority in the United Kingdom.

Eddie George has to act like a high street bank manager, obeying memos from the Chancellor saying, unreasonably, that inflation targets should stay as they are while they drift up slightly in Europe and the United

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States of America. The object of having low inflation is to keep our goods competitive, but they are not competitive, because the value of the pound is so high.

With brooding eyes and a dour face, Brown--I am sorry, I meant to say Brezhnev--used to write out spending and income proposals in the naive belief that, if it was written in his grand office, it would be done. It is not like that: one cannot set a three-year plan--a Gosplan. Despite all the spin, the welfare-to-work programme and all the other measures have failed to get welfare spending under control.

Every week, another statement is issued on new Government spending, as a product of the departmental commissioning of yet another focus group paid for by our--the taxpayers'--money, yet every week analysis shows that there is double counting, with the inclusion of initiatives announced only the previous week. If the Government were a company, the Serious Fraud Office would already have launched a dawn raid, and the books would have been carted off in police vans.

A Government who treat their electorate as gullible fools--with contempt--ignore the lessons of history. The Mississippi cardsharp and trickster may win in the short term, but he ends up with the bullet in the head. Democracy gives the electorate the loaded gun. The Government will be judged on what they can deliver, not on promises, style or spin.

6.34 pm

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): I want to dwell on the serious subject of tourism, which does not feature strongly in the Government's current priorities. I thank the Secretary of State for meeting the officers of the all-party tourism group this morning. It was a good meeting, and I hope that the discussions may be a spur to his Department to concentrate more on tourism.

Tourism is a large and vital industry, worth £40 billion a year. It has grown successfully, largely unaided by Government--a fact which I applaud. My constituency is a seaside resort, and relies heavily on tourism. Tourism has grown to the point where strategic planning is essential to overcome the problems caused by fragmentation, and to protect the environment.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport--a new spin doctor title which does not even recognise Britain's fifth biggest industry--has produced a spending review document in which an industry of such importance to the creation of new jobs appears to have been tagged on at the end as a flimsy four-page afterthought.

I join the many who applaud the increase in funding for the British Tourist Authority, which markets Britain so well abroad, but I cannot understand why England alone in the British isles should be singled out and--probably--left without a national tourist board that is independent of commercial and big business interests.

Small businesses in England have already lost out over section 4 grants, which used to be available to improve and upgrade individual premises. The previous Government abolished them in England, but not, strange as it may seem, in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, despite the fact that England plays host to 80 per cent. of the tourists who come to Britain. What will the Government do for small businesses in our resorts and tourist attractions to make up for that loss of funding?

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The existing accommodation facilities in many of our seaside resorts are falling below the standards acceptable to visitors. The owners can no longer find funding to upgrade, and they are shutting down in large numbers. What will the Government do to prevent seaside areas from turning into boarded-up streets with rundown houses in multiple occupancy? The appearance of such streets at the heart of our resorts drives visitors away, and whole communities are in danger of being lost for ever.

I am talking not about old-style manufacturing industries for which there is no longer a market, but about viable communities that are relevant in the service industry age, and they require only modest funding to upgrade. Will the funding from regional development agencies pay only for grand projects, or can funds be directed to smaller businesses?

Those agencies could become quangos--I hope not--and regional tourist boards are private companies, of which only 20 per cent. of the industry are members. The remaining 80 per cent. are small businesses. They are often excluded from regional tourist boards' information services, and almost always seek the advice and information that at present is provided free by the English tourist board. Who will provide that direct service for our severely pressed small businesses--a private company, the mandarins in the Department or the most sensible body: the English tourist board?

In the Secretary of State's own words, the tourist industry is "byzantine and complex", which I am sure refers to the severely fragmented nature of the industry. He appears to want to pass strategic control to so many businesses in so many fields of the industry. Private companies compete--it is the nature of the market economy--rather than co-ordinate with one another. The English tourist board, as an independent organisation free from commercial interest, works hard to co-ordinate with local authorities, which have long been the greatest investors in tourism. Many private organisations still regard local authorities as an obstruction rather than a resource.

The English tourist board, as a publicly funded organisation, is concerned with the 30 or 40 per cent. of the population who do not take any holidays at all. Many of those people are socially excluded: people with disabilities, carers, and the poor. The English tourist board has worked strenuously to promote such aspects as access at visitor attractions, accommodation, and other tourist facilities. It is not only the income-producing side of tourism that is of value; the cultural, educational and leisure side provided to the consumer indirectly benefits us all. The private sector is most unlikely to promote greater accessibility without a clear profit motive.

The English tourist board has recently helped introduce, and is actively promoting, a new nationwide hotel accommodation rating system, as mentioned by the Secretary of State. We are finally starting to move away from the quaint and quirky stars and crowns that confuse many people, especially overseas visitors. The new system is simple, and facilities-based. It is being introduced across England, and the consumer is finally getting some clarity. Would competing regional tourist boards and development agencies introduce such a

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system, or would they hold out for one that favoured their providers, as has occurred in other areas of the UK? We would then end up with no progress being made.

Much of the work of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has been concerned with image, but important issues such as the strength of the pound and the second highest level of VAT in Europe being levied on our accommodation providers are brushed under the carpet. An extensive report by Deloitte and Touche commissioned by the British Tourist Authority into the likely effects on the industry, and revenue to the Treasury, of cutting VAT on accommodation to average European levels has brought little response, positive or negative, from the Department or the Treasury, despite having being on the table for five months. Are its findings to be rejected outright, investigated further or ignored entirely?

After 15 months, everything still appears to be under review. The enduring strength of the pound is a great concern to all tourism service providers, yet the Treasury appears not to recognise that the issue is crucial to businesses that seek to attract overseas visitors, who are increasingly discouraged from travelling to Britain, and to the small businesses of our resorts which are suffering from the loss in trade as customers take advantage of the cheapness of travelling abroad. Tourism is crying out for direction, but I do not think that the Government are giving it.


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