Examination of Witnesses (Questions 149
THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2001
ANDERSON, MP, MR
149. We have been questioning this morning,
and it appeared in the debate which we had yesterday. It is a
pity that nobody was there from tourism, which usually happens,
not because of your fault but probably because of pressures elsewhere.
Tourism came into practically every debate that we had, every
speech that we had. I asked questions, which were not answered
by the Minister at the time but may be you will be able to answer
this morning. The BTA need £8 million on top of the £2.5
million which they have had already as of yesterday. It has not
come forward. It is supposed to be comingwhen? The ETC
should also be getting something towards the £35.5 million
which they have asked for and so far have had £3.8 million.
What follows? Are you in touch with the Treasury or not?
(Ms Anderson) I can assure you we are
in touch with the Treasury on an almost constant basis, and more
so recently than ever before. Can I say first of all that I was
in the chamber towards the end of the debate. Sadly, I could not
be there for most of it because I was chairing a foot and mouth
tourism summit in the Department for Culture Media and Sport,
the third summit we have had in the Department with the industry,
and that has proved very useful. I am aware of the points that
were raised. You will know that the BTA and the ETC have had an
additional £6 million, an initial payment in recognition
of this particularly difficult situation we are facing. £3.8
million of that has gone to the ETC and £2.2 million to the
BTA. As the Prime Minister made plain yesterday in Prime Minister's
Questions, there is to be a further allocation of funding and
an announcement will be made in the next few days.
150. Do we have any clues? Are we going to do
part of it, and a bit more? The boards only have £1.4 million
from the ETC, and £1.4 million between all the boards is
negligible. They are not going to be able to do much with that
to help any kind of farming community which runs tourism establishments
as well. It will not get down to the level that I, for one, would
like it to go to.
(Ms Anderson) We have probably been the
first Government to recognise the importance of the regions and
in fact, when we replaced the English Tourist Board with the English
Tourism Council in 1999, that did release some extra money to
go to the regions. Of the £3.8 million that has gone to the
ETC from that initial allocation of £6 million, it is my
understanding that £2 million of that will go down to the
regional tourist boards. There has also been a grant to the RDAs
in the most seriously affected areas of £15 million from
DETR and we hope very much that a significant amount of that will
go to help the tourist industry.
151. I was in Cumbria, Devon and one or two
other places, and in Cumbria especially, in the lakes, it was
very busy at Easter. Following that they said that bookings from
abroad had gone down dramatically: 40 Americans down to 14 in
one hotel, and no Japanese in another because they had cancelled.
I know you have ambassadors and this idea of ambassadors going
over there and coming over here. What good do you think that is
going to do?
(Ms Anderson) We are using every opportunity
to get the message across that it is still perfectly safe to come
to Britain and have a very enjoyable holiday. When we realised
there was a problem with overseas visitors several weeks ago now,
I immediately went out on a two-day visit to New York and did
back-to-back media interviews, met with representatives of the
tour operators, with the travel trade press, to try and emphasize
that it was perfectly safe. We did realise that many of our potential
overseas visitors were confused. They were confusing foot and
mouth, or hoof and mouth as they call it in the States, with BSE,
with mad cow disease. We were asked questions such as, "If
I come to Britain will my hands and feet drop off? Will I have
to go through a vat of disinfectant? Will I have to bring my own
protective suit or will the Government provide one?" There
were all sorts of misconceptions which we had to do our best to
dispel. My visit was followed by the Scottish Minister for Tourism,
and the First Minister in Scotland, Henry McLeish went out, as
did the Chair of the London Tourist Board, and the Secretary of
State, Chris Smith, is in Canada at this very moment doing a similar
exercise. But, of course, the British Tourist Authority have done
an excellent job in trying to cure some of these misconceptions,
not least a visit they organised last week at very short notice,
with people coming over from all our main markets, both long-haul
markets and in Europe. They were taken up to Scotland, they were
taken to Wales, they were taken to the Lake District, and I met
them on Friday afternoon, when they were entertained to tea by
the Prime Minister's wife at Number 10. It is quite clear that
that visit had been a great success and they were going to go
back to their home countries and try and paint a more accurate
picture of what was happening in Britain.
152. So they did see the rest of Britain? They
did not just stay here and go to Chequers?
(Ms Anderson) They certainly did not.
I do understand your point about empty hotels. I do not under-estimate
the problem. I had a meeting on Monday of this week with 45 owners
of country house hotels, who want more than anything to get their
visitors back. That is what the industry wants more than anything.
Mr Maxton: Would you agree with me, Minister,
that all your efforts and the efforts of Henry McLeish and the
other ministers involved and all the tourist boards and areas
are almost impossible because of the way in which the British
media has dealt hysterically and illogically with the foot and
mouth crisis? Are not all the misconceptions that the potential
American tourists have about Britain due almost entirely to the
message they are getting from the British media? Would you join
with me in making a plea to the media that they start acting sensibly
and logically and for the good of the country, rather than just
for cheap headlines?
Chairman: And that the BBC might recognise
that the word "British" is included in its title.
153. I agree with you. I think the BBC's coverage
of the foot and mouth disease has not been very much better than
any other part of the media's.
(Ms Anderson) I entirely agree with you,
Mr Maxton, that a lot of the coverage has not been helpful, and
in fact, when I was in the States, every television interview
I didand I did a lotwas preceded by that image of
a bonfire of burning animals. I think actually it was the same
picture they were showing all the time. One of the misconceptions
was that there was a funeral pyre of burning animals in every
field in Britain. It was important to try and dispel that misconception.
There has been some suggestion to us that, as the Department for
Culture, Media and Sport, there should be something we can do
to try and persuade the media to behave more responsibly. As you
will know, Mr Maxton, we have very much an arm's length relationship
with the media, and I think if we were to attempt to change that,
there would probably be an outcry. But I do agree with you; it
has not helped.
154. You can at least plead for some logicality.
Maybe that is an impossible plea but it is worth making.
(Ms Anderson) We can try.
155. At the point that the announcement was
made by MAFF on 23 February that all footpaths would be closed
as a result of infection, did that not ring huge alarm bells in
your Department as to what would happen to tourism, particularly
local tourism in local areas, and what did you do as a result
of that? How did you get involved at the early stages?
(Ms Anderson) We did not have a crystal
ball; during February we did not know how long this was going
to go on. I can remember the first meeting where we discussed
this at Number 10, and I was asked what I thought the effect on
the tourism industry would be. I said, "If this problem is
fairly short-lived, they will get through it, but if it goes on
for much longer, for too long, then there will be a problem."
So we were certainly looking at it in February and asking the
English Tourism Council for their advice. The advice we got initially
was that in any event, February and March were generally quite
quiet months for the tourism industry, so there was no cause for
real concern. On 26 February we made sure that our web site was
linked into MAFF guidance. On 6 March we held our first tourism
summitwe had the third one yesterdaywith people
from the industry to decide what we should do. As a result of
that, we have liaised closely with all the other Government Departments
involved, we have given advice about staging events, about opening
attractions and so on. We have also, in consultation with DETR,
emphasised the importance of opening those parts of the countryside
that can safely be opened, and we were very pleased that by Easter
the National Trust had been able to open about 200 properties,
and English Heritage about the same. We now have over 1,000 miles
of towpaths opened which were closed, and I was very pleased this
morning to learn that in Buckinghamshire, for example, where previously
all the footpaths were closed, there was a blanket closure, 50
of them have now been re-opened. We are working through the rural
task force, and we are working with our colleagues in local government
associations to do all we can to assist the further opening of
footpaths and indeed, the Prime Minister has given Beverley Hughes,
Minister at DETR, that specific responsibility.
156. But as it unfolded and became more and
more serious, and there was recognition that we were coming up
to Easter and there were cancellations from overseas visitors,
and the whole thing was beginning to go pear-shaped, at what point
did you recognise that you would need to go to Treasury and say,
"We need some money. We need some assistance so that can
market abroad and market internally, and that we can give assistance"?
At what point did you wake up to the fact that this was really
very serious, and that Treasury had to give you funds to do a
(Ms Anderson) We are always trying to
put the case for additional help for tourism, Mrs Organ, because
that is our job as a government department, a sponsoring department.
I am not sure I could give you the precise date. I am not sure
whether Mr Broadley can assist me here.
(Mr Broadley) It was early March that
we asked the BTA and ETC to get their ideas together. As you have
said, Minister, the first advice we had was that February and
March are traditionally quieter periods in the countryside, but
that if it carried on until Easter, that would be a very serious
problem. So you commissioned the proposals which I imagine have
been discussed already this morning, and you first reviewed them
with them on 15 March.
(Ms Anderson) We subsequently put in
a bid for extra funds.
157. Would you not agree that there is a feeling
at the heart of government that we were actually prepared to sacrifice
what we all recognised is a very successful and growing sector,
ie the tourist industry, in order to safeguard the meat and livestock
(Ms Anderson) I think it is very important
to get a balance here. I have been very struck as I have travelled
round the country, principally to the most affected areas, Cumbria
and Devon and Cornwall and so on, at the quite close relationship
between the farming community and the tourism industry. In fact,
in many areas they are inextricably linked and many farmers, of
course, have been encouraged by the Government to diversify into
tourism, and there are something like 12,000 farm attractions
around the country. It was obviously in the interests, first and
foremost, of both those sections of the rural economy to get the
foot and mouth situation under control, because, as I say, while
I think the tourism industry has welcomed some of the assistance
we have been able to come forward with to help them over that
initial difficult period with cash flow problems, they will tell
you what they want more than anything is to get their visitors
back. While we have done our best to emphasise that there are
still things people can do, that large parts of the countryside
are open, until it is truly open, we will not get all of those
158. Lastly, what do you think of the suggestion
that was made at the debate last night by Dale Campbell-Savours,
who obviously represents a constituency that has been extremely
hard hit, about the possibility of a job retention subsidy? Many
people in the tourism industry have seasonal workers, they are
now laying them off because of what is happening, and they are
looking for assistance to keep the people in the jobs over this
period when there is actually no income, and having a job retention
(Ms Anderson) I think that is a very
important point, and the longer it goes on, the more important
it will become. I am sure that is something that will be considered
by the rural task force, which is constantly keeping under review
the kind of help that is available. For example, many people will
be eligible for Working Families Tax Credit, in addition to some
of the other measures we have brought forward, but we constantly
have to keep that under review and make sure that people are aware
of what they are entitled to. We have always said that if we need
to do any more, then we will, because the tourism industry is
very important. It is worth £64 billion a year to the national
economy. I think it is 3-4 per cent of GDP compared with farming,
which is about one per cent. So we do not under-estimate the importance
of it, and we also understand the seasonal nature of employment
and the difficulties that presents. If there is anything else
we need to do, we will certainly do it.
159. I certainly welcome your comments in support
of the tourism industry, so why, prior to the outbreak of foot
and mouth disease, was it proposed to cut the budget of the British
(Ms Anderson) The British Tourist Authority
now gets £35.5 million a year from us, so I am not aware
that that was a cut. In fact, I think there has been a year on