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BBC Charter

3. Norman Baker (Lewes): What criteria she intends to apply when considering renewal of the BBCcharter. [10021]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will make an announcement on the criteria in due course.

Norman Baker: In considering the criteria that will be applied, will Ministers pay particular attention to the commitment shown by the BBC to news, current affairs and serious programmes? Will the Minister confirm that it is his understanding that the BBC's obligation as our primary public service broadcaster to deliver news and current affairs is not met if those programmes are relegated to BBC Choice at 3 o'clock in the morning and that it has an obligation to ensure that they are on BBC 1 during prime time? Will he deplore the moves ofBBC 1 to go down market so that it becomes some sort of tabloid channel?

Dr. Howells: The answers to the first three questions are yes, yes and yes. On the point about dumbing down, I am deeply suspicious about politicians who tell broadcasters what they should or should not put on television. Most politicians never watch the thing.

We must be careful about definitions of dumbing down. I am the world's greatest enemy of soaps—I hate the things—but I have inadvertently watched episodes of "EastEnders" that have dealt with serious subjects in a very adult way, so they have probably served a purpose in

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that respect. I certainly would not like Whitehall officials, Members of Parliament or, still less, Ministers to tell broadcasters what they can or cannot put on television.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): My hon. Friend will doubtless have been following carefully the proceedings on the Office of Communications Bill in the other place. He will have noticed that it and many outside commentators have been pressing for as much evenhandedness as possible in the regulatory environment between all the public service broadcasters, including the BBC. Will he therefore consider the possibility, as the shape of Ofcom develops through the legislative process, that the final backstop regulatory power in respect of the BBC should rest with Ofcom rather than with the Secretary of State?

Dr. Howells: As my right hon. Friend knows from his considerable experience, the Office of Communications Bill is about setting up Ofcom. It is certainly not about content, which will ultimately be decided by the communications Bill that we hope to publish in draft form in the new year. I am sure that, at that point, there will be adequate time and opportunity for debate on these sensitive subjects.

Tourism (Terrorist Attacks)

4. Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): If she will make a statement on the effects of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on the promotion of tourism to the UK. [10022]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Transatlantic tourism has been badly hit as a result of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Airlines are reporting ticket sales down by between 20 and 30 per cent. on some key transatlantic routes. The impact on the British tourism market is severe, because transatlantic tourists typically spend £6 for every £1 spent by a domestic tourist. The fall in income could reach £2.5 billion this year, but a survey from the British Tourist Authority suggests that there will be a recovery in the second half of next year.

I have visited New York three times since11 September and have been in close contact with the BTA, its staff and agents of the American tourism industry. I should like to take this opportunity—I hope that the House will join me—to pay tribute to the BTA's staff who are based in New York. They showed courage and commitment in the days following the attack, helping stranded tourists to get home.

Mr. Francois: Is the Secretary of State aware that the BTA has estimated a fall in overseas visitor numbers of up to 25 per cent. for the final quarter of this year? Given the pressure that the industry was already under as an after-effect of the foot and mouth crisis, what practical steps are Ministers taking—other than earning air miles—to alleviate the industry's problems?

Tessa Jowell: The tourism industry was hit hard in a multitude of ways by the terrorist attack on 11 September. As the August figures showed a recovery on the previous year as a result of the additional investment in marketing that the Government provided to the BTA, terrorism

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struck when things were getting better for transatlantic tourism. However, the BTA and all the tourism agencies have worked closely with the Government and are investing £5 million in marketing Britain to destinations in Europe and beyond to attract visitors who want to enjoy the fantastic opportunities that Britain offers.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): May I remind my right hon. Friend of one of our more successful tourist venues, the Aldeburgh festival, which took place at the weekend? It is one of our major literary festivals and I am delighted to say that it was absolutely packed out. Will she congratulate all those involved in its organisation, including Michael Laskey and Naomi Jaffa, on producing such a successful event?

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity to give my wholehearted congratulations to all those involved in the Aldeburgh festival.

David Burnside (South Antrim): Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no historical analogy with the last great disaster in tourism to affect the United Kingdom, which happened after the American bombing of Libya and events in Chernobyl? The recovery then was led by the airline industry. Does she also agree that £5 million expenditure is peanuts? If she does not authorise a massive increase in spending through the devolved Assemblies, her Department and the tourism authorities, the industry will not recover to benefit the UK.

Tessa Jowell: Having had the opportunity in New York to talk to the BTA and American tourism bodies, it is clear that marketing travel to Americans at the moment will not get New Yorkers who do not want to leave home and are afraid of flying on to planes. That is why the BTA's strategy of marketing Britain to other countries that are part of the major market for inbound tourism is right. It welcomed the opportunity to reallocate resources, and I hope that that, coupled with its commitment, will be borne out by an increase in the number of visitors to Britain.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Does my right hon. Friend recall in her discussions with the BTA mention of one of its most successful publications linking film production to tourism? Given the increase in tourism at Alnwick castle after "Elizabeth" and in Sheffield after "The Full Monty", and given the success of the Harry Potter film, will she link both industries in the interests of both?

Tessa Jowell: I understand that the BTA has been involved in the development of a promotional film making precisely the link to which my right hon. Friend refers. We have also used football to promote British tourism in addition to the normal attractions of culture and heritage. So, the BTA is looking imaginatively at ways of marketing Britain, and I hope that that will be rewarded with the success that it deserves.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): My husband works for an American airline company, so the House will appreciate that I am only too aware of the effects on the promotion of English tourism caused by the tragedies on 11 September.

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Does the Secretary of State accept that tourism numbers were already down before 11 September, in part due to the on-going foot and mouth crisis? The Government like league tables, and I have here one which may interest the Secretary of State. It shows bed occupancy levels in the English regions. She may not be aware that, in July, Yorkshire dropped to 10th in the regional table for bed occupancy, largely due to the on-going foot and mouth crisis. I hear what she says about the role of the BTA, but does she agree that there is an argument for the English Tourism Council being given a clear marketing role to promote tourism in the English regions?

Tessa Jowell: I welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities on the Front Bench.

The hon. Lady will be well aware that the figures were down as a result of foot and mouth, but as I said in response to an earlier question, they were recovering, especially in transatlantic travel. Domestically, the picture is patchy. It is clear—in the work that we have been doing with leaders of the tourism industry, there is widespread recognition of this—that although tourism was badly hit by foot and mouth and then by the events of11 September, the industry also faces issues such as variable quality and standards and value for money. We are working closely with the industry to do everything possible to ensure that it emerges stronger from those two crises than it was before foot and mouth first hit.

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