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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells): The Independent Television Commission, as an independent regulator, continues to fulfil its regulatory duties of licensing and monitoring commercial television services under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996.
The Minister knows as well as I do that, at times of economic uncertainty, the first thing to happen is a fall in advertising revenues. He will also know that ITV's net advertising receipts have fallen by about 12 per cent. this year, and that, if ITV is to maintain and improve the quality of its programming, the ITC must be given freedom to allow Carlton and Granada to combine. What consideration has he given to that?
Dr. Howells: We have given every consideration to that. I have discussed the matter with the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions. We should not tackle this matter piecemealit should be part of a properly structured communications Bill that we put before the Housebut I understand what he is saying. The ITC does a very good job in all respects. Some special difficulties have hit the independent television companies, especially over the past 12 months. However, they made some very large profits in the 24 months or so that preceded that. They are pretty tough companies which have been in the business a long time and know that there are some downs as well as a lot of ups.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): Why is it the policy of the Department so far to insist that the ITV companies offer their programmes to the satellite sector, without insisting on a must-carry policy for the satellite sector, which clearly creates difficulties in bargaining power between the two sectors? Can the Minister explain the Department's policy and whether he has a mind to change it?
Dr. Howells: I know that the Conservative party has become very hands on and statist in the past week or so, but it is not my business to tell the ITV companies, still less Sky, what the nature of essentially commercial contracts between those two organisations should be.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The terrorist attacks of 11 September have had a damaging impact on many tourism businesses, particularly businesses in London that rely on high- spending north American visitors, but some parts of the country have reported a very good autumn. There are signs that we are now in the very early stages of a recovery.
Tessa Jowell: Certainly, we want more marketing of Britain, and more professional marketing of Britain. We are working closely with the British Tourist Authority. On Wednesday, we will join it at the launch of its marketing campaign targeted at the seven top markets, north American and European. There is a joint initiative between my Department and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to promote tourism in the countryside, and there is the initiative of the London tourism action group to promote London as a tourism destination.
We have asked the English Tourism Council to look at diverting resources in the short term to marketing England. That builds on the excellent work that is already being done by the regional tourism authorities. In relation to the key part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we are discussing with the English Tourism Council whether a marketing role will be given to it in the longer run.
Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in respect of damage to tourism, few counties were more adversely affected than Cumbria following the atrocities in the United States of America and the disaster of foot and mouth disease? Is she aware that 2002 is the international year of mountains: a celebration of mountains, their ecology and environment and the communities that have to work and earn their livings in mountainous areas? Is she aware that the Cumbrian mountain festival will be launched in spring this yeara serious attempt to bring a resurgence of support for tourism in all its aspects in the Lake District national park and surrounding areas in Cumbria? Will she ask her officials to engage with those planning the festival to ensure that her Department maximises its support for those important and exciting proposals for Cumbria, and that, in addition to what I am sure will be words of encouragement, we get some tangible financial support too?
Tessa Jowell: We will certainly ensure that the Department provides all possible support to the international year of mountains. My hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, himself a distinguished mountaineer, will be present at the launch.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's advocacy for Cumbria in what have been terribly difficult times for the tourism and farming industries there. We will provide all possible help to get tourists back to one of the most beautiful parts of our country. As 2002 is not only the year of mountains but the Queen's golden jubilee, we hope that that will be a tremendous draw for visitors from north America and other parts of the world who have simply been too afraid to travel in the intervening months.
Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): The Secretary of State will be aware that tourism is vital to my constituency, the location of Ashdown forest and the homes of A. A. Milne, Conan Doyle and, nearby, Rudyard Kipling. Is she also aware that the recovery of tourism is seriously hampered by the fact that we have no Sunday rail service, so people trying to come down for the weekend cannot get home until Monday morning? Will
Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting is meeting the relevant Ministers from other Departments to ensure that investment and policy work in concert towards the objective of promoting tourism, advertising what Britain has to offer and ensuring that one of the most successful sectors of our economy thrives after what has been a very difficult 18 months. The short answer is yes: those discussions will take place with other Departments to ensure that we work as one Government to promote tourism.
Ms Claire Ward (Watford): What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the financial packages that the Chancellor made available in the aftermath of both foot and mouth and 11 September to hotels and businesses in the rural economy and those who rely on tourism? Has she compared the figures against the increased number of flights abroad from certain airports such as Stansted? How do we ensure that more people remain in this country and benefit from our tourist attractions rather than going abroad?
Tessa Jowell: The investment that the Chancellor made in increasing the British Tourist Authority's marketing budget has been successful in bringing back some tourists, especially from western Europe. There is still, however, a major problem with north America. Our aim must be to encourage more people to come here from abroad and more people to stay here for their holidays, not out of patriotism alone but because there are so many good places to see, and to ensure that the tourism on offer is of consistently high quality. The Government have a part to play in that.
The industry is well aware of the aspects that need reform. It is important to get rid of outdated practices and raise standards. We are working with the industry on that. That will be the long haul, but we must also seize the short-term opportunities, such as the international year of mountains and the Queen's golden jubilee, in a very focused campaign to get north American tourists back to Britain.
The Secretary of State's reply makes it clear that she accepts that there are higher costs, in particular for security, for passengers coming into this country, but is she aware that the air passenger fund set up in 1975 has now run out of money and that the Civil Aviation Authority is anxious, and wants primary legislation, to introduce a levy to be charged to passengers to insure against the collapse of any travel companies, package holiday firms, tour operators or charter companies, and to enable passengers stranded abroad to be brought home? Will she stop the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions dithering by putting pressure on him to legislate before the peak summer holiday period, to enable those passengers to be brought home?
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Does my right hon. Friend agree that despite the excellent work done by the London tourism council and the whole of the tourism industry within London, much more still needs to be done to link up with other tourist authorities throughout the United Kingdom, not only so that visitors are attracted to London, but so that London is genuinely perceived as the gateway to the whole United Kingdom?
Tessa Jowell: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; that is a weakness that the industry itself now recognises. Under the leadership of the CBI, the Tourism Alliance, which brings together many of the key industry players, has now been established. Fragmentation, leading to low levels of skill, poor value for money and lack of adequate data, has been a fundamental weakness in the tourism industry. If anything beneficial is to come from the awful circumstances created for that industry by foot and mouth and the terrorist attacks of 11 September, it will be the focus on modernisation and building the capacity to be a profitable tourism industry sustainable in the long term, with modern technology and modern working practices. That is what will bring the visitors back and keep them here.