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Mr. Wiggin: I would like to take this opportunity to ask the hon. Gentleman about the effects on tourism of foot and mouth disease, and whether he shares my concern that we could see a similar crisis if more is not done to tackle bovine tuberculosis? No tourism business could take that kind of knock again, and I hope that he will persuade Labour Members that more needs to be done.
Mr. Jones: I shall come to the effects of foot and mouth in a moment; I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns about its tangential effects on the tourist industry. It behoves hon. Members not to make too much of bovine tuberculosis. Like foot and mouth, it is not a disease that presents a problem to the general public because of the way in which it is controlled, although it is a problem for animals. We would hope, however, that any control measures would not impinge on tourism. I think that that is the point that the hon. Gentleman was making.
The best quote that I heard about Wale's tourism potential was given to me recently by a hotelier from Llangollen, in my constituencya gem, I might say, for any tourist wishing to come to Waleswho told the tale of an American tourist who happened to visit his bed-and-breakfast place. The tourist was driving southwards from Scotland, but got lost somewhere around Manchester, just before he reached the M6. He ended up in north Wales, having strayed, by accident, from the tourist rut that runs from Edinburgh to London via Stratford. He described the beauty of the landscape he witnessed as "knocking the socks off" anywhere he had previously visited. Such is the potential that we are privileged to have in our small nation.
One matter of concern that we discovered during the inquiry was the nature of the British Tourist Authority's targets. Although the BTA's general aim is to promote a regional spread of visitors, its main target is achieving a certain return on investment. We were concerned that that would militate against promoting cheaper areas of the country such as Wales, which offer the tourist much better value for money, and work in favour of London and the
Essentially, tourists could be ripped off in the south-east whereas they could get much better value for their dollar or markor their euro, nowin north Wales. I am sorry, in Wales generally; that was a Freudian slip. [Interruption.]
Mr. Jones: I have never heard that term before, but it is probably a misnomer, as Swansea is not centric to anywhere. Nevertheless, the area is wonderful, particularly the Gower. I am sure that tourists would not be ripped off in Swansea, were they to go there.
The Committee was pleased to learn from the Government's response that the most recent funding agreement between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the BTA, covering 200102 to 200304, sets a measurable target for the authority to increase year on year the proportion of additional spend that it delivers through visits outside London. I would be interested to hear an update from the Minister, if he could provide one.
Tourism is more important to the economy of Wales than to the economy of much of the rest of the UK, and it is estimated that one Welsh job in 10 depend on tourism. At the end of our inquiry, just over a year ago, we made a two-day visit to north Wales, where we met representatives of the local tourism industry. Our intention was to discuss the inquiry's subject matter, but the conversations inevitably turned to the foot and mouth crisis. The news that we received was deeply worrying.
Tourism operators were not unsympathetic to the dreadful situation faced by farmers at that timeindeed, many were themselves farmers or from farming familiesbut there was a great deal of concern about the impact on tourism of measures being taken to halt the spread of what is essentially an animal disease.
We found that almost all tourism operators experienced a significant drop in trade, and some attractions had not reopened since the outbreak began. Many youth hostels and national park visitor centres were closed, as were 17 of the 18 National Trust sites. Those businesses that remained open reported falls in business ranging from 20 to 100 per cent. Even the conference trade was affected, with hotels in Conwy and Llandudno having bookings cancelled at short notice.
We were extremely worried by what we heard and, at our next meeting, the Committee directed me to write to the Secretary of State for Wales to set out our concerns. That was over a year ago. I would very much welcome a statement from the Minister on the steps that the Government are taking to reverse the damage done to the tourism industry at that time.
Many concerns related to poor co-ordination of different organisations and events. We believe that the creation of Cymru'n Creu was an effective response, but we recommended that the relevant UK bodies should forge strong links with the consortium. In particular, we recommended that the Government should consider ways to promote Welsh film and television programmesone of the success stories so far in the promotion of Wales abroadto a wider audience.
I have touched on a number of recommendations that relate to specific policy areas. However, as our inquiry progressed, we became more and more convinced that the solutions were not specific to a particular sector of international promotionsport, inward investment, broadcasting and so onbut were general, affecting the work of the Government and the Assembly as a whole. That chimes with the Assembly's desire to adopt an all-Wales approach to overseas tourism.
A key recommendation was that the Government should adopt ambitious targets for secondment between the National Assembly and UK Government bodies. As it stands, the memorandum of understanding between the Government and the Assembly allows such secondments, but they have been slow to get off the ground, at least in part because the Assembly attaches more significance to secondment to EU bodies. That is understandable, especially given the importance of European structural funds in Wales.
However, it is also important to ensure that those who work for the UK Government overseas are fully conversant with the devolution settlement and are aware of and sensitive to Welsh issues. We suggested a targetevery UK Government post overseas should have at least one member of staff with experience of working for the Assembly or another public body in Walesand we were pleased that the Government responded positively, although they stopped short of committing themselves to our proposed target.
Assembly-sponsored public bodies such as the WTB and the WDA have staff based overseas and the Assembly has its own office in Brussels, but those staff are spread thinly on the ground. We suggested that one way to expand the coverage of each ASPB would be to establish a single branda common name and logoto enable ASPB overseas offices effectively to act as Welsh embassies by providing a first stop for access to the full range of services provided by the Assembly and the relevant services provided by the UK Government.
In the majority of cases, that might involve little more than fielding and forwarding queries or distributing other organisations' literature, but a single, easily identifiable brand identity would help to promote a clear, strong image abroad. We do not have that at present, although it became clear that establishing such a brand is one of the most important steps that we could take. The WDA has a good logohalf a dragonand Wales is identified with the dragon. So, although we might not use the WDA version, such a logo would be useful.
Two main institutions represent Wales in Brusselsthe Wales European Centre and the Assembly's Brussels office. We saw their shared premises during a recent visit made in connection with our current inquiry into objective 1. The WEC has had a presence in Brussels since 1992. It was set up by the WDA and Welsh local government, and the partnership that contributes to the centre has grown to more than 70 public bodies.
Although the Assembly is a partner in the WEC, it opened its own Brussels office in 2000. Assembly office staff have diplomatic credentials, which give them access to UK diplomats, Foreign Office papers and so onan inside track on the UK's relations with the EU. Clearly, however, the current arrangements could generate confusion over the respective roles of the two offices.
I am sure that the Assembly would not have set up two offices in Brussels with similar and, to some extent, overlapping remits had it been starting from scratch, but the WEC had been running for seven years when the Assembly was established, so it was decided to build on the existing arrangements.
The First Minister announced two weeks ago that the Assembly will relinquish its WEC membership to enhance its own representation in Brussels. That is correct, I believe, but the bodies involved should work together to ensure that there is no duplication of effort in promoting Wales in Europe.
As the Secretary of State said, Wales has only one full diplomatic postthe Irish consulate general in Cardiff. The Committee wrote to the embassies of those countries with full diplomatic representation in Scotland or Northern Ireland to ask why they had not established a consulate in Wales. Many thought honorary consuls sufficient to meet their needs and some said that, although they would like to establish a full consulate in Wales, their budgets would not permit it. The Italian ambassador told us that he would personally recommend upgrading the consulate in Wales.
More important than overseas diplomatic representation in Wales is the quality of British representation overseas. Our main recommendation is on secondments, but we felt that more could be done on specific Welsh representation in some of our embassies. The Irish have made extremely good use of St. Patrick's day as an opportunity to promote Ireland. Indeed, it has become an international celebration that is perhaps marked more enthusiastically in some countries than in Ireland itself.
Each Irish Cabinet Minister is required to spend the day at an Irish embassy somewhere in the world, leading the celebrations there. We did not go so far as to suggest that Assembly Ministers should be despatched around the world on 1 March every yearor, indeed, that Members of Parliament representing Welsh seats should travel to all parts of the world on that day, although I would volunteer for thatbut we recommended that every UK embassy should hold a specific St. David's day event to promote Wales every year.
The Government told us in their response that posts are encouraged to celebrate St. David's day "where appropriate" and that 20 did so in 2001. That is slightly disappointing, and I would be pleased to learn in due course that the number of posts celebrating St. David's day this year was somewhat higher.