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Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Can he say how the grants that have been made to the tourist industry over the past four years compare with the present position, having regard to all the measures he has just mentioned? The two important grants to the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourism Council have been welcomed. But in view of the problems that still exist because of foot and mouth disease, is continuing consideration being given to increasing the grants? In addition, will not the proportion of rate relief to be borne by local authorities, which is 15 per cent and 25 per cent, present difficulties to the local authorities? Is that being re-examined?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that what his noble friend Lord Dormand said is quite correct? For businesses that have a rateable value of more than £12,000 per annum, 25 per cent of the rate relief will have to be borne by the local authorities, which are already under pressure as a result of a reduction in their revenues as a consequence of the foot and mouth epidemic.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, both noble Lords are correct about the figures. If this appears to cause hardship, it is one of the many matters which the Rural Task Force is willing to consider again in its ongoing deliberations on what needs to be done. But I can say that the reduction of the business rate took place on 1st April and our helplines show that it is much appreciated.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, will my noble friend accept the plaudits of both the travel and tourism industries for the halving this week under the Budget of the airport passenger departure tax, which in itself was an inhibition to encouraging tourists to come to the United Kingdom? Can the Government now go one step further and eliminate this Tory stealth tax?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am happy to accept the plaudits mentioned by my noble friend. However, I am not prepared to predict any further changes in government taxation policy.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, has the Government's task force, which met yesterday, considered the possibility of making available loans to businesses? While the moves already made by the Government are helpful, many small businesses in the sector are going broke. They need immediate loans to keep going, not merely tax breaks.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the report of the work of the task force made to Parliament on 20th March made clear that we were in touch with banks and leading financial institutions, encouraging them to relax their rules on loans. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that this is enormously important.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, following on from the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is it not the case that the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease merely serves to compound in many areas of our tourist industry a problem which already
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think that I accept the case put by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland; namely, that tourism was suffering before the foot and mouth outbreak. In fact, our tourism figures both for visitors from within this country and for those from overseas continued to be buoyant throughout the year 2000, despite the strong pound. Nevertheless, the matters referred to by the noble Viscount will continue to be considered.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that tourism was a wonderful and successful industry that did not look for handouts until the present tragedy struck? I say that as someone who once held some ministerial responsibility for tourism. In those days, tourism was our fourth largest invisible export. Can the noble Lord tell the House what position it holds now?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, certainly I accept that the tourist industry has not been looking for handouts. What it has been seeking--as it did when the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, was a responsible Minister--is assistance with marketing. That is still the case. Indeed, a great deal still needs to be done to improve the marketing of our wonderful and very valuable tourist industry.
Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain the discrepancy in the level of resources provided for the promotion of tourism in Scotland and that available in some of the English regions? I am thinking in particular of the north-east of England. I understand that Scotland spends around 40 times more on the promotion of tourism than does that part of England.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in this House we are not responsible for how much the Scottish Executive elects to spend on tourism. However, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, will be pleased to know that, on 28th March, the Scottish Executive announced a package very similar to that which was announced in this House on 20th March. As regards the funding of the Northumbria Tourist Board, to which I believe the noble Lord referred, I am sure that he will recognise that that tourist board is an extremely lively, active and successful organisation.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, new figures for the average class size in secondary schools will be published tomorrow. In January 2000, the average size of a secondary class was 22. That is, on average, around five fewer pupils than in primary school classes. Increases in the average size of secondary school class sizes are not new. The average secondary class size rose by 1.4 between 1991 and 1997 and has risen by only 0.3 between 1997 and 2000. Some 193,000 secondary school teachers were employed in schools in England in January 2000, which was 3,800 more than in 1997.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she share the concerns expressed by many schools and reported in the press that the changes in A and AS-levels have resulted in more subjects being taken? That has led to larger sets for A-level teaching, in one case of some 20 pupils, which the noble Baroness will know is far too many? Furthermore, is the noble Baroness aware that there is a shortage of teachers in many specialist subjects, in particular the scarce subjects such as physics and mathematics? Will the noble Baroness be able to issue advice to schools as to how to cope with this problem?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I believe that the changes which have been made to the sixth form curriculum have been widely welcomed by schools, teachers, employers, parents and, indeed, by students themselves. I should point out that, prior to those changes, many sixth-form classes were extremely small. They were far smaller than classes lower down in the school, reflecting the fact that not all pupils stay on at school to take A and AS-levels, as well as GNVQs. For that reason, I do not believe that there is any evidence of a serious deterioration in sixth form class sizes. Some classes may be a little larger, but I do not believe that that slight increase would in any way affect the quality of teaching offered in sixth forms.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in his last annual report, the Chief Inspector of Schools reported that the percentage of schools in which the teaching of science, maths and modern languages was unsatisfactory had doubled at key stage 3 when compared to the figures for the previous year? The figures for key stage 4 were almost as bad. Does the Minister think that large class sizes, along with the shortage of specialist teachers, might have something to do with those findings?
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