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That is not what the Secretary of State said, so the hon. Gentleman is using a different argument. It was fortuitous for the Government and for visitors to Britain that the tax was introduced at a time when sterling was falling in value—there was a devaluation in sterling—and an IRA ceasefire was announced, which we all welcome. So, circumstances other than the introduction of the tax have also to be taken into account.
I stand by what I said—in all other areas of policy and activity the conservatives believe that lower taxes are essential, but in this area they believe that increasing taxes will somehow not be damaging. That is facing both ways at once and the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) knows that to be so.
Everyone shares the view, I think, that the future success of our arts and cultural industries is inextricably linked with visitors and tourism—not just in London but nationwide. Yet this week's Budget makes all areas of Britain less competitive as places to visit and in which to enjoy holidays. It was not so much giving with one hand and taking away with the other as taking away with both hands—taking from the arts, museums and tourism. Cuts to the budgets of the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board are barmy in the face of all the arguments about the importance of the industry to us. The cuts are economic nonsense.
The Secretary of State said that she was pleased to announce today a £1.5 million grant to London, but overall she has agreed to a reduction of £500,000 in the BTA budget, which equates to the cost of several BTA offices abroad—offices that are there to attract visitors to Britain and to promote our country.
A further £134,000 is transferred from the English tourist board budget to the Department of Trade and Industry. The Secretary of State said that she was delighted to announce that the ETB had already put in an application for that money; of course it has: it is trying to get its budget back. It now has to compete for what was its own money, which is absurd.
Our policies on skills and training have won backing today, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) said earlier, and will win further backing. There is growing support for the introduction of a minimum wage, and we also learn from a report in the Financial Times that
The study on the financial impact of poor customer service, the first of its kind, suggests that over a five-year period, a business with annual turnover of £500m could lose more than £1.8bn in revenue and £267m in profits, because of such poor service.
If we maintain the approach on pay and training—or the lack of them—that the Government have endorsed again today, we shall damage the quality of service in our tourism and hospitality industries, throwing away money in false economies.
The timing of this debate is rather curious. I could not quite bring myself to believe that the Secretary of State wanted to come to the Chamber today, following a Select Committee report that was supportive of Labour party policies and a Budget that has had such damaging consequences for all her responsibilities. She had no new policy announcements to make, no coherence in her approach and no new White Paper to flag up.
All was revealed when we read about the activities of the chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr.Mawhinney).