The UK tourism and hospitality industry was under assault this weekend. The Sunday Express newspaper hit yesterday with a high profile report on appalling hygiene standards in the nation's restaurants and a call from EHOs for restaurants to be licensed for food.

This came hot on the heels of a tirade from new tourism minister Kim Howells, who in an interview with Caterer & Hotelkeeper, accused British hotels of "ripping off" customers, offering poor value for money and paying "slave wages". He said that hoteliers rather than the foot and mouth outbreak were to blame for the downturn in tourism, and compared British hotels unfavourably with those in Germany and America. His comments, not surprisingly, were picked up by the national press over the weekend.

So much for Government support for battered tourism. But Howells was really only echoing comments already made by his boss Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell at the CBI's tourism conference, except without the finesse or the "let's work together to put it right" type of line.

The truth is there is a lot wrong with standards of service, attitude and quality of product right across the hotel, restaurant and pub markets. The bulk of the industry knows it. But tabloid-style attacks about "slave wages" isn't going to help.

Howells appears to suffer from the twin Labour diseases of still thinking they are fighting the election and looking at business only from the consumers' point of view. He had the same problem in his last job at the Department of Trade & Industry, where he was best known for attacking pubs over the price of soft drinks.

If the Government is so worried about poor standards it perhaps should be a little more discriminating in the aid it does give the sector and base decisions more on need and return rather the votes they might win. A typical example is rate relief for rural pubs, a selective measure which will probably only go to prop up the least efficient and least attractive businesses in the sector.

On a more positive note Howells told Caterer: "I see tourism as our fastest-growing industry and central to the new economy. I'm concerned that it's suffered from a low profile and confusion about who should speak for it. I'm going to do part of that job, but the industry also has to speak for itself."

After the rest of what he said last week, the industry will almost certainly be doing a lot of speaking out on its own behalf.