HC Deb 07 June 1976 vol 912 cc892-4
5. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he has any proposals to amend the development area system, particularly for tourist development projects.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Michael Meacher)

No, Sir. I believe that the resources available for financial assistance to tourism projects are most usefully deployed in the development areas where the need is greatest.

Mr. MacGregor

Would not the Minister agree that the development area definition, which frequently involves depressed industrial areas, is not really a wholly appropriate measure for a system of tourist grants and for major tourist needs? Will he therefore reconsider the idea of a system of tourist development areas specifically for loans or grants for tourist projects?

Mr. Meacher

The present development areas do, of course, identify the areas of greatest economic need, including a need for tourism, and it is quite wrong to suppose that they are exclusively industrial areas. Many of the development areas include some of the most beautiful parts of the country. We feel that, if we were to extend outside those development areas the limited funds that are available, the benefits which the system gives would be spread too thinly, to the disadvantage of the development areas.

Mr. Costain

Does not the Minister appreciate that the criteria are entirely different? There are many areas on the South Coast which are suffering from high unemployment which could meet this tourist demand. Why does he not take advantage of this and give some benefits so that they can do so?

Mr. Meacher

I hope that they will be able to take advantage of their tourist potential, but with limited Government funds we are bound to concentrate on the areas within the development areas which have tourist potential. All the regional economic planning boards have recently been examining the areas of greatest weakness inside the development areas—the "fragile" areas—and the national tourist boards are now looking at how far they have tourist potential. I am sure that this is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Heffer

Will not my hon. Friend have another look at this? I supported this in the past, but as a Minister I found that there was a justifiable case for certain areas which were not within the development areas. The Government should be a little more flexible in relation to support for areas which are not necessarily in a development area.

Mr. Meacher

I assure my hon. Friend that, although I accept that there are many areas outside the development areas which have important tourist potential, we have to take into account the areas which are in greatest need of economic aid. Those are unquestionably the development areas. If we were to extend tourist aid, on any definition it would have to be extended widely and the benefits would, regretfully, be spread too thinly.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Is not the Minister aware that under the present system grants go to areas within the development areas which are not particularly interested in tourism? Is he not further aware that there are areas outside the development areas which could do with these grants but cannot apply for them? Would he at least agree to review the present system to see how it is working?

Mr. Meacher

The hon. Gentleman is referring to guidelines which were recently introduced after full consultations within the industry. I think that we should give them a chance to see how they operate. As to the hon. Gentleman's point that Section 4 grants under the 1969 Act are used inside the development areas in areas which lack tourist potential, I should like to have chapter and verse about this. All such grants are given on the advice and agreement of the national tourist boards, and certainly we should look to their judgment as to the proper expenditure of those funds.

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