HC Deb 21 March 1983 vol 39 cc523-5
5. Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Minister for Trade if he will place in the Library a copy of the speech the Minister with responsibility for tourism made to the London tourist board on 17 January.

23. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Minister for Trade if he will place in the Library a copy of the speech given by the Minister responsible for tourism to the London tourist board on 17 January.

Mr. Sproat

Yes, Sir. Copies of the speech have been placed in the Library.

Mr. Morris

Is the Minister aware that his reference in that speech to abandoning the policy of spreading the economic benefits of tourism more widely throughout Britain caused widespread concern? Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that his written reply last Wednesday announcing additional resources for the London tourist board has also caused concern, not least in the north of England? When will he announce further resources to help the north of England?

Mr. Sproat

The north of England will share in the far greater benefits of the large increase that I have made in section 4 grants under the Development of Tourism Act 1969. I have increased the money that is going not only to the London tourist board but to all the regional tourist boards—an increase of £100,000. That is greater than the rise in inflation.

I am fully aware of the importance of places outside London in our tourist policy, but the hon. Gentleman must remember that 58 per cent. of the money that foreigners spend in Britain is spent in London. London is our single biggest tourist attraction, and when tourists come here they then visit other places. They would not necessarily come to Britain if we were to advertise Manchester as the first place of interest for tourists.

Mr. Montgomery

Is not the existing dominance of London as a tourist centre largely due to the unreasonable predominance of London's airports? Is it not a fact that about 94 per cent. of all tourists coming to Britain have to pass through London, although about 30 per cent. do not want to stay in London but want to spend their holidays in the regions? Is there not some imbalance between the money allowed for tourism in London compared with in the regions?

Mr. Sproat

No, Sir, there is not. I am sorry to have to answer so bluntly. My hon. Friend has fought hard for Manchester airport and he will know that I have also done a great deal for both scheduled and cargo traffic at Manchester airport, giving it a higher allocation than it has ever had. However, he must face the fact that tourists come to london not because they like Heathrow airport but because they want to see Buckingham palace, the changing of the guard, the Houses of Parliament, and other tourist attractions. If we can get them to come to London in the first place there is a chance that we shall he able to initiate them into the delights of tourist attractions elsewhere in Britain.

Mr. Cyril Smith

What help does the Minister propose to give to airports such as Manchester other than answering questions at the Dispatch Box in a way that seems to be mildly insulting to the north-west of England? If I may say so, we find it insulting to keep hearing such comments about how great London is compared with Manchester airport. What help will he give to Manchester airport and to persuade people—this is the essence—that there are other things in Great Britain besides Buckingham palace, Horse Guards parade and so on, which they should be encouraged to see?

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), for instance.

Mr. Sproat

I am fully aware of that. Anybody representing Aberdeen as I do could not fail to be aware that there is a great deal outside London. I must say—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) will back me up on this—that to accuse me of not having done anything for Manchester airport, when I have given it the Iberian scheduled service, the Ward air cargo service, and £153 million for regional airports since the Government came to power, is ludicrous and shows how badly out of touch the Liberal party is with the realities of life.

Sir Julian Ridsdale

Will my hon. Friend have another look at Government policy? Does he realise that many hon. Members think that he is placing far too great an emphasis on London? Is it right to initiate a policy that takes from the tourist industry the port of entry assistance that has worked so well in the past few years?

Mr. Sproat

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that although the English tourist board has withdrawn its help from Harwich, the regional district board and the local authority have taken over its work. That shows that our policy is right. I have already made the point that London is our single major attraction. It also draws into Britain people who can then visit Harwich and other places.

Mr. John Fraser

Now that the pound is at a historically low level, when does the Minister expect last year's deficit of £400 million on tourism to return to the healthy surpluses that existed under the Labour Government?

Mr. Sproat

It is true that the year before last our tourist balance of trade went into deficit for the first time for 16 or 17 years. I do not think that the Labour party can take any credit for that. With the change in the pound-dollar relationship there is an even better incentive for us to have American tourists. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that even last year there was a 7 per cent. increase in tourists from America. I hope that he will rejoice with us about that instead of making cheap party political points.