HC Deb 24 June 1986 vol 100 cc168-70
8. Mr. Ron Davies

asked the Paymaster General what is the latest estimate of the number of tourists from the United States of America in the current year; and how this figure compares with 1985.

Mr. Trippier

Figures for the international passenger survey are available only for the first quarter of 1986 and show an increase in the number of visitors from North America of 15 per cent. We have no precise details as to the levels of American tourism subsequently. The British Tourist Authority, from its contacts with the industry, has advised that, if present levels continue throughout the year, there may be a reduction of up to 15 per cent., but there are signs of an early upturn in business and the BTA is hopeful that over the year as a whole last year's record level of American visitors may be maintained.

Mr. Davies

If the figure of 15 per cent. is correct, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it will mean that this year the British tourist industry will lose about £150 million? Was it not clear in retrospect that the Government's involvement in the American bombing of Libya would inevitably lead to retaliation and to a loss of trade and jobs in this country? If the hon. Gentleman finds that loss acceptable, will he explain why the Government reject economic measures against South Africa, precisely because jobs will he lost in this country?

Mr. Trippier

The hon. Gentleman may have framed his supplementary question before he heard my answer. I made it clear in the latter part of my answer to the substantive question that we hope—British Airways has made this point—that by the end of the year there will be a recovery in the number of American visitors. To put the whole matter into perspective, it is important for the hon. Gentleman to accept that even if the 15 per cent. decrease in the number of visitors coming to the United Kingdom were to he the worst case, it would mean a drop of only 3 per cent. in real spending in the tourism sector.

Sir Kenneth Lewis

Does my hon. Friend agree that the shortage of American visitors to this country has little to do with the tear of terrorism but might have something to do with the not very satisfactory weather which we have from time to time? Does he agree that, above all, it is to do with the high value of the pound compared with the dollar? Will my hon. Friend make representations to hotels in London and other places to bring down their prices, because they are outrageously high?

Mr. Trippier

My hon. Friend makes a number of points. First, I should have thought that no American ever came to this country because of our climate. I think that we can dispense quickly with that reason. [Interruption.] There may have been an exception or two this year, but in normal circumstances the Americans certainly do not come because of our climate. Secondly, I think that the exchange rate is a factor. Thirdly, I believe that many people who have studied this subject in the past few weeks have got it wrong, in that they have assumed that the problem lies with the fact that a number of Americans are worried about whether the destination is safe. I suggest that they are more concerned about travelling on the aeroplanes than about safe destinations.

Mrs. Clwyd

If the hon. Gentleman is so confident about the recovery from the reduction in the number of American tourists, will he explain why the Prime Minister grovelled on American television, begging American tourists to come here?

Mr. Trippier

I must apologise to the hon. Lady because I do not think that I heard correctly the last part of her question. She may have been saying that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement on her way to the Tokyo summit to the effect that Britain was a safe destination. I should have thought that the hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends would support that. Certainly my right hon. Friend's statement helped to dispel the fears in the minds of some people who were concerned about coming to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Terlezki

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reduced figure for tourists is due to Labour propaganda, which plays into the Libyans' hands? Nationally and internationally, Labour supporters are the main contributors in stopping American tourists from coming to this country. They are as much at fault as the Libyans.

Mr. Trippier

Certainly some of the statements by Labour party spokesmen on this matter have not helped one iota. In addition, they have done nothing to assist our campaign with the British Tourist Authority in the United States and they take every opportunity they can to rubbish tourism generally.

Mr. Soames

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should do everything we can to persuade the Americans that we are serious about tourism in this country? Does my hon. Friend agree that, to that end, the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to cancel the heli-link between Gatwick and Heathrow does nothing to promote the interests of tourism?

Mr. Trippier

I must apologise to my hon. Friend about that. It is not a matter for me, but I shall certainly draw those remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.