HC Deb 20 April 1989 vol 151 cc442-3
1. Mr. Colvin

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has yet received the report of the review team on tourism policy in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)

The team undertaking a review of tourism policy in Northern Ireland is due to make its report to me by the end of April. I will consider this report, and consult as necessary, before making an announcement on future strategy.

Mr. Colvin

I note that reply, but will my hon. Friend assure the House that the review has taken into account the submission from the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade, Northern Ireland, especially with regard to accommodation grants? Does he agree that it would be better to give grants to, say, 100 pubs, each of which would provide three rooms, than to give a grant to one 300-room hotel? The grants should be spread around more evenly. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that that is especially important this year because all the indications are that forward bookings for holidays abroad are falling off and there is every chance that people will want to take holidays at home?

Mr. Viggers

My hon. Friend is on to a good point. The Government have shown that they recognise the significance of the licensed trade in public houses by changing the situation that existed until last year, whereby public houses in Northern Ireland could not offer overnight accommodation, in legislation that was taken through the House by the Under-Secretary of State my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham). Pubs in Northern Ireland have now been brought into line with those in the United Kingdom and public houses can now take in guests, provided of course, that the accommodation meets the registration requirements of the Northern Ireland tourist board. I cannot anticipate the conclusion of the review, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's points in mind.

Mr. Kilfedder

In my view, despite terrorism Northern Ireland is the finest place in the entire world, with kindly, friendly and generous people. Does the Minister agree that money invested in tourism, with financial support from the Government, will help to counter the bad image presented by the media? If more foreigners come to Ulster they will see that it is a delightful place and that what I have said is true.

Mr. Viggers

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Despite the magnificent recreational and sporting facilities in Northern Ireland, there has not been the number of tourists that we would like and who would enjoy a visit to Northern Ireland. A high proportion of visitors to Northern Ireland are visiting family and friends or are on business. We want to ensure that the assistance that is provided by the Government is properly focused on holiday visitors.

Mr. William Ross

Given the tremendous interest that has been aroused by the recent expenditure on Giant's Causeway, is it not clear that investment in tourism is of great benefit to the community in Northern Ireland? Will the Minister and the Government therefore move away from the idea of promoting Belfast and Londonderry as the principle centre of tourism and look closely at the north coast, where the town of Portrush has many natural resources and great natural beauty and is the traditional and premium tourist resort of Northern Ireland? Will the Government consider giving more than five lines to Portrush in the tourist board's brochures? Surely the whole north coast is worth far more than that and should be actively promoted because that is where people will go to find the peace and beauty of the countryside?

Mr. Viggers

It would not be fair if the hon. Gentleman were to submit that the Northern Ireland tourist board does not work very hard to promote the whole of Northern Ireland as a tourist location. I shall certainly bear in mind the points made by the 80 people who have made written representations and the 40 people who have given verbal evidence to the small team conducting the review. I shall also take note of the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the Minister accept that the whole coastline of the island of Ireland is a tourist delight? Does he agree that it would be far better if the tourist authorities in both the north and the south were to co-operate and thus eliminate overlap and wasteful expenditure? Does he welcome the call by the president of the Hoteliers and Caterers Association for a tourist council for all the island of Ireland?

Mr. Viggers

The two tourist boards do co-operate. They share some literature and they are studying ways in which they can co-operate further. I shall certainly take note of the hon. Gentleman's point.