HC Deb 16 January 1990 vol 165 cc141-2
1. Mr. Amos

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received about the development of tourism in the north of England; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)

Ministers from my Department have, on a number of occasions, met representatives from the tourism industry in the north of England, and have received correspondence on a wide range of issues affecting tourism in the area.

Mr. Amos

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but may I ask him two questions? First, will he use his best endeavours to bring about greater co-ordination and a clearer sense of direction for the many agencies in Northumberland that promote tourism? Secondly, will he urgently hold discussions with colleagues in the Department of Transport to bring about a more sensible and flexible policy on signposting? People cannot visit places of interest or use accommodation if they do not know that they exist. In a county as dispersed as Northumberland, it is important that people have that information.

Mr. Nicholls

I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of my noble Friend the Minister with responsibility for tourism, who will share my hon. Friend's concern. I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in the issue. I come from an area that relies heavily on tourism, so I have considerable personal sympathy with him. I take his point on board.

Mr. Beith

Why have Ministers denied section 4 grants for tourism in Northumberland? Does the Under-Secretary of State realise how difficult it is to promote tourism in such an attractive area in competition with much better funded promotion on the Scottish side of the border?

Mr. Nicholls

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman asked that question; I should have thought that he would already be aware of the answer. If he looks at the figures, he will find that the contribution that section 4 grants made to the tourist industry in Northumbria was minuscule. Other forms of grant and assistance are available to tourism in the area. The industry is so successful that it does not need to be maintained on the back of public subsidy.

Mr. Gregory

Does my hon. Friend agree that the growth in tourism would be faster in the north of England, particularly in York, if there were more flights from overseas direct to the north? If overseas flights went direct to Manchester and other northern airports, tourists could be channelled directly to York and other tourist areas in the north.

Mr. Nicholls

I am sure that my hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Transport links are of much importance. The Government's attitude is that local authority airports have a real role to play by taking their share of traffic. I accept what was implicit in my hon. Friend's question—that road transport also has a significant part to play. In that context, my hon. Friend will have been heartened by the proposals in the transport White Paper. I accept his point.

Mr. Radice

Does not the success of tourism in the northern region owe much to the efforts of the Northumbria tourist board and local councils? Would it not be far fairer if we received some of the support that other areas, such as Scotland and Wales, receive? We should then be on a level playing field. Should not the Government take action on that?

Mr. Nicholls

No, or the Government would have done so. I accept that the hon. Gentleman and others hold that view. The position in Wales and Scotland is different—t he hon. Gentleman will find a fair amount of support for this among Labour Members—and cannot always be equated to that in England. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales believed that section 4 should be retained in accordance with how they saw tourism developing. The evidence is that section 4 made a small contribution to tourism in England. The prosperity of the tourist industry in the hon. Gentleman's area owes more to factors other than merely section 4.

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