HC Deb 16 January 1990 vol 165 cc148-9
7. Mr. Bright

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the percentage increase in the number of visitors to the United Kingdom in 1989; and what was the figure for 1988.

Mr. Nicholls

The latest estimate for 1989 is that, during the first 10 months of the year, there were 14.9 million visitors to the United Kingdom, 9 per cent. more than in the same period of 1988. In 1988 as a whole there were 15.8 million visitors to the United Kingdom, 1 per cent. more than in 1987.

Mr. Bright

Obviously, the trend is encouraging, but apart from ensuring that people use airports such as Luton and Manchester and avoid the sometimes cattle-like conditions that they have to experience at Gatwick and Heathrow, will my hon. Friend encourage the industry and, indeed, the planning authorities to provide value-for-money accommodation around the countryside, such as we often see in America, which is one of the things that tourists are looking for, instead of the high-priced hotels that they are sometimes pushed into at the moment?

Mr. Nicholls

I am sure that my hon. Friend is entirely right to draw our attention to the importance of an initially favourable impression when one lands at an airport. I know that my noble Friend the Minister responsible for tourism shares that view. My hon. Friend is aware of the attitude that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport takes in pursuing the liberalisation of air routes, to try to bring more people into the country. I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. Without being complacent, there are good grounds for saying that the industry is taking those points on board, especially in relation to accommodation.

Mr. Pike

Would not we get better tourism in the regions and thereby increase tourism to this country if we not only developed more direct access to our regional airports, but ensured that the regions can benefit fully from the Channel tunnel project? Does the Minister agree that we must not get second best for the regions, but first best, with public investment in the railway network to meet that need?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman touches quite properly on the role that transport plays in this matter. He also referred to the Channel tunnel. It is expected that about 15 million people will use the Channel tunnel in the first year. I fully accept that that has consequences for the regions and the road network. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the recent White Paper on road transport, he will find a great deal there to encourage him.

Sir John Stokes

Does not my hon. Friend agree that while, clearly, we should welcome tourists to this country, tourism is ruining large areas of the world? Must we not take care to preserve our English countryside and heritage as much as possible as well as welcoming newcomers?

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend is entirely right to point out that inevitably there is a conflict between the proper exploitation of tourist areas and making sure that our heritage is not destroyed in the process. I should not go so far as to take my hon. Friend's apocalyptic view of the matter but he is right that the danger must be borne in mind.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Minister agree that tourism can provide a valuable source of income for the balance of payments? Is he aware that during the past five or six years, the amount under "invisible" items in the balance of payments has fallen from £700 million a month to £100 million a month and that tourism has a part to play in that? Is it not a scandal that the Government have reached the point where they make the invisibles invisible?

Mr. Nicholls

The only thing that is invisible is the hon. Gentleman's ability to understand the facts. It is an entirely false formula to subtract domestic tourism from outgoing tourism. The fact that tourism overseas is increasing at such a rate and that people can afford to go abroad for their holidays shows the economic prosperity of the country. I say that in the certain knowledge that were the hon. Gentleman's party to attain office, that prosperity would disappear completely.

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