HC Deb 11 November 1991 vol 198 cc775-6
29. Mr. Jessel

To ask the Minister for the Arts what information he has as to the extent visitors to Britain are attracted by the arts.

Mr. Renton

In a sample poll of visitors to museums and galleries nationwide taken in 1990, 22 per cent. were from overseas. That figure rises to 44 per cent. in London. In addition, around 32 per cent. of overseas visitors to London in 1990–91 cited a trip to the theatre as their main reason for coming.

Mr. Jessel

As spending by overseas visitors on hotels, restaurants, shopping, travelling and the arts generates employment, income and a tax yield to the Government, does that not abundantly justify the excellent settlement obtained by my right hon. Friend in the negotiations for the autumn statement, and is it not time that the Opposition showed a bit more enthusiasm?

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind support for the good settlement that I was able to obtain for the performing and visual arts last week. It is satisfactory. In the broad strategy discussions that I have had with the Arts Council, it was my wish that a good proportion of the money should assist touring round the country and should help the new regional arts boards. In that way, we shall be helping the best to get the most. Given that the shadow Minister for the Arts came to see me in the spring to say what difficulties he thought the performing companies were in, I agree that it would be nice if the Opposition were to welcome this generous settlement.

Mr. Sheldon

Although the growth in that traffic and the need to maintain an increase in the numbers of people coming to this country to enjoy the arts is not the main purpose of the Minister's job, it has the most attractions for the Treasury. Given that fact, will he continue to press the Government and the Treasury for extra money to meet the demand for help for overseas visitors who come here and the demand for increasing availability of the various facilities that he tries to obtain?

Mr. Renton

I am not certain whether the right hon. Gentleman's remark about attraction to the Treasury was a promise or a threat, but I agree that the invisible earnings brought to this country by overseas tourists are an important factor. There is a tourism co-ordination committee which is headed by the Secretary of State for Employment. I attended one of its meetings last week. One of the matters that I stressed to the national tourist boards was that there is a great deal to be done to ensure that arts programmes—what is happening in local galleries and museums—are more widely known to overseas tourists through the tourist boards.