HC Deb 13 July 1992 vol 211 cc793-4
3. Mr. Raynsford

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on the promotion of tourism in Greater London.

Mr. Key

London is one of this country's most important destinations for both domestic and overseas visitors. It is the role of the tourism industry, with support from the English tourist board and the London tourist board, to work to maximise the capital's visitor potential. The British Tourist Authority features London strongly in its overseas promotion.

Mr. Raynsford

Does the Minister recognise that London's important position as a tourist centre is increasingly threatened by foreign competition and the inadequate infrastructure in London. especially the inadequate level and performance of public transport? What will he and his colleagues do to rectify that position so that London does not continue to lose out to other European cities in today's highly competitive tourist market?

Mr. Key

I was delighted to note that the new chairman of the London tourist board, whom I congratulate on his appointment, had made that one of his priorities—as, indeed, it is one of mine. To illustrate the good faith involved, I should add that I have already discussed with my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London a number of the problems facing the capital, particularly those connected with tourism and including those affecting the constituency of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford). I await my hon. Friend's advice before proceeding to a meeting with Greenwich borough council.

Mr. Jessel

With regard to the promotion of tourism in Greater London and in the rest of the United Kingdom, will Her Majesty's Government resist the ridiculous proposal from Brussels to abolish British national tourist offices in countries such as the United States and Japan and replace them with European tourist offices? That is blatantly inconsistent with the principle of subsidiarity.

Mr. Key

I am glad to be able to reassure my hon. Friend that I know of no such proposals. It is true that the European Community seeks to increase its competence in such matters; the subject was debated vigorously at a recent Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg, which I attended. I believe that the Community has a role to play in speaking about tourism issues—after all, by the year 2000 tourism will be one of the greatest industries in Europe—but it is also important to recognise that those who run the industry and individual businesses, whether stately homes or bed-and-breakfast establishments, will determine the future of tourism.

Mr. Fisher

The Minister is being dangerously complacent in the face of a significant fall in the number of tourists visiting Britain, which has hit London especially badly. Those are the facts.

Perhaps the majority of tourists are attracted to Britain because of its arts and heritage. What arts and heritage policies will the Minister introduce? Will he actually repair the holes in the roof of the Tate gallery and other great buildings? Will he perhaps provide the money for the completion of the Globe theatre, and give some money to west end theatres so that their great fabric may be restored? Will he do anything at all? Does he not understand what France, Berlin and Barcelona are doing? When will the Government introduce decent policies, and attract some tourists?

Mr. Key

Heaven forbid that we should pursue the policies which are current in some of those places. The hon. Gentleman's figures are entirely wrong. Only last month, I was delighted to be able to comment on the increase in the number of tourists visiting this country from overseas in the first quarter of the year: that was most encouraging, and a significant reversal of last year's trends.

Of course it is appropriate to repair our heritage. One of the great advantages of the new Department of National Heritage is our ability to take an overall view of the problems as they confront us. We can tie the importance of tourism to that of leisure, and the importance of broadcasting to that of sport and heritage. Before, we had to carry out what might be described as a piecemeal operation.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that the substantial increase in investment in London Regional Transport—£3,500 million over the next three years—will give a considerable boost to tourism? Is that not very much better than the peanuts spent by the late and unlamented Greater London council?

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I well remember the years during which the GLC cut its capital expenditure dramatically in order to subsidise fares. The move took very few people off the roads, and caused mayhem for regular travellers.