HC Deb 20 December 1995 vol 268 cc1513-22
7. Mr. Merchant

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the total tourism revenues in Scotland. [5201]

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Some £2.1 billion in 1994, and we expect 1995 to be even better.

Mr. Merchant

I welcome my right hon. Friend's increased provision—to more than £18 million next year—to the Scottish tourist board. Will he confirm that that represents an increase of 20 per cent. over previous plans thanks to the reordering of priorities at Scottish Enterprise? Does he agree that that increase reflects the high priority that the Government give to the tourist industry in energising the Scottish economy?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend. The difference between Conservatives and hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is that Conservative Members do not believe that organisations such as Scottish Enterprise exist for their own account. If organisations such as Scottish Enterprise are able to deliver their targets within reduced budgets and we deploy the money to help tourism, which is what we have done, that is a good deal for the taxpayer and represents the right way to use scarce resources to encourage the wealth-creating sector. Tourism has a vital role to play in rural Scotland and throughout Scotland, and I congratulate the Scottish tourist board on its magnificent work in increasing the numbers of people coming to Scotland. There is still great scope for improvement, and that is why, in a difficult public expenditure round, we were able to increase its budget by no less than 20 per cent.

Mr. Donohoe

The Secretary of State, in giving us that information, will know of the shambles that has resulted from the lack of funding for the celebrations next year of the bicentenary of the death of Burns. There is a severe lack of sponsorship from the private sector. In those circumstances, will he give a commitment to funding the celebrations directly from the Scottish Office to make up for the losses that are being incurred?

Mr. Forsyth

I cannot give that commitment, but I can tell the House that we propose to have celebrations of the bard's life, in both London and Scotland. On 31 January, we shall be holding a large function in London, to which a number of Opposition Members will receive invitations, to celebrate the life and works of Rabbie Burns. It is also our intention to mark the passing of Robert Burns's life with an event in Scotland, and it is appropriate that that should take place in the south-west of Scotland.

Sir Hector Monro

Hear, hear.

Mr. Forsyth

I can hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) saying, "Hear, hear." I am sure that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) will welcome that information also.

Mrs. Ewing

The Secretary of State will recognise that tourism is an all-year industry, and that winter tourism plays an important part in the livelihoods of people in rural areas. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State's work in establishing the Scottish avalanche information service. Does he accept that there is now some concern about the future of that organisation? Can we expect an early report from the review group, because considered action will be needed to ensure that we continue and expand that important aspect of our tourist industry?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with the hon. Lady. I established that avalanche warning service myself.

Mr. Canavan

It did not work last night.

Mr. Forsyth

This is a serious subject and people's lives are at risk.

I established the service on the recommendation of the distinguished mountaineer, Hamish McInnes. I was aware that there was a question mark over the service, and I gave instructions that the service should continue to be supported. We have given the service an extra £ 6,000, and we have commissioned a study, costing about £5,000, to consider the scope for expanding the service. I hope that one of the issues that will be addressed is whether we could cover a wider area using telemetric equipment.

I thought that some of the press reports were very unfair. The Government have every intention, as long as I am Secretary of State, of ensuring that the service is encouraged and expanded as far as is practically possible. However, we must ensure that money is spent wisely and that resources are used effectively, so that we get the best benefit out of the service.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me an opportunity to make that statement.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I take this opportunity to wish the Secretary of State and all Scots Members a braw hogmanay. Has the Secretary of State taken into consideration the interest in tourism in Northern Ireland, following the visit by the President of the United States, and will he urge the Scottish tourist board to use the Scottish-Irish connection to build up the tourist routes and encourage the growth of overseas visitors?

Mr. Forsyth

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his greetings for the new year. I wish him a happy Christmas and a happy new year, and you, too, Madam Speaker.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about tourism and Ulster, we Unionists must stick together on that and other matters. There is scope for encouraging tourism, and I am in discussion with the Scottish tourist board and others to improve the links between Ulster and Scotland. That will enable us to develop packages and tourism opportunities, and I shall raise the prospects for co-operation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the light of the hon. Gentleman's helpful suggestion.

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