HC Deb 30 January 1995 vol 253 cc671-2
8. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement on his plans to promote tourism to London.

Mr. Dorrell

London's performance in tourism is important both in itself and as the gateway to the rest of country. I therefore announced on 29 November increased funding for London, to be matched by the private sector.

Mr. Coombs

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it remains the general policy of the Government to promote and to encourage the dispersal of visitors to all parts of the United Kingdom? If that is still the case, will he use his best endeavours to encourage bodies that are charged with responsibility for the promotion of tourism in parts of the United Kingdom outside London, to advertise and promote what they have to offer to visitors when they are in London, on the basis that it is a great deal cheaper to tell Americans about the rest of Britain when they are in London than when they are dispersed in America and the rest of the world?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend has taken an interest in the subject for a long time and he has got the point precisely right. The biggest audience of overseas visitors to the rest of the UK is people who, as part of their visit—it may be their first visit or part of a visit to London and the provinces—are in London. London as a tourist destination is an essential part of the success of our tourist industry. That is why, as the first stage in the development of our tourist strategy, we are seeking to reinforce the marketing of London as a tourist destination.

Mr. Austin-Walker

Does the Minister share my view that it is important that visitors to London should be encouraged to see sights on the fringes of London? Is he aware that 100,000 people a year visit the Thames barrier, which has been described as one of the eight modern wonders of the world and which is a superb advertisement for British engineering skills? Is he further aware that the National Rivers Authority proposes to close the visitors centre? Will he ensure that resources are made available not only to refurbish the exhibition there—it is now 10 years old—but to ensure that the centre stays open?

Mr. Dorrell

If the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me about the visitors centre at the Thames barrier, I shall be glad to examine the matter. The hon. Gentleman is of course right about promoting the development of tourist destinations on the London rim. Places such as Hampton court and Greenwich are major tourist attractions which are outside the centre of London, and the more visitors we can attract to them, the better pleased the Government will be.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to persuade visitors to London to stay on the outer rim rather than concentrating on hotels in Mayfair? They would be made welcome and comfortable in Northolt, Hanwell and other parts of the borough of Ealing and would find it easy to get into London during off-peak hours. Would not all involved benefit?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which he makes in his own way. The key message for Londoners to take on board is the importance to London's economy of the tourist sector as a whole. Roughly 200,000 jobs in London depend directly on tourism, which contributes nearly £5 billion to the city's economy. It is therefore an important sector for us to develop.