HC Deb 11 February 1998 vol 306 cc360-1
4. Siobhain McDonagh

What assessment she has made of the importance of the tourist sector to the Northern Ireland economy; and if she will make a statement. [26868]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

During 1996, tourism contributed £206 million to the Northern Ireland economy. Estimates suggest that the figure will decline to £202 million for 1997. That accounts for approximately 2 per cent. of Northern Ireland's gross domestic product and helps to sustain 12,500 full-time jobs in the industry.

Siobhain McDonagh

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure that he agrees that Northern Ireland is a beautiful place to visit for a holiday and much under-used as a tourist destination because of the problems with peace in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that the message for the tourism industry, as for all sectors of the economy, is that they will receive a huge boost if the participants at the talks can agree among themselves and if that process is successfully concluded?

Mr. Ingram

I could not agree more with those comments, for which I thank my hon. Friend. She is right: Northern Ireland is a beautiful place to visit and more people should do so. It has been calculated that, in the tourism sector alone, 20,000 extra jobs could be generated on the back of a peaceful and lasting settlement. The same potential for growth exists in other sectors of the economy. There can be no question but that peace and prosperity are inextricably linked.

Mr. Donaldson

Does the Minister agree that, if we are to attract more tourists to Northern Ireland, we need to have adequate accommodation for those tourists? I welcome the recent investment by several hotel chains in new hotels in Northern Ireland, but will he give a commitment that smaller hotels that are locally owned and that have supported the tourist industry for years in Northern Ireland will be given adequate funding to expand their facilities to provide adequate accommodation?

Mr. Ingram

The real support for tourism would come on the back of a peaceful settlement. I know that the hon. Gentleman is doing his best to try to achieve that. It is clear that the potential for growth in the small hotel sector is crucial. As I said in response to the previous question, 20,000 additional jobs could be generated. Clearly, the Government would sympathetically consider measures to support growth in the economy; it is something that I am actively examining.