HL Deb 31 January 1984 vol 447 cc550-3

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what was the total number of tourists to Britain in 1983, and how does this compare with the preceding three years.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, complete figures for the year 1983 are not yet available, but in the first 10 months of the year there were an estimated 11,113,000 overseas visitors to the United Kingdom. That is a 7 per cent. increase compared with the same period in 1982, and an increase of 10 per cent. compared with the same period in 1981. It is almost the same as the figure for the first 10 months of 1980.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Can he give me any details of the percentage increase in, for example, American visitors? Can he also please say what plans there are for Heritage Year? May I also ask my noble friend whether he has visited the new premises in Victoria, and is he aware how extremely good, efficient and welcoming they are?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not yet had an opportunity to visit the new premises which my noble friend tells me of. Perhaps she and I might make a joint trip there; I look forward to that. With regard to my noble friend's first point, about the increase in visits by people from North America, I am pleased to be able to tell her that in 1983 there was a 34 per cent. rise over 1982 in visits from North American citizens. My noble friend asked about the theme and the plans for 1984, which has been designated Heritage '84 by the British tourist industry. So far this theme has received enthusiastic support from the industry, and a wide range of events has been planned.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can say whether he attributes the increase in the number of overseas visitors from North America entirely to the fall in the value of the pound against the dollar?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, not entirely; but that is no doubt one of the factors. Other factors might be the tremendous value that visitors from North America and, indeed, from all round the world, believe that they receive in this country, in this great city of ours and, for all we know, perhaps in the Palace of Westminster as well.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that if overseas visitors were exempted from paying value added tax on the services that they receive in this country, the figure of 11 million-odd would probably be greatly increased?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we are well aware of the various cases put to us by the tourist industry for more relief on hotel accommodation and facilities for visitors. We shall ensure that this is considered on appropriate occasions, all the more so thanks to the support of my noble friend.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in giving the increase in tourists coming to this country, can my noble friend say whether there are figures to show the stream of British tourists in the other direction, and whether on balance there is an advantage in the foreign currency earned?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, there are statistics of British visitors going overseas. In the same period—the first 10 months of 1983–18,805,000 visits were made abroad by United Kingdom citizens. They spent £3,688 million. This was a deficit on tourism in the first 10 months of £433 million. I would stress that this is considerably less than the deficit on tourism in the first 10 months of 1982.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, can my noble friend say how many out of the figure of 11 million are language students? Can he give some indication of how many stay on to continue their studies and do not go back?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, if I can obtain these complicated statistics for my noble friend, I shall do so. However, I would have to say to him and to your Lordships that it may require considerable research. Indeed, we may have some difficulty in defining who is and who is not a language student, because that also goes for me.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Lord has been kind enough to give the figure showing the increase in visitors from the United States, which is significantly higher than the global figure that he gave. Can he say, for example, whether there has been an increase or a decrease in visitors to this country from European Community countries'?

Lord Lyell

My Lords. I think that I could do so, but not without due search among the statistics. If I may, I shall find these figures and write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the great delays at Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport for those arriving from North America holding passports other than British passports? Does he realise that tourists go away rather unhappy about this?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the first impression that visitors to these shores gain at airports and other ports of entry. I am afraid that I am not able to give my noble friend a suitable answer today, but I shall inquire and write to her very swiftly.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, when a Minister is asked a question to which he feels he cannot do an immediate justice, would he consider, if the answer is likely to be more than of interest to his sole interlocutor, inviting a Question for Written Answer rather than promising to write a letter?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for this extremely good idea. I should like to consider it. I shall certainly see that the noble and learned Lord receives copies of the two written answers that I have promised to give today.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, in view of the continuing, although reduced, deficit on tourist account, will the noble Lord indicate what measures have been taken to stimulate what one might call indigenous tourism?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the tourist industry itself is taking extremely vigorous measures, as I have pointed out to my noble friend Lady Sharpies. The main thrust for this year is Heritage '84. Most of the ideas for improving our earnings from tourism come from the vigorous tourist industry itself.

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