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Volume 78: debated on Thursday 9 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what initiatives the Government have made to increase tourism in the Province.

Government initiatives in support of the Northern Ireland tourist industry include an expanded programme of marketing and promotional campaigns at home and abroad by the Northern Ireland tourist board and the provision of grant assistance by the Department of Economic Development to encourage the development of tourist amenities and accommodation in the Province.

I welcome the increase in tourism and the benefit it brings to the economy. Will this initiative to alleviate the serious unemployment problem in the Province be continued? Are there any plans to increase the sailings between Liverpool and Belfast?

Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Perry), who is interested in the passage to and from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we welcome the increase in tourism. There has been an 8 per cent. increase in the number of tourists coming into Northern Ireland and the number is now approaching 1 million. That helps employment—about 8,000 people are employed in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Gentleman is very interested in and concerned about Northern Ireland. I welcome his support for saying that Northern Ireland is a good place to visit, in particular because his constituency is so close to the Province As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, if only people would spend two or three weeks in Northern Ireland instead of a few hours there, more sense might be spoken in the House.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the tourist attractions of Northern Ireland are very considerable and that not least among those attractions is the warm welcome that tourists receive from at least 99 per cent. of the population? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the opportunities given to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board by our missions abroad to bring this home to foreigners, who, in large numbers, already spend time in Northern Ireland, are adequate?

May I underline what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the hospitality of both communities in Northern Ireland. I am eight pounds heavier than when I first went there on 10 September 1984, which demonstrates that wherever one goes in Northern Ireland some of the best food in the world is offered to visitors. My healthiness at present depends in more ways than one upon what happens in Northern Ireland. As for my right hon. Friend's second point, there are now tourist board representatives in Scotland, West Germany and the Republic, and 350,000 visitors from the Republic came to Northern Ireland on holiday last year. We are examining whether the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is spending its money effectively and what more we can do to help.

While sympathising with the Minister's encounter with Ulster pride, is it not the case that those who spend a holiday in Northern Ireland and experience not only the beauty of the country but the friendliness and peaceability of the inhabitants obtain a much truer insight into the truth about the Province than those who, with preconceived political notions, flip over and back?

I can only agree with the right hon. Gentleman about holidays in the Province. It is beautiful. A great deal has been done to the loughs and harbours to make it even more attractive than before. Anything that any right hon. or hon. Member can do to encourage other people to come to the Province will be of advantage to all concerned.

Can the Minister tell the House what positive steps he and his hon. Friends have taken to encourage touring sports teams to come to Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the teams which have cancelled their visits because of threats by the IRA and the INLA?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing all that we can—and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), similarly—to encourage teams to come to Northern Ireland. It was undoubtedly due to the Government's encouragement that there was the recent excellent snooker result involving the Province.