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Volume 128: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the number of tourists visiting the United Kingdom in 1987.

By November 1987 the tourism industry in the United Kingdom had achieved a record, with 14·9 million visitors to the country. This figure is a 9 per cent. increase on the equivalent period in the previous record year of 1985. The total for the whole of 1987 will be released tomorrow.

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent news. Can he estimate what contribution tourism made to the economy in 1987 and how our record compares with that of other Western nations? What is my hon. Friend's Department doing to help the English tourist board to move the many tourists who arrive in London to the regions? In my experience, Americans who come to south Dorset from London do not want to go back because of the wonderful welcome that they receive in places such as Weymouth and Swanage.

Let me take the latter part of my hon. Friend's question first. The English tourist board is working hard with the regional tourist boards to encourage American visitors to move into the regions rather than stay in London, Edinburgh and Stratford.

My hon. Friend asked about the contribution that tourism makes to the economy. There are a number of factors to be considered. The industry sustains 1·4 million jobs and the figure is growing at the rate of nearly 1,000 a week. We calculate that tourism now generates around £1·5 billion worth of new construction. In terms of overseas visitor tourist earnings, tourism is about 25 per cent. more important than aerospace, and four times more important than motor vehicles. Finally, my hon. Friend asked about other Western countries. We are fifth in the dollar earnings league in tourism, behind the United States, Spain, Italy and France.

Is the Minister aware that as tourism grows the number of official bodies proliferates and the arrangements could probably benefit from rationalisation? Is he also aware that some of the current problems arise from Government policy? For example, how are tourists to explore those delightful but remote villages in south Humberside and north Humberside when there are no longer rural bus services because of Government policies?

The hon. Gentleman knows that his specific question is for another Department. On his earlier point, while there may be a proliferation of tourism bodies in certain areas, a welcome feature of recent years has been the increasing partnership in the industry between the public sector — the regional tourist boards—and the private sector.

On the question about transport, we are blessed with a pretty good motorway network which helps the regions, particularly the north, the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside.