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Tourist Priority Sites

Volume 128: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Employment if he will create a list of tourist priority sites for the encouragement of investment therein.

The Government have no plans to create a list of tourist priority investment sites. However, in its development strategy, "Vision for England", the English tourist board has highlighted the many opportunities that exist for investment in a wide range of tourism developments.

Although politics is about priorities, and "unique" is perhaps the most overworked word in the English language, does my hon. Friend agree that the Settle to Carlisle railway line is a unique priority for salvation as we approach the moment of decision?

Yes. It is a good word and perhaps my hon. Friend should learn it.

As the Department of Transport—I recognise that it has immediate ministerial responsibility for the decision—struggles to find a solution to the problem, will my hon. Friend recognise, not only that the River Ribble rises in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Patronage Secretary and that he has an interest in all this, but that my hon. Friend, as the Minister responsible for tourism, should do everything that he can to ensure that the line is not closed? Therefore, will my hon. Friend assure me today that he will speak to Department of Transport Ministers urgently to ensure that the tourism opportunities of the line are considered as part of the case against its closure?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for both railways and tourism, and I understand his passion and conviction for the Settle to Carlisle line. I should emphasise that, as my hon. Friend has already said, this is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. However, I assure my hon. Friend and the House that I have certainly ensured that the tourism considerations are taken into account. Indeed, I know the River Ribble well and I fish its headwater whenever I get the opportunity.

Will the Minister ensure that the Jarvis plc—MSC report on the Settle to Carlisle line corridor is brought to the attention of the Department of Transport? That report represents an important initiative by the Minister's Department regarding that line and its retention. Some of us suspect that the Department of Transport is planning to close the line. While the Minister is about that, could he look at the basis of this question—investment in tourist projects? He has spoken a great deal about job creation and so on, but why does the Department not put its money where its mouth is, for example, in projects such as the transport museum and associated tramway in my constituency at Low Moor in Bradford?

I believe I am correct in saying that the Department of Employment has funded, via the MSC, the Jarvis report to which the hon. Gentleman referred. As I said in answer to an earlier written question, that report will be published shortly. The hon. Gentleman should rest assured that the tourist implications have been and will be taken into account.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a trip over the Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line, perhaps in a Pullman train pulled by one of our great historic steam locomotives such as a Great Western King or an LMS Duchess, blasting its way up to Aisgill summit is one of the world's greatest international tourist attractions? In comparison to that experience a trip even to Venice on the Orient Express is as a mere trip on Brighton pier. Will my hon. Friend both sample and save the Settle-Carlisle route?

I hear what my right hon. Friend says. Of course, all of us would like to see trains continuing to run across the viaduct, but, as a fisherman, I hope that they are not too heavy and do not disturb the fishing too much.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that Carlisle city council and the Cumbria county council are continuing to finance the Carlisle-Settle line despite the fact that the county council is threatened with rate-capping? Does the Minister agree that the closure of the line would have a detrimental effect on the efforts made by Carlisle city council to promote tourism? Will the Minister, once more, speak to the Secretary of State for Transport and make those facts known to him?

All I would say at this stage is that I am aware that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport, is having discussions with a number of authorities, including, I believe, Carlisle.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, certainly within the heart of England, there is plenty of scope for tourist development? Will he have a word with some of his colleagues in other Departments to ensure that the integrity of those areas is maintained, so that Britain remains as we know it today?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. Only last night I was in Malvern, in the Heart of England tourist board area, and tomorrow I hope to be in the Forest of Dean.

Is the Minister aware that tomorrow's official tourism figures will show the biggest annual trade deficit in tourism for Britain for three decades? Is he aware that the Government's policy of high interest rates has sapped tourism as destructively as it has sapped our manufacturing industries? Is he further aware that the Chancellor's policy of tax cuts plus high interest rates is the exact opposite of what the British economy in general and tourism in particular really need, which are lower interest rates and a lower pound to boost exports, while keeping import prices as high as possible?

I am delighted that the official employment spokesman for the Opposition has, at long last, asked a question about tourism. That emphasises the importance of the industry. How he can possibly say, when our tourist industry is vibrant and buoyant, that the Government's policy has sapped it, I find totally incomprehensible.