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Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the increase between 1988 and 1989 in expenditure in Britain by overseas visitors.

It is provisionally estimated that overseas residents spent £6,850 million in the United Kingdom during 1989, 11 per cent. more than in 1988.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that last year was the third record year in a row for the tourist industry? Will he also confirm that more than 1·5 million people work in the industry? Does he agree that the Opposition's attitude to tourism is an insult to the people who work in it?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw our attention to the fact that tourism is a highly vibrant industry. About 17·2 million visitors came to the United kingdom in 1989, and about 15·8 million in 1988. As my hon. Friend said, that is a record. It is welcome, especially for people working in the industry.

The Minister mentions the importance of the tourist industry and the benefits to the nation, but I draw his attention to the miserable amount of money that the Government spend on promoting tourism in Britain. The sum of about £50 million is just petty cash compared with the potential earnings for the nation.

When one looks at the facts, rather than the rhetoric, one sees that in 1991 the British Tourist Authority will receive £27·7 milion and the English tourist board will receive about £14·5 million. Those are increases of 11 per cent. and 9 per cent. respectively. Where the hon. Gentleman goes wrong is in believing that an extremely thriving, mostly private sector industry could be helped by the dead hand of the state. Those days are gone and it is time the hon. Gentleman caught up.

Does my hon. Friend remember the figures under the Labour Government in 1978–79, when tourism was derided as a candy floss industry good enough only for Mickey Mouse? Could not we further increase expenditure if we put out tourist information centres to competitive tender and concentrated, in this European Year of Tourism, on foreign languages?

In an industry as successful as this, the good ideas will keep on coming. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that tourism has done extremely well under the Government. It comes badly from the Opposition to pledge their support for tourism but to deride jobs in the service industries.

I welcome the extension of foreign tourism in the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it usually coincides with the success of the Government's policies and a decline in the exchange rate of the pound sterling?

I am not sure whether I can comment on that. The important point is whether we consider the industry in terms of overseas tourism of our citizens or of overseas citizens coming here. The industry is buoyant and has done extremely well under the Government.