To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has any proposals to increase the resources available to the Northern Ireland tourist board for the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland; and whether he will make a statement.
I am pleased to announce that I have recently been able to allocate an extra £120,000 to the Northern Ireland tourist board. Together with the extra £800,000 allocated this financial year, the tourist board will have a budget of £4·72 million—almost £1 million above its original estimate. The board's proposals for increased marketing activity in the coming year are being considered.
I welcome the additional resources for the tourist board. Will the Minister encourage the tourist board unambiguously to promote Northern Ireland and not to shackle itself to the Irish tourist board—Bord Failte—which has declined and obstructed the carrying of Northern Ireland material on its information to such an extent that recently, when the Northern Ireland tourist board tried to place advertisements in Bord Failte material, it cancelled the advertisements, thereby costing the Northern Irish tourist board over £150,000? In the light of that failure to co-operate and that obstructive attitude, will the Minister encourage the Northern Ireland tourist board unambiguously to promote Northern Ireland?
The Northern Ireland tourist board does unambiguously promote tourism in Northern Ireland and I think that it does so rather well. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that if tourists are enticed to the island of Ireland the chances are greater that they will come and enjoy the pleasures and beauties of the north. Therefore, there is a legitimate role of co-operation between the Northern Ireland tourist board and Bord Failte. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there is an element of competition between the two boards and I have confidence that the Northern Ireland tourist board will continue to do as the hon. Gentleman asks and unambiguously promote tourism in the Province.
There are elements of co-operation and I am sure that that is something which the chairman of the tourist board keeps under review. What is unquestionably true is that Northern Ireland is one of the most beautiful parts, if the not the most beautiful part, of the United Kingdom and it would be a good start in promoting tourism if we could persuade every hon. Member to visit the Province as a tourist. I have no doubt that, were they to do so, they would behave as other tourists do in Northern Ireland—they would want to come back and bring others with them.
I agree with the Minister that there is great potential for further development of tourism in the north of Ireland. Does he agree that it can be enhanced by closer co-operation with the Republic, but that it can be diminished by the recent terrorist activity in the centre of Belfast? That will undoubtedly diminish the tourist trade and affect inward investment into the Province which will have consequential effects on unemployment in the coming months.
The hon. Gentleman's point will be echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Those activities damage the Province and its people and in that sense, as well as in others, they are to be condemned. However, the overwhelming majority of people who come to Northern Ireland as tourists say, almost in surprise and certainly with delight, that it was not as they expected it to be, that they are pleased they came and were not personally or not much personally affected by the security situation, that they enjoyed themselves and want to come back. That is the basis on which we must continue to build.