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Tourism

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 29th November 1996.

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Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon 12:32 pm, 29th November 1996

I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just before you took the Chair, the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) was talking about the visit of the Select Committee on National Heritage to Plymouth, Massachusetts, which is very much a sister town to your own. As a young man still at school I took part in a debate whose terms were, "This House wishes that the Plymouth Rock had landed on the Plymouth Brethren and not the other way round." I am delighted to discover that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had a successful visit to America—something that we were not able to achieve in the pursuit of the study of tourism when I was a member of the Select Committee on Employment six years ago.

The industry has had a successful couple of years-1995 and 1996 will go down in history as two of the best years ever for tourism. As a result, as has been said, the United Kingdom has regained its fifth place in the world tourism league. We do not compete with the United States of America because of the size of the continental market there and we can compete only with the greatest difficulty with warm weather countries, such as France, Spain and Italy. The fact that we rank behind only those four is a mark of the success of the British Tourist Authority, the English tourist board and all those involved in the industry.

It is sad that Opposition Members, in order to make their points about the Government, seem to pay less than the due regard to the work that is done in the industry. I know that that is not their true attitude, but it is the impression that sometimes comes across. I know that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that the work done by all the people in the industry is widely admired, respected and appreciated.

The industry is well positioned for the future, as the impact of lottery money on infrastructure projects gives us yet more attractions to bring people from throughout the world and to encourage the British to move around the island and see for themselves what is being done. I suspect that the spur of the millennium in three years or so will attract enormous numbers of visitors.

The point has been made well and often in the House that tourism is a complex industry that does not sit as easily under the analyst's pen as the motor car, chemical or textile industries, for example. It is a diffuse industry and there can be confusion in trying to assess the statistics. I welcome the recent joint suggestion of the Council for Travel and Tourism and the Tourism Society that an element of satellite accounting might be undertaken by the Treasury to give a just assessment of tourism's contribution to the British economy.

We benefit not only when people who come to this country spend money on hotels or attractions, but when they go shopping and to a range of leisure facilities that also contribute to the enjoyment of the indigenous population.

There is evidence of growth in tourism throughout the country and there are many excellent initiatives. Since the previous tourism debate some months ago, I have visited many places, and I want to mention one or two that stand out in my mind. In the summer, I visited Cumbria, which is extremely successful in attracting visitors because it contains the Lake district.

It was interesting that, in the two and half days that I spent in Cumbria, the tourist board invited me to visit Barrow and Carlisle, two towns that were traditionally the Cinderellas of Cumbria, because they were not in the Lake district. I visited the dock museum in Barrow and spent a whole day in the proud city of Carlisle, where I was enormously impressed by the Tullie House museum. I realised that tourism was changing and developing from the traditional attractions of the seaside, lakes and mountains to industrial and historical tourism.

Thanks to some recent American scholarship, it has been discovered that no less a person than King Arthur was not from the west country, from Tintagel or Glastonbury, as has generally been believed in the past, but was firmly based in Carlisle, with occasional forays across the borders, through the constituency of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), to Edinburgh—think of Arthur's seat—and up to Stirling, which he mentioned and about which I shall say more in a few minutes. I suspect that the development of the King Arthur legend as a north-west England and southern Scotland legend will play a big part in the development of tourism there.

My visit to the north continued to Scotland, where I was enormously impressed by the professionalism of those involved in the tourist industry. I saw everything from the highlands to the borders. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire has had to leave early—I understand the reason—because I wanted to pay a special tribute to the work of the Borders tourist board: the quality of the accommodation that I was shown was as impressive as the general professionalism, and I echo his comments about the success of the Scottish tourist board's crown classification scheme.

Only this week, I visited our second city, Birmingham, to see the work that is being done to restore canals and build the international convention centre and view some of the public sculpture that is a credit to the city.

At the beginning of the year, thanks to the kindness of the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, I was able to visit Cardiff, the capital of Wales. I saw the Techniquest museum, the first hands-on museum in which children of all ages can explore the wonders of science.