Tourism Deficit

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st March 2005.

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Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Liberal Democrat, Torbay 2:30 pm, 21st March 2005

If she will make a statement on the UK tourism deficit.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

The UK's tourism deficit was £17.3 billion in 2004. National tourism deficits in the developed world reflect various factors, including rising prosperity. By way of illustration, Germany's deficit stood at £27.1 billion in 2003. Of more importance is our industry's impressive domestic and inbound performance, with a record £12.8 billion spent by 27.5 million overseas visitors last year. That illustrates a rising trend.

Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Liberal Democrat, Torbay

Does the Minister agree that a way of dramatically reducing the tourism deficit would be to introduce an aviation tax, because Brits spend far more overseas than is spent by overseas visitors to the United Kingdom?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

The hon. Gentleman will know that tax is a matter for the Treasury. However, the industry has been working with my Department recently to address the structural weaknesses in tourism. We have now moved tourism into the regional development agencies, where it is seen as a major economic driver, especially in the south-west, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, as he comes from Torbay, where RDA money has already been invested. I hope that that trend will continue. This is about identifying skills and quality, developing EnglandNet, and having sound data on which to base decisions for the future. It is also about addressing structural weaknesses, and the industry and the Government are now working together in a strong partnership to do that.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

My right hon. Friend recognised the importance of the regions in promoting tourism. Will he congratulate One NorthEast and the North East Tourism Advisory Board, of which I am a member, on the production of their recent strategy for the north-east? It is not just about promoting the wonderful attractions and beauty of the north-east of England, but about ensuring that tourism plays a key part in the revival of the economy there.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Very much so. I congratulate my hon. Friend on what has been done in that regard. There is no doubt that creating a new structure for tourism in the north-east has had a difficult start, but I am sure that a solution has now been found that is acceptable to all parties and that will drive tourism forward as part of the region's economy development strategy. I look forward to seeing further developments in the area.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

We could do with more visitors to south Wiltshire. Twenty-one years ago, I attended the birth of English Heritage, whose first priority was to be Stonehenge. Eight years ago, a Select Committee described the facilities at Stonehenge as a national disgrace, and eight years ago in July, the Prime Minister said that the Government would do their best to put that right. All that time has passed, but we have nothing to show for it. We know that the inspector's report on the tunnel is now with Ministers, but will the Minister give us an assurance that Stonehenge remains a priority for his Department as well as for the Government as a whole? What can I do to help the Minister in this regard?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

It is not often that I get an offer like that. We are waiting for the report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and it will go to the Department for Transport. I accept that this has gone on for far too long. All that I can say on behalf of my Department and of English Heritage is that this matter is a priority and that we want to see things happen. So the sooner we get the report, and the sooner that decisions are made by the Department for Transport, the better.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

Will the Minister hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the very wrong perceptions that people overseas—particularly in north America—have of banks being robbed there and of crime in urban environments? In fact, Northern Ireland is one of the most attractive and peaceful parts not only of the United Kingdom but of western Europe, with the hills of Antrim, the lochs of County Down, and the Sperrins. Could not the British Government do more to promote interest in and awareness of Northern Ireland, rather than seeing so many people being attracted to Ireland via Dublin?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

That question is timely, because later this week I shall be meeting Ministers and other representatives from the four devolved authorities, and I shall make sure that my hon. Friend's point is conveyed to them. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland is a beautiful place, and it is unfortunate that the worst events are sometimes disproportionately reported in the press, while the best things are left out. I shall convey my hon. Friend's sentiments to the people responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

As the Minister confirmed in an answer a few moments ago, the Government can accurately measure the tourism deficit and take steps to narrow the gap only if they have reliable statistics or sound data. Given that the Secretary of State, after the Hartwell meetings, made better statistics a priority—a fact later confirmed by the Government's policy document "Tomorrow's Tourism Today"—and that the Department of Trade and Industry's science review of DCMS last year said that only if DCMS implemented the tourism statistics improvement initiative's findings would the statistical base be accurate and reliable, why are the Government continuing their miserly approach and turning their back on the needs of the tourism industry by denying funding for TSII?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

That would be absolutely wrong. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we held a conference a few weeks ago in Birmingham, the industry has acknowledged very clearly to us that we are sitting down with it in the implementation group, which I chair. We are addressing, probably for the first time in a long time, the real structural weaknesses. Data are one of those, but not the only one. We are looking very seriously at those structural weaknesses and driving that agenda for change—not just in the industry, but through the development agencies, with which there is now a very strong partnership. Data are part of that and we are acting on the issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I said in an answer that we will produce those data in the not-too-distant future.

This is one of a number of issues that we are considering in terms of ensuring that the industry is fit for purpose and can achieve the objective, which is to increase its worth from £74 billion to £100 billion by 2010. That is achievable, it will mean a lot more jobs and those data are important to achieving it.