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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): My recent trip to south-east Asia was primarily trade related, but I had a useful meeting with the British Tourist Authority in Hong Kong to discuss how best to market Scotland. I also had many meetings with expatriate Scots and others who are enthusiastic supporters of the friends of Scotland initiative.
While in China I also met senior executives of oil and gas companies in south-east Asia to promote the skills of Scottish-based companies acquired through North sea development. I am confident that there are many opportunities for Scottish companies in south-east Asia.
Mrs. Liddell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, I take a considerable interest in the issue of direct flights, and there has recently been a good response from Scottish airports. At Prestwick, for example, flight numbers are up by 18.6 per cent.; at Glasgow, they are up by 4.3 per cent.; and at Edinburgh, they are up by 10.2 per cent. Much of that is due to the expansion of direct flights by no-frills carriers. My hon. Friend is a persuasive advocate of more direct flights from Dundee airport, and secured an Adjournment debate on the subject. The refurbishment of the airport is important; I hope that with the expansion of the Ryanair fleet by up to 150 new aircraft, and the easyJet fleet by up to 75 new aircraft, there may be more flights from Dundee airport to international destinations.
Mr. Joyce: My right hon. Friend will be aware that BP is a large employer in my constituency. What benefits can her recent visit to the far east bring to companies such as BP, which seek to exploit rising sun opportunities?
Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The oil and gas industry has many international opportunities, not least BP, which is the biggest British investor in mainland China. Whenever I look at the oil and gas industry, I am always conscious of the skills in the supply chain. I was impressed by a seminar that I addressed in mainland China which was attended by representatives of Scottish companies anxious to access the Chinese gas market. The Chinese Government wish to get more than 2.1 per cent. of their energy mix from natural gas; indeed, they want to get up to 10 per cent. We have the talents, skills and expertise; Scottish companies can benefit from that.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Doubtless, the Secretary of State's efforts in the far east were well supported by the British Tourist Authority. Is she aware that the BTA's recent lead promotional document for overseas tourists, "Hidden Britain", fails to mention or refer to more than 50 per cent. of the land mass of Scotland? Does she concur with the chairman of VisitScotland, who suggested that the BTA be abolished and replaced with a tourism structure more responsive to the needs of devolution? Will she make representations in that regard to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?
Mrs. Liddell: The BTA has an important job marketing all the United Kingdom. Many people who come here do not come exclusively to visit one particular part of the UK. However, we must maximise our efforts to market Scotland, not just through the BTA, but in many other directions, not least joint corporate activity. It is important to recognise that the "Hidden Britain" map includes a number of Scottish sites. This morning, I learned of the preparation of a new initiative by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for the golden jubilee which
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Does the Secretary of State realise how impressed we all were to read that no sooner had she got off the plane from the far east than she was busy hosting Burns suppers before going off to Wales to boost Scottish tourism? Does she accept that the 2.5 per cent. decline in visitor numbers to Scotland last year, compared with a 10 per cent. rise in Ireland, is the result of serious issues such as the high pound, high petrol prices and under-resourced visitor agencies? Will the Government tackle those significant issues affecting Scotland's major industry, or is it just a case of "c'est la vie"?
Mrs. Liddell: There the hon. Gentleman goes again, talking Scotland down. No Government Member takes any lessons about work load from him; he voted in 12 per cent. of Divisions in the last Parliament, and only managed to pass the 50 per cent. mark in this Parliament. I have outvoted every member of the Scottish National party in this Parliament, and shall continue to argue for Scotland in every part of the country and in every part of the world. I shall do so taking pride in Scotland, not talking it down.
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston): Scotland's tourist links with the far east are important, but perhaps even more important are her links with the far west. Recently, Glasgow airport suffered a number of blows, with the withdrawal of many services to and from Canada. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that she will do all that she can to ensure that those direct daily services are resumed as soon as possible?
Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend has considerable experience of transport matters. There has been a downturn in activity from the United States as a direct consequence of 11 September. It requires much greater involvement on the part of all of us to ensure that direct flights are maintained. In December I hosted a summit of the airline industry in Edinburgh to talk about the future of daily direct flights. There has been some encouraging news since then, but it is essential that both the Government and the Scottish Executive continue to work with the airline industry to improve the number of flights, and in particular that we take every opportunity to market the positive story of Scotland. Only the Government will do that; the Opposition are united in talking Scotland down.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): I am glad to see that BAA and Six Continents hotels were represented in the group that travelled with the right hon. Lady to the far east, and I hope that there will be a consequent increase in the number of people visiting Scotland. However, from her busy diary and in an attempt to talk Scotland up, will she give us some idea what engagements she is expecting to attend to boost tourism? Will she confirm that she is no longer seeking to attract inward investment to Scotland, in line with Wendy Alexander's new policy of supporting only indigenous Scottish businesses?
As a Minister, I have found it a great benefit to take time for preparation. Preparation is extremely important. Notwithstanding that preparation, I have managed to vote in 71 per cent. of all Divisions in the House. The hon. Lady has managed only 54 per cent. of Divisions. What has she been doing with her time? Her constituents deserve to know.
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): In biotechnology, Scotland is a world leader. It is a clear success storythe sector is well on track to double in size during the period 1999 to 2003.
Dr. Gibson: My hon. Friend will be aware that the biotechnology industry is notorious for overhyping its achievements. Is not the real picture in Scotland one of small companies, few nominations on the stock exchange, few spin-outs from universities and a lack of Government investment in research and development? The biotechnology industry needs much more investment to reach the standards that we see around one city in England, called Cambridge, or am I wrong?
Mr. Foulkes: I hesitate to call such a distinguished doctor of philosophy wrong, but I think I will. Two of the top three recent biotech private financings in Europe were for Scottish companies: Cyclacel, which is run by a Nobel laureate and is doing fantastic work on cancer, raised £35 million, and Strakan raised £30.5 million. The 30 per cent. growth per annum is almost twice the European average. There are 420 organisations involved in biotechnology in Scotland, 24,400 people are employed by the industry, and there are 37 university departments and research institutes. However, as I am willing to listen and to learn, a week on Friday I have arranged to meet 12 of the leading representatives of the biotechnology industry in Scotland, and I will discuss with them the point raised by my hon. Friend.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): What is the Minister's view of the impact on biotechnology companies and business development in Scotland generally of the massive increase in the burden of regulation that the Government have imposed on business in Scotland? Does he think that that is positive, and that I, like the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), am wrong?
Mr. Foulkes: I have many meetings day after day, week after week, and that is not the first matter that is raised with me by people in Scotland. There are several other important issues. Scotland would not have twice the European average growth in biotechnology if it was