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Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

I am pleased to tell the House that VisitBritain and tourism industry leaders have reported only a negligible impact on tourism, with few booking cancellations.

The firm and effective response by the police and security services did much to reassure domestic and overseas visitors. Likewise, the fact that many high-profile televised events went ahead in London, such as the Diana tribute concert, the Gay Pride march and the Tour de France—in Scotland, there was also the T in the Park festival—did much to reassure visitors.

Portsmouth is the historic home of the Royal Navy and is held in great esteem and affection by many people from all over the world. We have many naval heritage and service heritage sites, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, both national and international. What advice would my right hon. Friend give those visitors in this time of heightened national security?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I would advise them to go to Portsmouth because, as she said, there is an enormous amount to see, including HMS Victory, the Mary Rose and Charles Dickens’s birthplace. Of course, to ensure their security we give constant advice on security levels. We in the DCMS work with the Home Office and others to ensure that we give proper advice to all those who provide tourist attractions.

May I welcome the Minister and the entire new Front-Bench team to their posts? However, the Minister will be aware that security incidents do affect tourism, and there was, for instance, a 7 per cent. drop in visa applications following the 7/7 bombings. In those circumstances does not tourism need more support, not less? Will she therefore explain why the Government have cut the funding to VisitBritain, with the loss of 80 jobs, downgraded the role of the chairman of VisitBritain and delayed yet again the publication of the tourism plan for 2012?

In fact, 2005, which was an extremely difficult year, saw a growth in tourism in London. It is really important for all hon. Members to realise that when there are terrorism threats and security threats, we should not overplay them at the expense of British industry in general and tourism in particular.

The funding for VistBritain is £50 million, which is much more than when we came into government. Across the public sector, about £300 million goes into supporting tourism, and, of course, the private sector plays a role.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the short delay in publishing the tourism strategy for the Olympics. It is absolutely appropriate, with a completely new team in the DCMS, that we feel that we own that document. I have already had discussions with the industry, which feels perfectly at ease with the fact that the document will be published in September.

Will the right hon. Lady make sure that her Department gets across the message that London is open for business—particularly the west end of London, although the same applies to suburban London, as I am sure that she would make clear? Our theatres, museums, and galleries, as well as a vast array of retail outlets, are very much open for business and very much need tourism, both international and from within the UK.

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, London is the No. 1 international destination for tourists, and we need to maintain that and ensure that it is sustained in the future. However, we also want to ensure that visitors to London take advantage of the many other tourist attractions right across the UK, so that the benefit is felt by all regions of the country.

Although the Minister says that there is relatively little change in inward tourism, the fact is that, no matter what measures are taken to deter people by making it more difficult to fly, the numbers increase. The fact is that our seaside resorts are crying out for more tourists. Will she take note of the Select Committee report that identified poor transport links as the real problem of getting people into British seaside resorts?

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the balance of trade deficit remains a growing one, and we need to address that issue constantly and properly, to encourage more inward-bound tourists and to ensure that more people stay in the UK and enjoy the many attractions that we have here on their holidays. As he knows, in my previous job, I took a particular interest in ensuring the regeneration of many of our seaside towns. I will maintain that interest in my current job. Although he alluded to one issue—transport infrastructure—there are many others, and I look forward to working with him and others who are affected by the decline in tourism at seaside resorts to ensure their proper regeneration, so that they, too, can enjoy the prosperity that the rest of Britain enjoys.