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Volume 524: debated on Thursday 3 March 2011

We have made an assessment, and we believe the picture is particularly good. We believe the tourism industry can achieve projected growth of 150,000 new jobs and £34.5 billion extra gross value added by 2020. I intend imminently to publish a statement of Government policy, which will set out how we will work with the industry to support our economic growth objectives.

Last year, tourism was worth £2.8 billion to the Liverpool city region. It is crucial to our region, and it is also a growing sector of our industry. Literature is part of the tourism offer, and as today is world book day and, as I speak, Frank Cottrell Boyce and a team of kids from Merseyside are on their way down to Euston with a local charity, the Reader Organisation, will the Minister extend his gratitude to the charity for the dynamic work that it is doing?

I am delighted and happy to praise both world book day and the Reader Organisation. The role of the creative arts in Liverpool’s regeneration and recent economic growth is undoubted, and the city got off to a brilliant start in 2008, when it was the capital of culture.

One of the greatest tourist attractions in my constituency is the historic woodland of Cannock Chase, which The Times recently ranked as the best forest in the country for mountain biking. The newly created independent panel set up to consider the future of forests can give Cannock Chase the status of “heritage”. Does my hon. Friend agree that such labels are important in encouraging tourists to visit destinations and spend their pounds there?

I do agree. Britain’s heritage of all kinds—including both natural and built environment—is a tremendously important reason why people visit destinations in our country, both from abroad and as internal tourism, and it will only be to our strength and advantage if we can increase that offer still further.

The first annual May day bank holiday is very important to my town of Hastings, as we attract more than 20,000 visitors and £5 million in revenue. We are therefore very concerned about the consultation on moving this bank holiday. Will the Minister accept a petition to consider abandoning the proposal—which already has over 1,000 signatures—from me, together with a few morris men and our Mad Jack from Hastings?

I particularly look forward to meeting the morris men from Hastings, and I will, of course, be delighted to accept the petition. I should just reassure my hon. Friend that any proposals that are produced are not preferred Government outcomes; they are genuinely options for consultation, and the Government have no preconceptions about any potential solution.

Every year at Stafford castle in my constituency there is an excellent outdoor Shakespeare production, which also makes a fair contribution to the local economy. Will the Minister encourage both the national and the new local television stations to make it a priority to bring such productions to a wider audience so that people may be persuaded to come and enjoy live productions?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that, rightly, Ministers cannot direct broadcasters to broadcast particular programmes, although I understand that they are under a duty to include both arts and regional programming. However, I should have thought that it would obviously be a good thing for all concerned, including local performers and the local tourism industry, for such events to be showcased. We have already mentioned some of the benefits enjoyed by places such as Liverpool, and I am sure others will want to share in that success.

If we want tourists to come to Britain, can we give them a slightly better welcome? Arriving at terminals 1 or 3 at Heathrow is like arriving in a third-world slum—it is easier to get into Pakistan or North Korea. There are very surly, disagreeable officials and horrible 1970s collectivist architecture. Can we brighten up this gateway to Britain? Will the Minister talk to the Transport Minister about that?

I will leave aside the Foreign Office’s doubtless immediate response to try to repair relations with the countries that the right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. I agree, however, that we as a country need to do more to make our entry ports more welcoming to foreign visitors, and to British people returning from abroad, and we are currently actively considering a number of measures.

Young people in Merseyside tell me that they are keen to take up jobs in the tourism, culture and creative sectors. Will the Minister tell me what measures he has asked the Chancellor to include in the Budget to help young people take up apprenticeships and other such opportunities in this fast-growing sector?

I am sure that everybody here will understand that if I did reveal what I have asked to be in the Budget, I would be summarily flayed by people in the Treasury, for rather understandable reasons. What I can tell the hon. Lady is that we regard the building of skills in the tourism industry as of paramount importance. There is an acknowledged shortcoming in some parts of our tourism industry, but there is a huge opportunity to demonstrate to people—if we get it right—what a great career path the industry can offer.

York’s museums and mediaeval buildings draw thousands of tourists to the city. Sadly, last year, York Minster and the national railway museum lost £6 million of Government grants. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) is coming to York tomorrow to encourage private sponsorship of our built heritage. I welcome him and wish him well, and I would like to know what plans the Government have to get more private sponsorship of our built heritage.

I understand that we have plans for £80 million of match funding to encourage just the kind of donations that the hon. Gentleman describes.

The £100 million Titanic signature project is nearing completion in Belfast. What conversations has the Minister had with Executive Ministers in Northern Ireland about how best the 2012 anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking can be exploited for tourism when people come to Britain for the Olympics?

It is tremendously important that we use the Olympics as an opportunity to showcase the whole of Britain, rather than just to showcase London for a couple of weeks in the middle of the year, so I completely share the right hon. Gentleman’s aims and ambitions. The main thing that we are doing is to create this £100 million of match funding that the Secretary of State mentioned. That is aimed at marketing the whole of the UK to everybody abroad to showcase what the UK can offer, and not just during the fortnight of the Olympics and during the Paralympics thereafter. We want to create a step-change increase in the number of people visiting in 2013 and the years after.