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Diamond Jubilee

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2012

3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport on arrangements in Northern Ireland to mark the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. (90824)

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport on arrangements in Northern Ireland to mark the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. (90825)

11. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport on arrangements in Northern Ireland to mark the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. (90835)

I am sorry, Mr Speaker. Such was the excitement following my previous remarks that I failed to hear you.

I have discussed this matter with the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), who, like me, looks forward to Northern Ireland playing the fullest part in the diamond jubilee celebrations and welcoming Her Majesty to Northern Ireland later in the year.

I am grateful to the Minister, and 2012 represents a very big year in Northern Ireland, not just because of the diamond jubilee but because of the Olympics. In Yorkshire, we have managed to secure more than 30 overseas squads to use our excellent training facilities. What steps are being taken to ensure that overseas squads use the great sporting facilities in the Province?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on attracting so many teams to his area. In Northern Ireland we have the Australian boxing team, the Chinese gymnastics team—which is probably capable of even greater contortions than Opposition Treasury spokesmen—and the Irish Paralympics teams, which will hold pre-games training events in Northern Ireland. For the golfers among us, we also hope that the Irish open championship will be followed in due course by the British open.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the events of 2012 present a wonderful opportunity for Northern Ireland to showcase itself as an excellent place for tourists to visit, both from other constituent parts of the United Kingdom and from around the world?

Yes, I most certainly do—2012 is the year to visit Northern Ireland, with the launch of “Your Time, Our Place” last week, before returning in 2013 for the UK city of culture. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his sterling work in encouraging Members to donate to his window to commemorate Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee. I did a quick ring-round of the Northern Ireland Office, and I am glad to say that I have donated—although I have not told my wife—the Secretary of State has donated and our Minister in the Lords has donated.

A visit by Her Majesty the Queen to the devolved nations can be a huge boost to their economies and, indeed, their morale. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is not only one visit, but perhaps more than one visit to Northern Ireland in 2012?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The royal family are regular visitors to Northern Ireland, not least to the annual garden party. We are informed by the Palace that Her Majesty will quite rightly be visiting Northern Ireland, as she will all other parts of the United Kingdom.

Does the Minister agree that, commensurate with security considerations, it would be of great benefit in encouraging the participation and engagement of the public with the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations if they were given as much notice as possible of her visit to Northern Ireland? On previous occasions, such as her visit to Dublin and her engagements in London, people have been given only short notice.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions Her Majesty’s historic visit to Dublin last year, and I have absolutely no reason to suppose that in her diamond jubilee year she will not be greeted in Northern Ireland with equally fulsome adulation and applause. He also mentions security. All visits by members of the royal family and other VIPs have to be handled tactfully by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and we would certainly not try to second guess it. There is a balance to be struck, and security must be paramount.

I thank the Minister for his reply. It has rightly been said that this is a tremendous year for Northern Ireland, and not only because of the jubilee celebrations. We shall mark the centenary of the Titanic, with the opening of a £100 million visitor centre, and host the Irish open, as well as playing a part in the round-the-world yacht race. Northern Ireland will be a great place to visit. What is the Minister doing to encourage tourists coming to London for the Olympics to travel further across the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Olympics are, by definition, the London Olympics, but that does not mean that other parts of the United Kingdom should not benefit from them. He has just advertised what will be happening in Northern Ireland this year, and I would say to hon. Members and others outside the House: if you are not in Northern Ireland this year, frankly, you are no one.

I welcome the Minister’s comments about the Titanic centenary. The Titanic was built in my constituency, and we hope that “Titanoraks” from all over the globe will make their way to Belfast in 2012. What discussions has he had with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that people are aware of the unique opportunity to experience some of the authentic history of the Titanic story? [Interruption.]

Order. The House must come to order. This is very unfair on the hon. Lady. Fortunately, she has a clear and forthright voice, but I also want to be able to hear the answer.

Thank you for that, Mr Speaker. It is equally unfair on me, as I try to hear the hon. Lady’s question. She mentions the Titanic. As they say in Belfast, “She was fine when she left here”—the Titanic, that is, not the hon. Lady, who is of course fine wherever she goes. I do not feel that I need to discuss the Titanic with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, because I think that everyone knows that it was built in Belfast and that we are going to celebrate that fact. When people come to Northern Ireland, they should certainly go to the Titanic quarter.