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UK City of Culture 2017

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2013

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Nicky Morgan.)

I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk about the merits of Southend being chosen as the city of culture in 2017, but it would be remiss of me to claim credit for securing the debate, which was entirely the idea of the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth). I am truly pleased with the number of colleagues who have turned up this morning. I had intended to speak for about 20 minutes, depending on interventions, but I think that everyone here wants to contribute so I might have to shorten the speech a little. I want to give everyone the opportunity to talk about their own area.

I will start with a quote from Gandhi. He is not someone I have quoted before, other than on dieting. Gandhi said:

“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”

That is true, and certainly so of the 11 areas and towns bidding to become UK city of culture in 2017. None of the areas bidding would have much culture at all if it were not for the fact that they belong to the United Kingdom. Every part of our country, of which we are all so proud, is rich in culture.

I must warn Members that the building is, at this very moment, surrounded by people. The good residents of Southend are peace-loving people. They want to encourage people peacefully, so right now the building is surrounded by the thoughts of Southend residents, who are urging the judges to choose Southend as the city of culture. If colleagues feel unwell during the debate, it might be because they are having unkind thoughts about Southend, which are being attacked by the powerful thoughts of Southend residents.

That leads me on to a number of remarks, with which I have been charged, about the 10 competing cities. As far as I am concerned, the United Kingdom is a wonderful country, and I will not have a bad word said about any part of it. When I look around this Chamber, I feel that the idea that any part of the United Kingdom could be called a dump is absolutely disgraceful. The idea that any part of the United Kingdom would not know what culture was is also absolutely disgraceful.

When the remarks were reported, it was suggested that I tour the United Kingdom to see the competition at first hand, and I am delighted to say that I have started on a tour. It is a big area to get around, and it was suggested that I visit places by helicopter—I was not too keen on that—and then someone proposed that I borrow Nigel Farage’s light aeroplane, the one he used during the general election campaign. If using it was as successful as it was in 2010 it would no doubt cause a bit of publicity, but it would be the end of me.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, and whoever else was responsible, on securing the debate. As part of his grand tour of prospective second UK cities of culture, will he respond to an invitation from me—and, I am sure, from my colleague, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)—to visit the first UK city of culture, Londonderry, which is currently enjoying its year of culture? We would be delighted to see the hon. Gentleman, perhaps at the tattoo in August.

Absolutely. Both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) will certainly be visiting that city.

I will start with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd). I had a wonderful visit to Hastings—if I had the money, I might even buy a little holiday home there—and I was very impressed with the hospitality that I was afforded by her good self.

We very much enjoyed my hon. Friend’s visit. He saw around the Jerwood, which is a fantastic new gallery. Is he not now reconsidering some of his earlier phrases? He must be rather anxious about the high level of competition from other places, such as Hastings.

As politicians, we all suffer from misreporting. I think that Hastings has a splendid bid.

Moving on to Kent, which will be my next visit, we know that it is the garden of England. I absolutely condemn all the rumours about the roses being infested with black fly, greenfly and rust, and I very much look forward to visiting Kent shortly.

My hon. Friend rightly says that the garden of England is in full bloom—it is as beautiful as ever—but on his tour around the country he should take advantage of the unrivalled high-speed rail link, to get swiftly from London down to east Kent and see the cultural attractions for himself.

That is a controversial path down which I will not go.

Moving on to Wales, I have had some very unkind remarks made about Wales on my website. I think that the people there are absolutely fine. I have a number of relatives living in Wales, and they seem all right. What we know about the Welsh is that they have magnificent voices and produce some wonderful actors and actresses.

Moving on to Scotland, I had a very nice letter from the Lord Provost, and I think that all the suggestions I have had on my website about Scottish people being mean and that some of them conduct interviews while chewing gum are very unfair indeed. I very much look forward to visiting Scotland, not least to sample the whisky and the haggis.

It is indeed a very polite and kind letter from the Lord Provost. I hope that the hon. Gentleman makes it to Aberdeen, because he will then realise that the competition is really on.

I am looking forward to my visit.

Moving on to Leicester, we all know what a strong bid it has. It has a wonderful cricket ground, but I have to say that I had no idea about its secret weapon, in the form of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). Anyone who has not seen him perform on YouTube is missing a joy. I, for one, think that we need not spend any more money on finding someone to represent us in the Eurovision song contest next year because it must be the right hon. Member for Leicester East.

Then we move on to Hull.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I am pleased to hear him make these points, which I think can be summed up by saying, “You don’t promote your own bid better by denigrating other bids.” Indeed, would he go a little further and say that anyone who described other towns and places in the UK as dumps would be hindering rather than helping their campaign?

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and that is why, when various individuals suggested on my blog that Hull was the riviera of the north, I had no hesitation in agreeing with them. Hull is a wonderful place, and I have many relatives living there as well.

Then, I have, of course, been to Chester, which has a wonderful race track and some iconic buildings. Jessie J is supporting Chester, and I will come shortly to the fact that I hope that will support Southend’s bit.

Then we come to Plymouth. Again, I have rebutted all the suggestions on my website that whenever someone goes to wonderful Plymouth the clotted cream seems to be curdled. I am very much looking forward to my visit to Plymouth, which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) has suggested I make.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend will be coming. He will, of course, have the opportunity to come to one of the finest theatre production companies—one of five such companies in the whole country. He will also be very welcome to meet his fellow Southend Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), whose father-in-law was, as it happens, a councillor on Plymouth city council and is backing our bid.

That was a blow below the belt, of which I was not warned. I shall not cancel my visit—I suppose I shall still go. I look forward to it. Plymouth is where my mother always took her holidays, and it is wonderful there.

The competition is potentially very lucrative to the winner in two ways: it brings cultural benefits as well as tremendous economic ones. Londonderry, the current United Kingdom city of culture, and Liverpool, European city of culture in 2008, can certainly support that view.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter before the House. I am surrounded by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), and we are very aware of the good that comes from being city of culture. This year, the 2017 city of culture will be announced in Londonderry. The jobs and the opportunities are there, as is the focus of the world, but although Londonderry may be the city of culture for the United Kingdom, it is for the whole of Northern Ireland in particular, and we will all benefit from that.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the spin-offs from being the city of culture go across not only the whole of Northern Ireland, but the United Kingdom? May I also invite him to come to Londonderry for the historical event on about 12 August. It will be a very good event that I know he will enjoy, as everybody else does.

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s invitation with enthusiasm. Given that Derry is a similar size to Southend, there is much encouragement for us in how the unbiased judges will look at the 11 competitors.

It is difficult to measure cultural benefits, but the Royal Ballet has performed in Londonderry, the National Youth Orchestra has held concerts in the homes of ordinary people and—I hope that I am not ruining the Minister’s speech—the Turner prize exhibition and award ceremony will be held there, which is the first time that it has been held outside England. Those are just a few of the events, but there are many more.

I must say that I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s pinball tour of the country, as he visits the other bidding cities. Does he appreciate that one reason why the Derry/Londonderry bid succeeded was that people concentrated on what we had to do to get our bid right, and did not bother much about what other people were or were not doing?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the impact of the city of culture achievement on the city this year, which includes the fact that the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann is being held for the first time in a city anywhere in Ireland. It is the biggest Irish event in the world and is being held north of the border for the first time, just after the tattoo that other hon. Members have mentioned.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advice. Southend borough council and Evolution Squared are doing a first-class job in promoting our bid, but I do thank him. The events in Derry that we have heard about will inspire the youth of Londonderry to take up instruments, and will be things to tell their grandchildren about. Liverpool saw record numbers of visitors to its museums throughout 2008, and I am sure that the end-of-year figures will be similar in Derry, so the cultural benefits are absolutely clear.

Economic benefits are slightly more measurable. At a conservative estimate, Derry/Londonderry expects 600,000 extra visitors to the city over the course of 2013. Three thousand new jobs have been created in the city, and £100 million has been invested in its infrastructure. I am advised that for every £1 invested, the city of culture is expected to generate £5. Those facts are all the more staggering given its relatively small area. The competition is not a joke, but a prize that is well worth winning for each of our constituencies or areas. Although the analogy with Liverpool is less perfect, because it won a pan-European competition, it is worth noting that it generated an extra £176 million in tourism spending alone in 2008, so there is an economic benefit. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East and I believe that being the city of culture will be vital to the continued regeneration of Southend.

I want to say some words about Southend. I am biased: I think that Southend has the strongest bid. If anyone agrees, the hashtag to use is “Southend on Culture”, although I advise the House that I do not use Twitter. Our bid is themed—quite beautifully, if I may say so—around the Thames estuary, which flanks our town and is at the end of one of the most famous waterways in the world. Fittingly, if Southend wins the bid, a museum of the Thames estuary would be developed, and we would continue to partner other estuarial areas across the world, such as the River Plate—if that happens, we will not discuss the Falklands.

That, of course, is just the start of what we have to offer. Saxon remains have been found in Prittlewell. They are very valuable, being similar to finding Edward underneath the car park—[Hon. Members: “Richard!] Well, a king who deserved better. We, too, have royalty in Prittlewell. The remains were uncovered during a road-widening exercise. Archaeologists discovered an undisturbed 7th-century chamber grave beneath a mound, which has been described as

“the most spectacular discovery of its kind made during the past 60 years.”

Professor Christopher Scull said:

“The Prittlewell Prince Burial is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries bearing on Anglo Saxon England. As such it is a find of international significance for early Medieval Europe.”

Some 110 objects were excavated, ranging from bowls to a sword and a lyre. That is just one example of our rich history in Southend.

Equally detailed is the work of the UK Hand Engravers Association in Southend, which is quite simply exquisite high culture. I am well informed that Southend is a hotbed of metal culture, which was created initially in Liverpool. That modern art form celebrates interdisciplinary artwork and art in civic space. It will be celebrated at the village green festival in Chalkwell park on the 13 July. When the torch came to Southend last year, a famous composer worked on the anthem and we had the biggest choir in the country. The people following the torch around the United Kingdom said that the Southend welcome was the best in the country. We are blessed with a great host of artists—Paul Karslake, Mark Wallinger, Benjamin Grosvenor, Mary Flanagan and Elizabeth Price, to name just a few—so we have a strong bid.

I do not know whether this event is being held in conjunction with my celebration—or commiseration—of having been a Member for 30 years, but on 8 and 9 June, a festival in Southend will give people just a taste of what they can expect if we win the bid for 2017. There are plans to have a fashion show on the iconic pier—it is the longest pier in the world—and we hope to set a world record for the longest catwalk. I do not know whether supermodels will turn up, but I think that some very famous people will support that event. There will be live music, and the Wiggles dance club will perform—we must borrow the hon. Member for Leicester South for that performance. That diverse group loves all forms of dance: body popping, swing, jazz, tap and Latin-American. Furthermore, East 15, which offers the world’s only stage fighting degree, will be in attendance, as will various local world-class jewellery makers. Not only will all that be on offer, but a song called “I love Southend” will be written specially for our bid.

On the topic of festivals, it should not be forgotten that Southend has a film festival and a jazz festival, and I will appear in a comedy festival. Our jazz festival was supported by none other than Sir Michael Parkinson last year, and our comedy festival is set to be opened by Russell Kane this year. I recently attended our film festival, which was very enjoyable, and I met many famous actors and actresses. Most festival goers no doubt take the opportunity to sample Rossi ice cream while in Southend, which is the finest ice cream in the world. The company has existed for more than 80 years, and lucky members of the public will be served with it—we may even keep some for hon. Members.

Finally, Southend has a contestant in “X Factor” and a contestant in “The Voice”. Leanne Jarvis, who is being tutored by, went to Earls Hall infant and junior school and Chase High secondary school. She and I went to No. 10 yesterday to offer the Prime Minister some further advice and encouragement on how to run the country, but after hearing her sing, we decided that we would just support her bid to win “The Voice”. She is a fabulous singer, and I hope that everyone will support her.

The UK city of culture contest is undoubtedly very important. All the bids are excellent. The judges will have a very tough time deciding which city wins the bid and which cities should be in the last four. I very much hope that Southend makes it.

Some people look at the word “Southend” and pronounce it as it is written. In actual fact, it stands for “Sou the ND”, which means “sue the national detractors”. Southend very much condemns all those people who have made disparaging remarks about every other part of the United Kingdom; we could not be more patriotic and proud of our country. I simply think that Southend deserves to win the bid, and I hope that, in 2017, we will be the city of culture.

Order. A large number of Members wish to speak. I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers no later than 10.40. If Members stick to five minutes, we might get everyone in. If they do not, we will have a problem. Those wanting to intervene should also bear that in mind.

I thank you, Mr Weir, for your words, and the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) and other colleagues for securing this debate. As one of those who also put in for this debate, I am absolutely delighted that it is taking place this morning. I appreciate the difficulties that you have, Mr Weir, because when I tried to lobby you to support the Aberdeen bid, I discovered that you were supporting Dundee.

Unfortunately, Mr Weir, your position this morning does not allow you to speak in the debate.

Aberdeen is an important economic driver not just of the Scottish economy but of the British one, too. We have a thriving offshore oil and gas industry, which is doing extremely well and is now moving into renewables. We like to call ourselves the “energy capital of Europe”. Aberdeen is a vibrant city that is full of life and energy, so why on earth do we want it to become the city of culture? It is because the one thing that is missing in our city is a strong cultural identity. Unfortunately, the participation rate in cultural activities by the people of Aberdeen is lower than the national average—both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole. We want to use the bid to build up the part of our community that has perhaps not always got the attention that it deserves because we have been too busy making money and running the energy sector.

The emphasis has always been on the economic side of Aberdeen and not so much on the cultural side or on making the city a much more attractive place to live. Many agencies say that it is difficult to attract staff to Aberdeen because everyone thinks that it is much too far north—it is quite far north—and too cold. They come up with all the negative things about Aberdeen. Indeed, it is also said that the locals themselves take after the grey granite of the buildings. However, when people move and make a life in Aberdeen, they discover what a wonderful place it is, and it is then difficult to move them somewhere else if their job demands it.

What we want to build on and what we want to use the bid for is the cultural offer that will be there for the people of Aberdeen. Although Aberdeen is far north, it is not too far north, and that is another reason why the city of culture bid would be so great for the city; it would bring us more into the centre of the UK. Hopefully, it would help us to create a centre that people would be prepared to travel to in order to take up the cultural offer.

Aberdeen already has great buildings that deliver aspects of culture. His Majesty’s theatre, for example, is incredibly grand. It was only when I went to theatres in London that I discovered just how grand it is, because the ones in London are quite pathetic in comparison. We have an art gallery on which we are about to spend a few million pounds, refurbishing and extending it. We have Peacock Visual Arts, which has a world-famous print works, the Gray’s School of Arts, the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and two universities that also do cultural things. Indeed the Aberdeen university festival is just finishing at the moment. It is perhaps worth pointing out here that we had two universities in Aberdeen when there were only two universities in the whole of England—in Oxford and Cambridge.

We have a strong cultural history, but we would like to build on the cultural involvement in our communities. Although we are a rich and vibrant city, the wealth does not always trickle down to the poorer areas. We hope the culture bid might be able to reach the parts of our communities in Aberdeen that the oil wealth has not necessarily reached, and we are keen to build up localised events that will involve people more than the local galleries. We know that there is an appetite there and that people want to be involved, but we need something that will pull it all together and act as a dynamic force on the city council and on Aberdeenshire council to bring the cultural offers together.

Finally, when the tall ships came to Aberdeen in 1997, the whole town turned out for the event; it was fantastic. We had Vikings from Shetland wandering about the town, which was bizarre. They turned up in the local pubs and restaurants. That was a wonderful example of what Aberdeen could do if it got the opportunity to become the UK city of culture in 2017.

Many right hon. and hon. Members will be aware of the beautiful city of Chester: our world-famous Roman city walls; our historic cathedral; the unique mediaeval shopping galleries, the Rows; our beautiful River Dee; and the Eastgate clock, which is the most photographed clock in the world after the clock that stands above this House. All are key features in our city, and all are known across the globe. My hon. Friend the Minister recently described Chester as

“a jewel in the crown in the north-west”.—[Official Report, 18 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 466.]

He was wrong, because Chester is much more than that. It is a unique city, and if it qualifies and wins the city of culture, it will be a national treasure. However, we are not resting on our laurels. Chester is not merely a museum, but a living, thriving city. It is a city that is facing up to the challenges of the modern day, adapting and constantly changing, and our heritage and culture play a massive role in that.

Culture is being used as a key catalyst for change. For hundreds of years, Chester has been a market town and a shopping centre for north Wales and Cheshire. As shopping habits change, it is essential that our high street offerings change too. Chester is embracing that change, ensuring that our city offers a unique and complete experience—whether that is through street festivals, music and dramatic art in our unique historic public realm or through guiding shoppers to visit some of our many cultural attractions. We recognise that culture is essential to our economic growth and to ensuring that Chester can compete with our larger metropolitan neighbours.

The council is investing heavily in our heritage and our culture. Millions have been pumped into our historic environment: restoring our city walls; creating a unique interactive heritage trail; renovating the town hall, to bring it back to its Victorian splendour and create a new performance venue; restoring the Roman gardens; refreshing the riverside promenade; and reinterpreting Chester’s Roman amphitheatre, to allow visitors to see what it would have been like and to bring it back into use as a city centre performance venue, not for gladiatorial combat but for modern film and music festivals.

All the time, new festivals are being introduced, such as the film festival in the amphitheatre, a new Chester fringe, theatre in the park or Chester Rocks, which makes use of Chester’s race course, the oldest in the country, and which this year will feature one of my daughter’s favourites, Jessie J, who has already been mentioned in the debate. At the same time, our traditional festivals, such as the food festival, the music festival, Theatre in the Quarter and the literary festival, are now making a real impact on the national stage and attracting an ever-increasing number of visitors.

Chester mystery plays, the mediaeval passion plays, were first performed more than 600 years ago by the guilds of the city. They continue to grow and are a highlight of the city’s 2013 cultural calendar. Although they are traditionally only performed once every five years, they will be performed in 2017 if we are successful in our bid to be city of culture. The council also has massively ambitious plans to build a new first-class theatre in the city. Work has recently started on the site, and the new theatre is due to open in 2016.

Culture in Chester is back on the scene and back with a bang, and the reaction from the people of Chester has been fantastic. The local newspapers have been backing the bid, claiming that the city’s cultural offering is at a historic high, and their letter pages have been filled with residents saying how proud they are of our city and our culture. Social media are also playing a part, allowing Cestrians to engage with and support the city’s bid in new and exciting ways.

Our bid to be the city of culture 2017 harnesses that public enthusiasm. The council is hoping to create a cadre of community volunteers, similar to the hugely successful volunteers programme at the London Olympic games. These volunteering opportunities will allow young people to become involved with culture, art and music, and to further their own skills and enthusiasm. Part of the aim is to encourage unemployed people to become volunteers, giving them opportunities of responsibility, boosting their self-esteem and allowing them to learn new skills that can be transferred into the jobs market.

The fact that we have been long-listed to be the city of culture 2017 is a massive boost for Chester, and the changes in expectation and attitude in our city during the past few years show that we are able to compete and to show Britain and the world what a fantastic city of culture Chester would be. I am not the only one who thinks that. The bookies agree, with Chester the 4-1 favourite to win the bid according to William Hill. I am delighted to back Chester’s bid to be city of culture.

It is a pleasure to speak in this very important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) on securing the debate and I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), because I know he has been trying to secure such a debate for many weeks.My hon. Friend will probably mention the fact that a king has been found in Leicester recently. In Hull, we cannot boast of finding a king under a car park, but we can say that in 1642 Hull Corporation declared support for Parliament by denying Charles I entry into the city.

I support and welcome the bid that Hull city council has submitted for this prestigious title. In economic terms, Hull—like many areas—is having a tough time, but winning this title would hugely boost the city’s morale. More importantly, it would create a great number of social and economic benefits, as we have seen in other cities that have previously held the title. It would be the tipping point for the council’s 10-year plan, which hopes to deliver 7,500 new jobs, many of them focused on culture and tourism.

I think that I am right in saying that in Hull as many as 50 people are chasing every single vacancy, so it is important to emphasise how winning the bid might benefit the city. Hull often gets a bad press, but we have an awful lot to boast about. We have contemporary festivals and modern cultural attractions that would challenge those on offer in any European capital. We have some beautiful buildings built at the height of Hull’s prosperity, which was in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mr Weir, I had intended to speak for about 10 or 15 minutes, but I am afraid that when I saw the number of right hon. and hon. Members here in Westminster Hall today I had to cut down my speech considerably.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case for Hull. Does he agree that one of the most exciting things about Hull and the Humber area is the opportunity that exists for digital creation? We have artists, graphic designers, musicians and technicians from Grimsby institute and Hull university creating a real opportunity, both to make digital creation part of the redevelopment of Hull and to provide jobs for our future.

I absolutely agree—my right hon. Friend is completely right about that. I was going to address the issue of digital creation, but now I need not say any more about it.

There seems to be an imbalance whereby other northern cities have capitalised on cash for arts, and I hope that a successful bid for the prestigious city of culture title will rebalance that situation a little for Hull.

I will finish by quoting Rupert Creed, the famous playwright from Brighton who moved to Hull and settled in the city. He argued that Hull has always been a creative city and a place prepared to try new things, saying:

“There’s this blank canvas, this willingness to make things happen.”

We want to come out of the shadows, shine and become the gateway to the world, as we once were.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) for securing this debate, and it is fantastic to hear from so many Members about the benefits of their own constituencies. I know from conversations with colleagues that for many people Hastings summons up three things. First, there is our famous battle—I am happy to say that there is no historical confusion about that—as well as the Norman conquest and the castle on the hill, which was built just four years after the conquest. Secondly, there is the fishing port, which is still a major issue economically in the town and in terms of fairness: we are always campaigning to get higher quotas for our fishermen and I hope that this Government will be able to deliver them. Thirdly, there is our famous seaside, which attracts so many visitors.

However, Hastings has recently become a cultural storm of activity in art, music and literature. We have both a history of culture and modern cultural initiatives being established in the town. Historically, we have had the International Chess Congress, which has been going since 1920, and to bring us right up to date we now have the Jerwood gallery, which has recently been built and which has a fantastic exhibition of modern art. Also, it has recently been announced that our pier, which sadly burned down just over two years ago, is to receive £13.5 million of lottery grant, and during the next few years it will rise like the phoenix to invigorate the town.

However, the strongest cultural base that Hastings has is its events. It seems that every other weekend, particularly during the summer, there is some fabulous event, which is inclusive and open to everybody, to liven up the weekend and to attract tourism and investment. We have just had the May day bank holiday, including the Jack in the Green event. There was also marching, drums and our famous Morris dancers. Incidentally, two years ago our Morris dancers came up to London to protest against the proposed changing of the May day bank holiday; they performed outside Parliament and were fantastic. In August, Hastings has old town week, which includes parades, bike races, street races and—perhaps more unusually—a pram race. In September, we have a month-long arts festival, Coastal Currents, and a seafood and wine festival that now runs for two days. In October, in common with local tradition, at the end of a week’s events the Hastings Borough Bonfire Society burns an effigy of someone it really dislikes. That always causes nervous tremors in elected officials locally.

My favourite event is the recently introduced pirate day, which has been going for four years. It was set up to beat the “Guinness Book of Records” entry for the largest number of pirates to congregate on a beach. It has to be taken seriously: a cutlass and an eye patch will not do. This time last year 14,231 people were there. I warn people coming to Hastings on 21 July that they will look out of place if they are not dressed as a pirate.

Hastings, city of culture, has the right ring to it and is something that we could build on. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) said, it is also about trying to move people who are not so familiar with culture into having a cultural experience, and that is what our bid does. Supported by the Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, we are planning a marvellous march, if we succeed, from France, up to York, along Harold’s journey, exhibiting the cultural strengths of the whole area. Between us, we feel that we could make a huge impact. We are, by the way, supported by Bexhill as well. This is an opportunity for Hastings and the country to see the fantastic cultural centre that our town has become.

When people think of Swansea, naturally they think of Dylan Thomas, who was born there 100 years ago next year, when we celebrate the centenary. Of course, Dylan Thomas is the most translated poet of all time, second only to Shakespeare. I am putting forward this bid on behalf of Swansea bay city region, which includes Carmarthen and Neath Port Talbot.

There is a glistening array of stars from Swansea, both past and present. One only has to think of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Michael Sheen and Catherine Zeta-Jones—I am sure that Michael Douglas is applying for a visa as we speak—and many more.

The industrial revolution, in many senses, started in Swansea. Swansea was the first globally connected location for heavy industry, with the price of copper being set there. Indeed, Copperopolis is the latest idea: a museum of metallurgy in an environment, that will attract an international audience.

We have thriving universities, which are at the forefront of innovation, both in metallurgy—for instance, working with Tata Steel—and with modern connected creative works, such as 3D imagery, interactive, animation, etc. We are very much on the cusp of the future.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Copperopolis, the nickname we give to Swansea, is well supported in its cultural bid by Tinopolis, the name we give Llanelli, which has a tremendous tradition in south Carmarthenshire of cultural and industrial heritage? Its latest venture, the state-of-the-art Furnace theatre and associated venues, offers fantastic opportunities, from the more traditional male voice choirs and Llanelli proms, to avant-garde groups, such as Llanelli Youth Theatre, performing “Tomorrow I’ll Be Happy”. Does he agree that the support from that industrial base in Llanelli, with its bilingual cultural heritage, will add a great deal to Swansea’s bid for cultural city 2017.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s contribution. The tin, steel, copper and coal, the Welsh and English languages, the land and the sea, and the urban and the rural together provide diversity and a global reach. Choirs and the history of singing and music are also important for our bid, as is the setting of Swansea bay city region. We have some “pier” pressure from Southend, but Mumbles pier is a great pier and Joe’s ice cream is fantastic, and I confess that I would prefer it to the ice cream that can be found in Southend.

The brand of Swansea is now on the world map, thanks to Swansea football. We are an emerging sports city: the Ospreys rugby team is an example of that. We have just had the Olympic kit brought to Swansea bay for beach volleyball. I hope and expect that we will be a national venue for a national beach volleyball competition.

Swansea university is now the closest in the world to the sea, having previously been second only to California, as I understand it. We are a diverse and multicultural emerging city with a global reach. We hope that a lot of our celebrations—for example, the Dylan Thomas celebration next year—will be globally networked, including people from Bollywood as well as traditional literature. We need to build on the wider Dylan Thomas brand. Of course, Dylan Thomas enjoyed a couple of beers, as well as a quite exciting lifestyle. We hope, over time, to bring a sustainable festival, a bit like the Hay or Edinburgh festivals, alongside other assets, such as Copperopolis. We also have the National Waterfront museum for Wales, which, again, celebrates and builds on industrial heritage. Swansea market is the largest of its type in Wales, with a great heritage over hundreds of years.

Obviously, Swansea has borne the scars of its industrial past, plus the tragic three nights of the blitz that we suffered under the Luftwaffe, but we hope to move forward, with further development of the port, which, historically, was industrially geared for trade. There are new, emerging opportunities, from the cultural point of view, for ferries and for cruise-borne people to visit Swansea and Swansea bay city region.

The news, following our campaign, of electrification of the railways will increase the connectivity and the opportunity for people to see wonderful Swansea and Swansea bay and the Gower, with beautiful golden sands, where people can enjoy culture, the sun and environment, and the good food of Swansea. I hope, later this year, to have a Swansea food day in Parliament, to celebrate some of the great foods created across Swansea bay city region.

We have been the forge for generating steel and various sorts of metallurgy and now I hope that the basic resilience and creativity of the community will help hurtle us forward to the celebration next year and onwards to 2017, so that we have a sustainable cultural legacy that will underpin our position as the true cultural centre of south Wales.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess)—my very fine hon. Friend—on securing this debate. I am delighted that he did not try to rubbish Plymouth during the past few months and delighted, too, that Plymouth did not appear in “The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”, in which Arthur Dent, as my hon. Friend may recall, thought he had died and gone to hell, but in reality had gone to Southend. Ford Prefect, another character in that story, said that he was surprised about Southend, because although the sea remained where it was, the buildings and the rocks went up and down.

I support Plymouth’s city of culture bid. I am looking forward to my hon. Friend visiting Plymouth in the next few weeks. Our bid for the city of culture in 2017 will help regenerate parts of our city, including our inner city. In the Efford ward, during the past 10 years, the local community, through the Heart of Efford and the city council, has used grants and the arts to regenerate a council estate, built immediately after the last war in an area previously decimated during the blitz.

My hon. Friend will also have the opportunity to see where my mother’s acting career started, in Devonport, probably at the age of five. She went on to act at Birmingham Repertory before the war.

By making Plymouth the city of culture in 2017, the authorities will build on its cultural heritage and reputation. Plymouth has the Theatre Royal, one of the five UK production companies; the Drum theatre, often used by Plymouth’s vibrant amateur dramatic societies; TR2, which manufactures many of the sets for theatrical productions throughout the country; Plymouth university’s Peninsula Arts; Plymouth College of Arts, one of the UK’s five independent arts schools; and a proposed new arts free school, which is to be sponsored by the college and the Theatre Royal, and which has attracted Government funding and support.

Plymouth was also home to the late Robert Lenkiewicz, Beryl Cook and Joshua Reynolds. We have some of the UK’s finest post-war architecture, following the devastation of the blitz. In addition, we have a large number of Georgian buildings, including Admiralty house, which was the home of Nelson’s deputy, Lord Collingwood; the royal naval hospital; the home of Captain Hardy—also of Nelson fame; and Conan Doyle’s home, where he wrote “The Hounds of the Baskervilles”. Furthermore, we have the Barbican theatre, a community-based theatre company; the New Palace theatre, where Laurel and Hardy put on their last performance, and which we are keen to rebuild; and the Ten Tors orchestra, which put on a brilliant proms concert on Saturday.

This is a unique opportunity, and I very much hope the Arts Council will listen to Plymouth’s case and give us its support.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who put in a tremendous performance in opening the debate. Earlier this morning, I was looking at the betting odds, and the bookies have Southend second from bottom, at 14:1, but it will certainly be worth a flutter after the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I also noticed that Leicester is the second favourite, at 5:1, and I hope we do not go down the betting league tables after my speech.

As hon. Members would expect, I want to focus on Leicester. I come with the support of the two other Leicester MPs, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), as well as the support of Leicester city council and Leicestershire county council. I was pleased to see the hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) in her place a few moments ago, because she is also very supportive of the bid.

We have heard much about the history of different cities and towns this morning, and Leicester, too, has a great history. We can trace our origins back to the iron age. We have Roman settlements, as well as Saxon and Norman influences. We have tremendous architecture and historical buildings, such as the Roman Jewry wall and the Guildhall. We hosted Shakespeare’s company, and there are suggestions that Shakespeare himself may have been in Leicester.

In recent years, of course, we have found and dug up Richard III. He was buried in Leicester for 500 years, and we recently found him in a Leicester city council social services car park. We therefore have royalty in Leicester, and I say to hon. Friends from Yorkshire, “We are holding on to him. Keep your hands off!” Cardinal Wolsey is also buried somewhere in Abbey park, and it is perhaps time we dug him up, too.

For the benefit of Opposition colleagues, I should say that Leicester has a history of radical politics. As Members might expect from a city that was built on textiles in the past 200 years or so, we had a luddite tradition. At one point, of course, Ramsay MacDonald also sat for a Leicester constituency—may he be a reminder to any Liberal Democrats of the fate of leaders who go into coalitions.

Leicester is a city of tremendous diversity. Forty years ago, families from Uganda made their home in Leicester. They were followed by families from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We have many Hindu temples, gurdwaras and mosques, all within yards of each other. We had the first Jain temple in Europe. In Leicester, Members could be greeted with the words, “Assalamu alaikum”, “Namaste”, “Sat sri akaal” or, more simply, “Alreet, ma duck.” That is very much part of Leicester. We all celebrate our faiths, and we all come together to celebrate Diwali, in the biggest such celebration outside India. We all celebrate Vaisakhi and Eid, and we all join in the lighting of the Hannukkah candles in Victoria park, as well as celebrating all the Christian festivals.

There are not just religious festivals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West would have said had she been here, we have the biggest comedy festival in Europe after that in Edinburgh. After his performance today, I hope we can book the hon. Member for Southend West for our comedy festival. We also have lots of community festivals. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East organised a mango festival. Ours is therefore the only bid that can guarantee that it will have the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee handing out mangoes to those who come to the city to celebrate.

Across the city, we have different community events. ITV did a documentary saying that crime and antisocial behaviour on one of our estates was terrible. People on the estate came together and put on a tremendous summer community event, showing that they were not prepared to take what an outside TV documentary was saying about them. That is our trump card: the people of Leicester coming together, whether to support our football team and Leicester Tigers or to join in the various religious festivals we organise. That is what Leicester is about, and that is why our case is overwhelming—we have the best people.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. The fact that you chose to chair the debate, and the bids from Scottish cities, including Aberdeen, underlines your confidence in the fact that Scotland will be fully part of the United Kingdom in 2017, when the city of culture year starts.

We have heard wonderful presentations from different Members of Parliament about the cultural and creative merits of their areas. Surely, the purpose of the UK city of culture year is not just to change perceptions in the community about the importance of culture and art and the incredible contribution they make to economic regeneration, but to change perceptions about the cultural offer among people outside our home areas, across the UK. One of the great successes of the Derry/Londonderry city of culture year must surely be that it has not only inspired people in Northern Ireland, but brought in many new visitors to the city who had not previously had the chance to experience its delights.

That is very much at the heart of the east Kent bid, which is about what the city of culture year has to offer not only east Kent, but the rest of the UK. Kent is on the frontier of the UK, facing our European neighbours, so we have a chance not only to bring in people from the UK, but to show the rest of Europe what the UK has to offer in a new, challenging, surprising and creative location.

East Kent’s is a unique bid, because it is not based on one city. Instead, as the bid says, it is based on “a city imagined”—a city drawn from a diverse collection of communities and towns, as well as the city of Canterbury, all of which make up the east Kent area. From Whitstable and Margate, around the coast to Dover, Folkestone and Romney marsh, and inland to Ashford, we have a new creative area, which is at heart of the east Kent bid.

The area has a terrific cultural heritage. We have a King, in the form of Henry IV; he is not under a car park, but buried safely in Canterbury cathedral. In the early days of English literature, Chaucer wrote the tales of the pilgrims making their journey to Canterbury. The area was the inspiration for many of Charles Dickens’s books. He wrote “Little Dorrit” while staying in Folkestone. Many will be familiar with the dramatic scene from the recent dramatisation of “Great Expectations”, when Pip meets Magwitch on the coast, which is set in Romney marsh, in my constituency.

The area is also a vibrant centre for the cotemporary arts, with the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate the home of that great international artist Tracey Emin. The Folkestone Triennial arts festival is one of Europe’s leading festivals of sculpture and contemporary art, and the last festival was opened by the Minister. He has seen first hand the impressive work of Roger De Haan and the Creative Foundation in Folkestone. They hold fantastic creative events, making creative regeneration part of the economy. By making east Kent the centre of the UK creative world in 2017, we are seeking to acknowledge what has been done so far, to build on the important work of creative regeneration in the economy and to celebrate the work of local artists.

Derry/Londonderry put ambassadors at the heart of its bid, and we have many fantastic ambassadors, drawn from the sons and daughters of east Kent. We have people such as Tracey Emin and Orlando Bloom, who is from Canterbury, as well as Jools Holland, who now lives in Kent, and Mark Sargeant, who came back to Kent to open his fantastic new restaurant, Rocksalt, in Folkestone, which has been a great success.

We want to build on the experience of the sons and daughters of east Kent and the fantastic network of creative and innovative businesses and cultural centres which already exists. East Kent will make a tremendous ambassador for our country in 2017. If we are successful in our bid, I would urge all Members to come and be part of it.

It is a huge honour for any city to win the title of UK city of culture, and I am sure all the bids will be strong. The value and kudos involved in winning are enormous. Sarah Shortland, who was vox-popped in The Herald in Plymouth, said:

“It would be good for Plymouth—I visited Liverpool after they won European Capital of Culture and they’ve changed lots there.”

We all know just how important winning the bid will be.

Although I am sure that everywhere we have heard spoken about today is lovely, those places cannot compare with Plymouth. As TripAdvisor points out, there are more things to do in Plymouth than in cities such as Bath, Oxford and Cambridge. Its setting alone is breathtaking: the third largest natural harbour in the world—a magnificent backdrop for cultural and sporting events, such as the America’s cup and the British fireworks championships.

Plymouth’s heritage and cultural links are many and varied, and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) has touched on some of them; but I want to consider it from the perspective of its maritime history, and use that as a starting point, to whet people’s appetites. It was important in Tudor times. Francis Drake of course set off from Plymouth to circumnavigate the globe. The church where he was married is in St Budeaux in Plymouth. There is a wealth of archive material that would certainly be brought out and displayed during a city of culture year. The pilgrim fathers left England for a place that they named Plymouth. They did not name it Southampton, or after anywhere in Essex; so Plymouth is known globally. Charles Darwin, in HMS Beagle, left from Plymouth. Captain Cook is also associated with it; and Francis Chichester returned to Plymouth in Gipsy Moth. Napoleon spent time on board a British warship in Plymouth harbour.

Of course, there is also wartime history. At the time of the D-day landings many troops, particularly Americans, left for Normandy from Plymouth. The civilian history of those dark days is also interesting, and many memories and much history could be brought out during a city of culture year. Jill Craigie’s film “The Way We Live”, about the post-war reconstruction of Plymouth, stands out. It set out the Watson-Abercrombie plan for rebuilding the city centre, which was so special architecturally. Jill Craigie was of course the wife of Michael Foot—politician, journalist and writer—and we are launching a fund to build a memorial for Michael, a man of so many talents.

We have the Royal William yard and Twofour Productions, which is the largest independent production company outside London. It was a pleasure to invite my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) to visit it recently. The south-west media are wholly behind our bid, including Ian Wood, the editor of the Plymouth Herald. We have heard about the theatres in Plymouth, but we also have museums. We have the oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in the English-speaking world, which is still in regular use. We hold regular multicultural events to celebrate Diwali, Eid and the Chinese new year. The new chief executive of Destination Plymouth sums it up:

“Plymouth has assets most cities can only dream of—a stunning waterfront, a city surrounded by outstanding countryside; it’s fast becoming a foodie heaven and is the cultural arts and entertainment capital for the region.”

We are going to use Smeaton’s tower and the lighthouse—the model for modern lighthouses, which sits proudly on Plymouth Hoe. That will be the beacon for our city of culture bid for 2017.

In many ways this debate is wrongly named. As I have listened I have felt it should clearly be named “Cities of Culture” as it is not about a single city of culture. I urge the Minister to consider the possibility that, although there will be only one city of culture, some of the other bids should be recognised additionally. The Southend bid, rather like the Kent one, has considered not just Southend-on-Sea but the region as a whole, in the country as a whole. In fact, the front page of the bid documentation positioning Southend for city of culture in 2017 states that it would explore the heritage, landscape and character not just of Southend but of the Thames estuary, and the way it has defined the culture of the whole United Kingdom. Perhaps the status of city of culture would be used not just to showcase a city or town, and a region and county, but all our constituencies. If people flood in from overseas to visit Southend I am sure they will also have time to visit one or two of the other places mentioned by hon. Members today.

I congratulate Southend council, and particularly Rob Tinlin, the chief executive, as well as the leader of the council, on pulling the bid together. It is not simply a detailed 30-page document. It is a movement within the town; that movement and the enthusiasm for the culture are building. It feels almost embarrassing that we have been given three opportunities in relation to the bid. Not only has my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) secured the debate, despite Leicester’s good work, but now that he has introduced it, I can bookend it. If there are any constituencies or areas that he has not yet offended, time will unfortunately not allow me to mop up.

There are a few things to do with Southend that I want to talk about—specifically education and its role in culture. I went to the Colchester campus of the university of Essex in the 1990s, and now we have a campus in Southend. We have a wonderful college with many cultural programmes and degrees, which add to the fabric of society. All too often in the past, young, talented people moved away and did not come back. Now they want to stay in Southend. There are truly many opportunities. It may be that when people think of Southend they think of the pier—the longest pleasure pier in the world—Rossi ice cream, and the sea front; but perhaps we should also recognise the art galleries with fabulous Constable paintings, and the history that goes far beyond the town’s boom time of the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a monastery built in the 11th century, with 45 acres of park land, right in the middle of the town. That is a wonderful resource. We have Porters, a 16th century house that is the mayoral residence, which was visited by Disraeli, and by Churchill during the war, on his way to Shoebury ranges. In fact it was Disraeli who called Southend the riviera of Essex.

Some hon. Members have made literary references. I found a whole book in my office about authors with Southend connections, rather than just one or two references. Southend has a strong bid, and is doing well. I suggest to the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) that since the debate started the odds have shortened and Southend is in an even stronger position to win.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), not only on securing this important debate, but on the strong case he has made for Southend-on-Sea to be named as the UK city of culture in 2017. I agree with him that it is a town that offers many cultural opportunities. Last year it opened the new cultural centre that can be found at the tip of the world’s longest pleasure pier. The Focal Point gallery houses the town’s contemporary art, and Priory park bandstand provides the town with music throughout the summer months. In its own words, it is “Town, shore and so much more”.

The debate comes at an opportune time as 11 areas—Aberdeen, Chester, Dundee, east Kent, Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea, Hull, Leicester, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton, Southend-on-Sea and Swansea bay have all applied to be the next UK city of culture in 2017. I am delighted that so many towns and cities from regions across Britain are competing for that important title. It is a testament to what culture means to our country and the value it brings to our communities, but importantly it also means that each of those communities will place culture at the heart of their agenda in the coming months and years.

The cultural sector of this country is hugely successful. It creates jobs, generates revenue, attracts inward investment and enriches the lives of individuals, families and communities. We are a creative nation. Our cultural sector is the lifeblood of the creative industries, which provide 1.5 million jobs and are a major contributor to our economy. Last year’s Olympic opening ceremony and the Cultural Olympiad reminded people across the world that Britain is a cultural world leader—that our artistic traditions are strong and we are rightly proud of them. However, that success happened not by chance but by choice. The previous Labour Government invested in the arts, and that investment enabled culture to revitalise some of our previously grey city and town centres. As the cultural scene has developed, so too have jobs, growth and the social well-being of the people who live there. Labour introduced free access to museums and galleries, ensuring that the number of visitors increased year on year.

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the former Ford plant in Neath Port Talbot is now hosting “Da Vinci’s Demons.” There is a huge film set for an American-geared production that will bring vital jobs and income. Does he agree that such evolution from traditional industry to creative industries can bring jobs and added value to our communities?

I absolutely agree. I am particularly interested to hear about the transition that the industrial base has made to some degree in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for me to visit at some point in the future.

I was talking about some of the things that the Labour Government did. We introduced creative partnerships, which gave more children than ever before the opportunity to take part in cultural activities, thereby developing an interest and a passion for the arts that will hopefully serve them well in the future. Nowhere are those benefits more clear than in those cities that have been named cities of culture: Liverpool, which held the European title in 2008; and Londonderry, which held the first UK title this year.

In 2009, following the success of Liverpool’s status as European city of culture, the then Labour Culture Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), launched the UK city of culture. Today, that vision has become a reality, with Londonderry being transformed to unlock creativity and ensure that thousands of people flock to visit the city in the coming months. The immediate and lasting impact of a city that embraces culture in that way is clear. The effect in Liverpool in 2008 was striking. In that year alone, visitors voted with their feet, ensuring that the city had almost 15 million cultural visits. Some 67,000 schoolchildren in the city were involved. There was an £800 million economic benefit, and the number of residents who visited a city attraction was 10% above the national average. Liverpool has been transformed and is now known throughout Britain as a cultural hub.

Today, we are debating the UK city of culture bid for 2017. In our country we have the appetite, the skills, the talent and the tradition, but many organisations within the cultural sector exist on a complex funding stream of public investment, commercial revenue and private giving. That ecology ensures creative independence, freedom of artistic innovation and, in good times, stability, but some decisions currently being made by the Government are putting it at risk.

Since 2010, the Government have cut the budget of Arts Council England by more than 30%. Local councils across the country are dealing with devastating cuts to their funding streams. They are struggling to balance those cuts, and the Local Government Association has warned that, by 2019-20, 90% of discretionary funding streams, such as culture, leisure and libraries, may be cut.

It is not all bad news. Many local authorities are innovatively working in partnership to minimise the damage caused by the funding crisis, but that is a result of new thinking from councils. The cuts come without any real Government guidance for local community arts organisations or any real national Government support for local councils. Today, I ask the Minister to pledge to work with councils, which are leading the way, and to provide all towns and cities with guidance on how culture can be protected.

Given the hon. Gentleman’s criticism, what are Labour’s proposals to increase the arts budget? Will he use this opportunity to apologise for the last Labour Government’s slashing of the lottery budget?

I am grateful for the Minister’s intervention, which I will use as an opportunity to respond to a point he has made elsewhere on a number of occasions on the Labour-run local authority in Newcastle.

Newcastle is losing £100 million over the next three years, which is a 6.8% cut, whereas the Secretary of State’s local authority is gaining 4.4%. I want to put the record straight. In those unfair circumstances, I took the decision to visit Newcastle and instigate dialogue between the local authority, Arts Council England and local cultural institutions. As a result, the arts cut has been revised downwards from 100% and the cultural sector will now receive £600,000 a year and have access to a £6 million capital fund. That represents a very good example of what we are doing in opposition to work constructively with local authorities in these difficult times. Perhaps the Minister will give some indication of the conversations he has had and the work he has been doing with local authorities to safeguard the arts in these difficult times.

I notice that the hon. Gentleman takes all the credit, having initially supported Newcastle’s 100% arts cut, and gives no credit to the hard work of Arts Council England, which works closely with Newcastle city council. Will he take this opportunity to praise the Arts Council’s work with Newcastle city council?

The Minister may have missed my reference to Arts Council England, and I pay warm tribute to it and its work. We should be careful about the tone of this debate. We have all come here in good faith to talk about the relative merits of a number of bids, which is the tone at which we should pitch this debate.

Newcastle has not bid for the city of culture, so I urge the hon. Gentleman to give his views on the city of culture process. In the spirit of cross-party engagement, I ask him to observe that my borough council, which is Labour-run, has been leading on its bid, with which I have been involved. Now is not the time to make so many political comments; instead, we should celebrate how, together, we can do city of culture bids for the best of this country.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. She might note that I was actually conducting this debate in a manner of which she would approve until the Minister intervened, which is when I felt the need to respond. I suggest that we move on and raise the tone of the debate.

As the MP representing Derry/Londonderry, I put on record our huge thanks to Arts Council England, which got behind our city once the bid was won. It shared funding, insight and key introductions. Whichever city wins the 2017 bid will get huge, positive and key support from the Arts Council.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. I completely agree. Arts Council England is doing important work in these challenging times. It has recently published a significant report that clearly articulates and reflects on the economic benefit of the arts within our country. I will highlight a couple of the points that the Arts Council has made recently.

The report states that 0.1% of Government funding is spent on the arts, yet the arts make up 0.4% of the economy. That, of course, does not account for the creative industries or for tourism. The arts provide 0.5% of total UK employment, and at least £856 million a year of spending by tourists visiting this country can be attributed directly to the arts and to culture. Those points were recently made in the important report of Arts Council England, and I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to its important work on preserving our arts in these difficult economic times.

Beyond doubt, the cultural sector is a driver of jobs and growth in the UK. It is clear that public money invested in the cultural sector represents good value and offers a good return, which is an incredibly important point in the context of this debate.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the huge debate on growth versus cuts to reduce the deficit, and given the enormous emerging middle class in English-speaking markets in China, India, south America and so on, investment in the arts now will be paid back many times over?

Order. Before the shadow Minister responds to that intervention, I remind him that we need to give the Minister time to reply to the debate. I urge him to bring his speech to a close.

Okay. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for his intervention. Unfortunately, there will not necessarily be time to address it. Let me move on briefly—because I know that the Minister will wish to conclude the debate—and say some things on which I hope we can all agree.

I believe that the cultural sector provides unlimited opportunities for young people, invoking imagination and creativity while ensuring that they learn the dedication, commitment and dexterity that come with playing a musical instrument, singing in a choir or performing in a theatre or dance group. I see in my constituency the value that young people get from those kinds of activity. I saw that on Saturday night, when I attended a concert by the brilliant Barnsley youth choir, and I very much look forward to that choir hosting the world-famous Aurin choir from Hungary, who will be coming next month to sing alongside our own choir. The value that young people get from such opportunities is hugely important.

Mr Weir, I am conscious that we are running short of time, so I will conclude by saying that Labour Members believe that our creative sector deserves creative thinking and that that is exactly what we should be providing to ensure that the arts continue to thrive in these tough times. The hon. Member for Southend West has, in his typically ebullient way, made an excellent case for Southend-on-Sea. I wish him and Southend-on-Sea the very best with their bid, as I wish all the other cities that are competing to be the UK city of culture in 2017 the very best. I hope that the appetite to hold this title will provide further proof to the Minister and to the Government as a whole that culture is worth supporting for 2017 and beyond.

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I thank the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for his 15-minute speech. In the eight minutes remaining to me, I will try to pay tribute to the many interventions and contributions made by hon. Members.

The debate was framed by an elegant Southend sandwich—my hon. Friends the Members for Southend West (Mr Amess) and for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge). I confess that of the many cities bidding to be the UK city of culture, I have not yet visited Southend. That is something that I will remedy over the summer, because I know that Southend is “Town, shore and so much more”. The “so much more” must refer to my two hon. Friends, who represent it so well in Parliament, but perhaps also to the Focal Point gallery, the Beecroft art gallery, the Old Leigh studios, the Southend Pier cultural centre, the Priory Park bandstand and, indeed, the Cliffs pavilion, where this Sunday Tony Stockwell, the psychic medium, will be appearing and will no doubt be able to tell us who will win the title of UK city of culture.

We also heard a fantastic contribution from the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg). I visited Aberdeen with Ken Baker many years ago when he was Conservative party chairman, and what a cultured chairman he was, because before we went to the Scottish Conservative conference, we made a beeline for the Aberdeen art gallery and saw the wonderful Richard Long sculptures. It is the granite city, and what better adornment to its cultural heritage could it have than being the birthplace of our brilliant Secretary of State for Education?

Of course, there is also Hull, which I visited on the way to the by-election caused by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), a former Minister for Europe. Hull has eight museums. It also has the Hull Truck theatre company. Perhaps the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) could tell the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who is no longer in his seat, that I also said that of course Hull is now the home of the author of the best political memoirs for a generation. It is my birthday on 5 June, and I intend to ask my mother for a copy, but I will not do so if a signed copy appears in my office in the next few days.

Swansea, too, is a city that I have not yet visited, but I will remedy that over the summer. As we learned today, it is the home of beach volleyball, the national waterfront museum and, of course, the filming of “Da Vinci’s Demons”. I thank the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for pointing out that tax reliefs for film and now for television and animation—and soon, we hope, for video games—are supporting our creative industries.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) pointed out the adornments of that fair city—a city that I visited recently, that is building a new library and new theatre and that understands the importance of culture.

I failed to mention properly the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, who again made a fantastic intervention on behalf of his city. Of course, we also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd). That, too, is a town that I have visited. I have gone with her to visit the Jerwood gallery. That is another good example of lottery money being used to regenerate culture.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) was ably supported by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck). I gather that they are working in tandem. That picks up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye that the support for culture and for the UK city of culture transcends political divides. Plymouth, too, is a city that I have visited. Its bid is backed by Tom Daley. I have visited the Theatre Royal. The original building was built 200 years ago this year; unfortunately it was demolished in 1937. I have visited TR2, the Drum theatre and Plymouth art school. They are all fantastic adornments to that city.

The hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) was bigging up the virtues of Leicester—a city that I visited recently to speak at the vibrant Leicester Conservatives’ annual dinner. I also visited recently its newly built Curve theatre—another arts building built with lottery funding. Of course, there is also the amazing story of the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton—a story that has captured the public imagination.

I am delighted that the Minister visited Leicester and that he has referenced Richard III. Does he agree that Richard III should remain in Leicester?

I am staying out of that one.

We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). East Kent is a place that I visit frequently. I spent my summer holidays in Ramsgate, where my aunt lived. I am to open the Deal music festival. I pay tribute to the work of Roger De Haan and his support for Folkestone and of course Turner Contemporary. The area is also the location of the Romney marshes, where my own father is buried. We have no idea why he wanted to be buried there and we got lost on the way to the burial, but it is a very beautiful place for him to be buried.

This is probably the first proper debate that we have had in this House on culture in general, rather than a specific issue, since I have been the Culture Minister.

We have not had an Opposition debate yet. I yearn for the hon. Gentleman to use his influence—to call an Opposition debate on arts and culture and we can talk about how we have restored the money lost in the lottery cuts by the last Government in order to support our culture. Of course, the lottery, which was brought in by the Major Government and supported by the last Labour Government, has invested a huge amount in our cultural infrastructure. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about the fact that I am passionate about our culture. I want to talk about the fact that the UK city of culture, a concept introduced by the last Labour Culture Secretary and supported by the Conservative Culture Secretary—it has cross-party support—is incredibly important. It has shown how important culture is to cities and towns throughout the country. There is no public money invested in this; it has come from the grass roots up, supported by hon. Members and by their towns and cities.

In terms of the origins of cities of culture, I recall that back in the 1980s—was it in 1988?—Glasgow was a city of culture. Was that something that the UK Government supported or was it European?

This is exactly the point. Glasgow was European city of culture. That was 23 years ago, but I can still remember the slogan: “Glasgow’s miles better”. If people go to Glasgow now, they will see that the legacy is still there. People can also go to Liverpool, which, five years ago, was the city of culture. The economic benefit was £800 million. I visited a video games developer there who had previously lived in Liverpool but had left the city. He said, “I came back to Liverpool because when it became the city of culture, I knew there was stuff going on. That’s why I’m back in Liverpool.”

Derry/Londonderry will have an extra 600,000 visitors this year. That is twice as many as normal. We are talking about 150 events, 75% of them free. We are talking about the Royal Ballet, the Turner prize, the Ulster orchestra and Seamus Heaney. This is what it is all about, and culture has cross-party support in this House. That is why we are doing our best to support—

In relation to cross-party support, I do not know whether the Minister realises, but it is a Scottish National party council in Dundee that is behind the bid putting forward Dundee as the UK city of culture 2017. Does the Minister have any observation to make on whether it knows something that we do not know about the outcome of the referendum next year on Scottish independence?

The hon. Lady is right: we are better together. That is a good example of how the cultures of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England all work together to create this fantastic nation that is known all around the world for its incredible culture.

Will the Minister be promoting the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas? Does he regard him as an iconic UK poet and literary person as well as a Welsh one?

Yes, I regard Dylan Thomas as a Welsh poet, a British poet and a poet of the world.

I want to end on this note. I am proud that this Government have restored the money lost in Labour’s lottery cuts, that we continue to support arts and culture and that the Arts Council is working so effectively with local authorities up and down the country. People who do down culture in our local areas outside London—