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Volume 598: debated on Thursday 9 July 2015

The tourism sector directly contributed nearly £60 billion to the UK economy in 2014. Taking account of indirect benefits, the sector was expected to be worth more than £133 billion last year, supporting about 3.2 million jobs in the UK.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Southend-on-Sea is the alternative city of culture 2017? With the event likely to go global, does he recognise that there will be a boost to the economy in Southend, and a significant boost to the UK tourism sector?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaign to make Southend the city of culture. It was, of course, narrowly beaten by Hull, but nevertheless I am aware that Southend has many attractions. As a fellow Essex MP I am in favour of anything that will attract more visitors to our county.

The fantastic tourism potential that lies in country sports is worth £1.6 billion to the economy, and some 480,000 shooters pursue their sport across the whole of the United Kingdom. What more can the Minister do to ensure that country sports and tourism can go forward together?

I believe that the matter of country sports will soon be subject to a debate in this House. It will be for every Member to make up their own mind about the value of that and whether we can continue to promote it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the range of anniversary commemoration events taking place this year, which happen to include the 750th anniversary of the battle of Evesham in my constituency, not only showcase our heritage but provide a good boost for the tourism economy?

We are fortunate this year to celebrate a number of important anniversaries, including Agincourt, Waterloo and the first world war, and my hon. Friend is entirely right to remind the House that we can add the battle of Evesham to that list. The commemorations will not only increase awareness of our heritage, but will draw more visitors to this country.

The DCMS triennial review recommended that VisitBritain should have regional dispersal targets, so that VisitBritain is not simply “VisitLondon”. What progress is being made, and how will it be monitored?

The importance of persuading visitors that we have many attractions to offer outside London, as well as in London, is something I am very conscious of, not least because it was one of the principal recommendations of the Select Committee’s report on tourism. We will be responding to the report very shortly. I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s point. We will certainly, if not set targets, be doing our best to persuade visitors to enjoy all the attractions right across all the nations of the UK.

The Secretary of State will be aware of how important the tourism industry is to Cornwall, but is he aware of the damage that the Government’s current rules, which restrict families from taking their children out of school during term time, are having on the Cornish economy? Visit Cornwall estimates that it has cost the Cornish economy about £50 million. Will the Secretary of State be willing to meet me to discuss how we might address this issue and support the Cornish tourism industry?

I understand the point my hon. Friend makes, although he will appreciate that this is principally a matter for the Secretary of State for Education rather than my own Department. I understand that headteachers are encouraged to be flexible in setting their week, but children’s education is important, and we should not deprive them of it by changing their ability to go on holiday.

I am sure the Secretary of State will welcome the figures from the international passenger survey published last month, which showed that the number of overseas visitors to the UK is up 3% for the first four months. However, does he share my concern, and that of the tourism industry, that the figures show that expenditure is down 7% so far this year? If this trend continues to the end of the year, total revenue could be down by £1.53 billion compared with 2014, potentially putting 28,000 jobs at risk. Given those concerns, is it not time for the Government to put together a national strategy for tourism?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the fact that the number of visitors has continued to increase and is at record levels. Nevertheless, he is right that there has been a small drop in spend. That may be more to do with the weakness of the euro than anything else. On his call for a national tourism strategy, my Department is reviewing all our policy areas. We will respond to the Select Committee report very shortly and set out precisely our intentions to promote tourism in the UK.

Cleethorpes is, of course, the premier resort of the east coast and is well located to benefit from visitors to Hull in 2017. Do the Government have any plans for additional assistance to boost seaside tourism?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the many attractions of Cleethorpes. As I said, we are looking to boost tourism outside London. We already have specific projects in Yorkshire and in the south-west. I am sure the people of Cleethorpes will take maximum advantage in attracting the extra visitors who will no doubt be coming to the region to celebrate Hull’s city of culture status.