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Volume 599: debated on Wednesday 16 September 2015

It is 12 months since the NATO summit showcased Wales to the world, and the Welsh tourism industry continues to boom. It is an essential part of the Welsh economy, attracting investment, jobs and record numbers of visitors to Wales. International visitors spent £368 million visiting Wales last year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the start of the rugby world cup gives Wales the opportunity to put itself on the front foot for business and tourism? Will he join me in wishing Wales every success in the world cup, until they play England?

My hon. Friend has a point. International events play a significant role in attracting visitors, while promoting Wales and the UK to the world. The rugby world cup not only means that Wales will lift the Webb Ellis trophy; it gives us a great opportunity to sing the Welsh national anthem and the UK national anthem together.

As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I welcome the fact that last year’s NATO summit took place in Newport, Wales. Will the Minister ensure that Wales can build on that wonderful showcase for its heritage and food and drink industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the importance of the NATO summit that the last Government took to Wales. That not only allowed us to promote Wales around the globe, but was an important step towards the commitment that 2% of GDP would be spent on defence.

10. Given all the Government schemes to encourage tourism in Wales, does the Minister think it is fair that people who want to visit Wales are thumped with a toll of £6.50 on the Severn bridge? What will he do to stop that tax on tourism? (901181)

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s interest in the Severn toll, as well as that of many Members from all parties across the House. The law has been in place for decades, but the concession will end in 2017 or 2018, depending on traffic volumes. That gives us the opportunity to bring innovations to the crossing, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made significant moves in this area.

Welcome though the trend of increasing visitor numbers is, I know that the Minister is not one to rest on his laurels. With that in mind, what discussions has he had about reducing VAT on tourism, which would boost many local economies throughout the country?

That seems to be a perennial question from Members. VAT is a matter for the Chancellor, who always keeps such matters under review, and there are currently no plans to change VAT on the tourism sector. There are great things in Wales that we can champion to encourage more tourists to Wales. The Countryside is GREAT campaign is promoted by VisitBritain and provides an excellent opportunity for that, and I look forward to the UK tourism Minister visiting Cardiff shortly to discuss the great opportunities that it offers.

Confidence in the tourism sector in my constituency is riding high, as illustrated by the £5 million refurbishment of the Llandudno Bay hotel. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only threat to confidence in that sector in Wales is the anti-business rhetoric of the Labour party?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and his constituency depends significantly on income from the tourism sector. He rightly highlights the fact that every tourism business is a business, and the changes that we have made to make this a more entrepreneurial, innovative and growth-driven economy not only help every business but have particular relevance to the tourism sector.

Next month Blaenavon world heritage site in my constituency will host the UNESCO world heritage youth summit. Will the Minister congratulate Blaenavon on that, and agree how important it is that we showcase our world heritage sites in Wales to the world?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the House’s attention to that issue. The summit is important and I congratulate Blaenavon and wish the community well. I remember UNESCO awarding world heritage status to Blaenavon. The Welsh Government did a good job promoting the area, and the UK Government have a part to play in developing that further.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), tourists arriving in Wales this weekend for the rugby world cup will face paying the highest toll in the UK on the Severn bridges—something that Welsh commuters and businesses face every day when they travel over those bridges. Will the Minister commit to make it a personal priority to press for a significant reduction in the toll once the concession ends, beyond the VAT reduction, and fight hard for that in government?

The hon. Lady regularly raises that issue, and the Government appreciate its importance. We have already committed to reducing VAT when the concession ends, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has gone even further because small businesses with light vans will pay the same price as cars, reducing the rate from more than £13 to closer to £5. The end of the concession provides us with an opportunity to do more, and that debate and discussion is ongoing.

Order. There is an understandable air of anticipation in the Chamber at this time, which is reflected in a large number of rather noisy private conversations. Let us have a bit of order for the new parliamentary leader of Plaid Cymru.