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Rugby World Cup 2015

Volume 765: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the tourism benefits to the United Kingdom of hosting the Rugby World Cup.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and in doing so declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

My Lords, consultants Ernst & Young forecast that the event would attract more than 460,000 international visitors to England and Wales, the highest ever for a world cup, spending almost £1 billion and generating up to £2.2 billion output for the economy. Provisional figures on the economic benefits will be available in February with final data in May.

My Lords, while sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour de France are a welcoming tourism bonus, the cornucopia of our built heritage—our museums and galleries—generates core tourism. Last year, more people visited the V&A, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum combined than visited Venice; more people visited the British Museum and the National Gallery combined than visited Barcelona; and more visited the Southbank Centre, Tate Modern and Tate Britain combined than visited Hong Kong. More people visit heritage properties every weekend than attend soccer matches. Do not these statistics and the renovation situation we now face here in Parliament emphasise how vital it is for the Treasury fully to maintain spending on our rich tapestry of national heritage?

My Lords, I agree about the cornucopia that the noble Lord described. We actually have a very good system through a number of bodies, such as Historic England and English Heritage, and of course the private sector, including the National Trust and the Historic Houses Association, which do a superb job in repairing our buildings. Obviously we at DCMS will play our part in this challenging spending review, but the cornucopia remains.

My Lords, would the Minister remind the Chancellor, when she has discussions with him, that for every £1 that VisitBritain spends in promoting tourism in the United Kingdom, £21 is earned from international visitors? Between 2009 and 2013, according to the Office for National Statistics, employment in tourism grew by 5.4% when it grew by only 2.8% in other sectors of the economy. We in this House know how concerned the Chancellor is to ensure good opportunities for hard-working people. Will the Minister encourage him to back a winner in this case and continue the investment in VisitBritain and British tourism?

My Lords, we are well aware of the strong role that tourism plays in our country and our economy. This is a factor that will be taken into account. Employment is also much higher than the rate in the non-tourist sector. It is a huge employer, which is incredibly important.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that these big sporting events are an excellent hook that gets people in and allows other things to be developed, and should be seen in that light? Will she also give an undertaking that her department will make every effort to ensure that these are all drug-free in future, and not lose sight of the fact that we might be throwing the baby out with the bath water if we do not get involved in backing international efforts to make sure that all big sporting events are clean in future?

My Lords, as the noble Lord well knows, we have the Gold Event Series, launched in November 2012. We invest £50 million of lottery money in bidding for future events, and have had some success. Clearly, the news that we have had this week is a deplorable state of affairs; the WADA report has shocked us all. It is completely right that we should build on the record of the Olympics in having strong anti-doping policies.

My Lords, I am so sorry to intervene. It is actually the turn of the Conservative Benches, which we have not heard from. While I am on my feet, I remind noble Lords that we are now starting to get very lengthy in the questions that we are asking. I would pay particular attention to some of the original supplementaries that are being asked.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a little goes a very long way in the field of heritage? To a cathedral needing maintenance, £250,000 means a vast amount; it is a tiny drop in the ocean. Would she convey that message to the Chancellor before the spending round is announced?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very strong point. We had the £20 million First World War Centenary Cathedrals Fund, of course; I was in Norwich this very weekend looking at some of the brilliant repair work that has been done. I think that we in this country are great at looking after historic buildings. We should be telling people overseas and they should be learning from our skills in conservation and architecture.

Does the Minister agree that one of the key factors, maybe even the key factor, which made the Rugby World Cup such a celebration and a success was that it was available for virtually everyone in the country to view on what we still occasionally call the terrestrial channels, which are free to air? Is the evidence not crystal clear that with major sports longer available on free-to-air television—notably cricket and, increasingly, golf, not to mention Premier League football—the capacity of the country as a whole to celebrate these events inexorably diminishes?

To be brief, I agree that the television coverage of the Rugby World Cup was amazing. We all watched a lot of games, even though the home countries did not do as well as they should have done. Good television coverage is very important.

Does the noble Baroness accept that in order to safeguard for the future this cornucopia of heritage of which we are all so proud, we must invest more heavily in the arts and sciences in our schools?

The arts, the creative arts and all the things that the noble Lord mentions are incredibly important in the school curriculum, and there has been a lot of investment. Of course, the whole cornucopia that has been described helps with the education process, with visits to national institutions, artistic institutions and theatres. The Arts Council does a wonderful job and will continue to do so.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned the Ernst & Young report on the potential for a sporting legacy. Does she think that the Government can learn anything from it in relation to the Olympics legacy? Also, in order to stop schoolchildren being put off rugby, could she stop Boris Johnson going on the pitch again?

I have no power over Boris Johnson but I believe that the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup have been brilliant in encouraging grass-roots sports, including rugby, for both boys and girls. Of course, the Paralympics have come through as an enormous British strength. This is an area to celebrate.