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The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): Overseas visitor numbers fell by 4 per cent. in the three months to April, but recent evidence suggests that the inbound market is now recovering. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the problem was not only due to international terrorism: severe acute respiratory syndrome and the aftermath of the Iraq war were other factors. VisitBritain is working with the industry on campaigns to continue to promote Britain around the world as a safe and attractive tourist destination.
Mr. Luff : I certainly share the sentiments expressed in the Minister's concluding remarks, but is not England curiously badly placed to deal with the risk to the international tourism market? The last figures that I have with me show a spending of £3.77 per head of population on Scottish tourism promotion; £4.03 for Wales; and 20p for England. Is it not time to defend more effectively one of the most successful brands and proudest nations in the international tourism market?
Mr. Caborn: If the hon. Gentleman had continued with the figures he would have shown that the spend power is £220 per head in respect of coming to England; 80 per cent. of the return on inward bound tourism is effectively inside England. We can argue the economics, but it needs to be said clearly that, although there is a perception of risk out there, quite honestly Britainand Englandare probably the safest destinations in western Europe. That needs to be said loud and clear to a lot of people. It is good to see the figures improving. BAA's figures show that in May there was a 2 per cent. increase in traffic against the same period last year. We are seeing a slight rise in the market and confidence is coming back, which is to be welcomed.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is aware that visitor numbers at St. Paul's cathedral will be well down this year. St. Paul's feels that that is due to a reduction in the market
What must be understood about the London market is that, last year, for the first time in history, I think, business tourism overtook leisure tourism, so there is a structural difference between the London market and those outside the UK. That may reflect on some of the visitor attractions in London. This is an important issue. Business tourism and sports tourism were two of the largest growth areas in the overall tourism industry. I take on board the points that have been made but I assure my hon. Friend that St. Paul's is reviewing its visitor plans. I am hopeful that more visitors will start to be attracted to that establishment, which is a beautiful place to go.
Nick Harvey (North Devon): The Government responded to 11 September with a modest injection of cash for tourism promotion and have subsequently formed VisitBritain, but is the Minister satisfied that it has enough resources at its disposal? Is not tourism a very competitive international market? Is it not worth £75 billion a year to Britain? Does the Minister not think that VisitBritain needs to have at its disposal the resources that our international competitors have? Will he deal with the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) about the continuing anomaly between the funding of English tourism and that in Scotland and Wales?
Mr. Caborn: One of the hon. Gentleman's points may be true, in the sense that when the split came with Wales and Scotland and they set up their development agencies, English tourism was left in the Department of Trade and Industry. Recently, we have ensured that tourism comes into the mainstream economic development of the English regions. That is why we brought into play the regional development agencies, which are seen as a major part of the development[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) will listen I will tell him what we are doing. The RDAs are now seen as a major part of the development of the economies of each of the English regions. Indeed, the former chairman of the South West of England regional development agency, Sir Michael Lickiss, is playing a major role in the development of tourism in England and the United Kingdom. I think that tourism will probably play a greater part in the development of the English regions than it has in the past.
Mr. Caborn: Occasionally, missionaries have to be sent out of Yorkshire to other parts of the UK. Last weekend, I had a fantastic time in the Lake district. The sun shone all the time. It is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world, but as my hon. Friend said Yorkshire is a fantastic region.
Mr. Caborn: I call it a region, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. Scarborough is a wonderful place to visit, too. It has had fantastic success over the past two or three years in attracting visitors.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): We, too, congratulate the Minister on his new responsibilities, but does it not say something about the priority that the Government attach to tourism that, following the botched reshuffle, the job has simply been tacked on to the end of his existing responsibilities?
As others have said, Scotland spends 20 times as much as England does on tourism, and Wales spends 30 times as much. Does the Minister accept the verdict of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that tourism in England is seriously underfunded and that the Government are not providing adequate support? In particular, when does he expect a sector skills council to be established to address the serious skills shortage throughout the industry?
Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the skills of the industry, which are of concern to the nine regional development agencies. We hope to make an announcement in the autumn about the sector skills council.
More importantly, we need to bring tourism centre stage. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) may ridicule the fact that tourism has been placed alongside sport, but that was done for strategic reasons and has been welcomed by the more informed commentators. Bringing sport and tourism together is to be welcomed, particularly as we move towards the bid for the Olympic games. There is synergy and a rationale behind that change, and our approach to the Olympics and the general development of tourism will benefit.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The Coalition Provisional Authority, with the support of expert officials nominated by my Department, is assessing the scale of looting from Iraq's museums and cultural sites. As I made clear at our last Question Time, however, it will be some time before a full inventory of stolen and recovered Iraqi cultural artefacts is completed. The amnesty conducted by United States forces has had some positive results since 19 May, with several key pieces, including the Warka vase, being returned to the Iraq museum.
I should like to take this opportunity to clarify my reply of 19 May 2003 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I intended to state that there were 170,000 items in the museum's collection, not 170 artefacts taken from the museum.
Harry Cohen : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I welcome the assessment being made in respect of the full inventory. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, as Neil MacGregor, head of the British Museum, is reported as saying in Glasgow's The Herald, there appears to have been informed and planned looting and that 32 of the most prized artefacts are still missing? Can she respond to the eminent archaeologist, Dan Cruickshank, who has expressed alarm at the part-reopening of Baghdad museum on 3 July? Will the museum and the artefacts on display there be safe?
Tessa Jowell: It seems that losses arose in three ways. First, a number of artefacts were taken away before the Gulf war and have not yet been returned. Secondly, artefacts were removed from the museum by the regime, and efforts are being made to locate them; some were taken to banks, but others have not yet been identified. Thirdly, there seems to be some evidence of systematic criminal theft, and, as I have made clear, some artefacts were removed by looting.
It is desired to open the museum again as quickly as possible, but that must be negotiated in the context of the security situation. Subject to that, I hope to go to Baghdad later this year to see at first hand the efforts made by my staff and the Coalition Provisional Authority on an area that is key to the restoration of democracy in Iraq.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I appreciate that, for obvious reasons, the right hon. Lady cannot have complete control over the issue, but she said that before the war 90 per cent. of the artefacts were taken away for safe-keeping. As two months have passed since the end of the war, the 90 per cent. of artefacts that have not been returned must have been looted, or taken by the now illegal regime. Surely it is possible to make a
Tessa Jowell: I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's frustration, but when museum staff were in this country a few weeks ago they made it clear that compiling the comprehensive inventory of what had happened to the artefacts would take time. They wanted to ensure that they had time to do that, which will obviously have a bearing on when the museum reopens.
Ninety per cent. of the artefacts were removed; we do not know where they were all taken. There will be a painstaking examination of clues and trails, and there will be further pleas for their return under amnesty. We shall provide support to that enterprise, which is being led by the British Museum, for as long as is necessary and for as long as that support is welcome.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Does the Secretary of State share my concern that, out of sight of the media, archaeological sites across Iraq are at risk of looting as long as the security situation remains so desperately poor? Will she support calls by experts in the field to improve customs controls to stop material being smuggled out of Iraq and to instruct visiting journalists and military personnel in Iraq not to buy archaeological souvenirs?
Tessa Jowell: Yes, I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the reports of continued looting. Consistent with the security situation, my officials, who are in various centres in Iraq, are making every effort to visit sites. After our last oral questions, I was able to place a letter of reassurance in the Library, following the allegations about the defacing of the Ziggurat at Ur. We have a partial report on the damage caused by looting, and we shall continue to update and improve such reports.
On the international trade in illicit objects, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have secured a stronger position through the UN mandate that is now in place. We hope that his private Member's Bill will soon be on the statute book. The art market in London and, indeed, around the world is co-operating to ensure that there is no market in artefacts that belong to the Iraqi people.