The Prime Minister’s five-point plan for tourism sets out how this Government will help to grow the British tourism industry. The year 2015 set new records for inbound visits and spend, but we are not complacent. To boost tourism in England further, the Chancellor announced a new £40 million Discover England fund at the last spending round. This will support visitors to discover even more of England’s hidden gems.
The Secretary of State may be aware of the many great tourist attractions in north Lancashire along the Fylde coast, including the historic Lancaster castle with stunning views over Morecambe bay and the area of outstanding natural beauty, the forest of Bowland? Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the tens of thousands of jobs that are supported by tourism in my area are helped or hindered by the potential threat of fracking wells appearing in north Lancashire?
I very much share the hon. Lady’s appreciation of the beauties of the Fylde coast and the north-west. Fracking offers terrific opportunities for accessing further low-cost energy, and I do not believe that it should represent any threat to the tourism industry.
I would like to take advantage of this moment at the Dispatch Box to pay tribute to the fantastic work of the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), who is responsible for tourism. He has done a great job. We look forward shortly to welcoming back to her role the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), but my right hon. Friend has done a fantastic job in her absence. I have no doubt that he will continue to advocate sports, tourism and heritage in the extremely effective way that he has over the last few months.
Our coastal communities are particularly important to the tourism sector, but they are also the communities that have been particularly badly affected by our membership of the EU over the last 40 years. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that the initiatives he mentioned will be directed particularly at coastal communities?
I share many of my hon. Friend’s views on our membership of the European Union, although I have to say that I do not think EU membership has a great bearing on tourism. People come to this country because of our fantastic heritage, our wonderful landscape, our arts and our sport, not because we are members of the European Union.
The north-west does have many attractions, and I hope it will take advantage of the Discover England fund, which I described earlier. The fund is designed to raise awareness of the many attractions that England has outside London, and, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), many of those are indeed in the north-west.
Has the Secretary of State had any recent discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive about Tourism Ireland, that strange body which is responsible for marketing the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland overseas? There is concern in Northern Ireland about the possibility that its identity will be lost and it will be unable to benefit from the inflow of tourists visiting the rest of the United Kingdom, although it currently has a tremendous amount to offer them.
I am aware of the slightly different arrangements for the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland, although I have had no discussions with the Minister responsible for it. I think he has only just arrived. I look forward to meeting him in due course, and I shall be happy to talk to him about the issue then.
I join the Secretary of State in applauding last year’s success, when a record number of people—36.1 million—visited the United Kingdom. As he will know, 67% of those visitors were from the European Union and 74% were from other European countries. Will he join me in saying, “Thank you, Europe—thank you, our European colleagues—and please come more and spend more”?
I am extremely happy to join my hon. Friend in saying that. My view is that this country would prosper better outside the European Union, but that is in no way reflected in my attitude to our fellow citizens in Europe coming to visit us in the UK. I hope that they will continue to do so in ever-increasing numbers, whether or not we are in the European Union.
We now have the full domestic and inbound figures for 2015. As we have just heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, there is good news on both fronts, but there is particularly good news about domestic tourism. The number of overnight trips in England reached 102.7 million, up 11% on 2014, and spending reached a new record of £19.6 billion, up 8%. However, there is more to be done, and we are determined to increase the number of both domestic and foreign visitors in the coming year.
What support can the Minister give the Derwent valley cycleway scheme, which allows visitors to cycle from Derby silk mill in the city centre through the Arkwright mills world heritage site at Belper, and on to Cromford and beyond? The scheme not only provides safer cycling for people of all ages, but encourages much-needed local and international tourism in the area.
I give my full support to the Derwent valley cycleway. This is an excellent scheme that safely opens up the beautiful Derwent valley, a world heritage site, so that more people can see it. Cycling has many health and environmental benefits, and the increased number of local and international visitors using the cycleway will benefit tourism in the region even further.
Will the Minister—for whom I have great respect—use his common sense, ground his boss and bring him to Yorkshire, so that he can talk to real people in the tourism business who are dreadfully worried about the impact of our leaving the European Union on jobs, investment and so much else? Yorkshire is a prime tourism destination, and we do not want to harm that.
Yorkshire is indeed a prime destination for tourism, and it has so much to offer. I have been going around the country—I am off to Devon and Dorset today and tomorrow—to promote tourism and heritage again, and I will do all that I can to persuade domestic and foreign visitors to come to Yorkshire and the rest of our great nation.