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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 300: debated on Monday 10 November 1997

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Culture, Media And Sport

The Secretary of State was asked

Millennium Projects


What the legacy of the millennium projects will be in London and the regions. [13426]

During its lifetime, the Millennium Commission will spend more than £2 billion on projects throughout the United Kingdom, covering five key themes: investing in education; promoting science and technology; revitalising cities; supporting communities; and encouraging environmental sustainability. It will thus prove of lasting benefit to the whole nation.

The forest of Burnley scheme has overwhelming support in my constituency, but it could not have gone ahead without millennium funding. Will not such schemes change the country positively for the forthcoming millennium?

My hon. Friend is right. The forest of Burnley scheme has received a £1.7 million grant from the Millennium Commission. It will create 500 hectares of new woodland and engage an arts and education programme linked to the woodland work.

I should like to add that I am delighted that, later this afternoon, my hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio will be answering questions about the millennium dome. I remind the House how important it was that I suggested four months ago that he should take over direct responsibility for the millennium experience. It would have been improper for me, as chairman of the Millennium Commission, which provides a major proportion of the funding, to be in charge of the company that received the money.

The Secretary of State will be aware that one project being undertaken throughout London, as well as at London in my constituency, is the restoration of church bells. Is he aware of the difficulty being experienced throughout the London area and in other parts of the United Kingdom? English Heritage is insisting that church bell frames should also be maintained, even though 200 or 300-year-old frames are often not suitable for the restoration of existing bells. The Secretary of State should be aware of that problem, which is causing a logjam, as people cannot easily get up to belfries to see the frames—after all, the object of the exercise is the heritage of bell ringing and the bells themselves.

I am aware of the issue. We need to ensure that the frames are robust enough and that heritage interests are taken fully into account. I shall discuss the matter with English Heritage.

I thank the Secretary of State for the money that has already been allocated to Northern Ireland projects. Will he reconsider the problem of shortfall in the satellite for the sports academy, which is so vital to our heritage? We have been boxing above our weight over the years, as a small community. It would be worse if we did not have that facility to match the others.

I am well aware of the issue. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport will have a word or two to say about the British academy of sport later. We hope to make some specific announcements in a few days.

Tourism (Minimum Wage)


What representations he has received on the impact of the introduction of a minimum wage in the tourist industry. [13427]

I have received representations from a number of leading figures in the tourism and hospitality industry, and have taken careful note of the views expressed.

Has the Minister seen the evidence presented to the Low Pay Commission by the British Hospitality Association, which represents 25,000 establishments in the hotel and catering industry, some 78 per cent. of which think that the introduction of a national minimum wage without regional variations will have a particularly serious effect on jobs and businesses in rural and coastal areas? Does the Minister agree with the association's view that the least that should be done to help those businesses is for benefits in kind to be taken into account in assessing compliance with the minimum wage?

The hon. Gentleman should give the Government credit for honouring their election pledges: first, to commit 'themselves to a minimum wage; secondly, to set up the Low Pay Commission; and, thirdly, to ensure that the commission recognised the issues faced by the tourism industry. The hon. Gentleman referred specifically to the British Hospitality Association. I remind him of the views of the president of that association, Garry Hawkes. Referring to a survey showing that 84 per cent. of hospitality staff and 65 per cent. of their employers supported a statutory minimum wage, he said:

"this research shows there is a broad acceptance of the minimum wage issue now. This industry is not against it, but employers want it to be set at a realistic level".
That is entirely the Government's intention.

Does the Minister recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill? He said that a minimum wage was needed because, otherwise, the good employer would be driven out of business by the bad, and the bad employer would be driven out of business by the worst. I have consulted tourism employers in my constituency who say that they have no problem with the principle of a minimum wage, although they believe that the level at which that wage is set is important. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that a wide range of voices in the tourism industry will be consulted before a final decision is made?

That process is already going on. I agree with my hon. Friend, who rightly referred to Winston Churchill. One of the problems about the Conservative party is that it not only does not know where it is going—it does not know where it is coming from. The minimum wage has been supported by Winston Churchill, by Harold Macmillan, by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), and, much more important, by people such as John Scott, the managing director of the Frere Jacques restaurant in Kingston, Surrey, who said:

"this is not about altruism. It makes sound business sense to pay high wages because I get good-quality, highly motivated people."
That is the Government's intention as well.

What does the right hon. Gentleman think will be the impact of the European Commission's social chapter proposal, which we cannot now veto, to impose works councils on small and medium-sized businesses? Does he not recognise that that, coupled with the introduction of the minimum wage, will destroy the viability of our tourism industry, destroy jobs now and destroy the ability of this important industry to create jobs in future?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post and look forward to further exchanges. I hope that, on future occasions, he will get his facts right. He does not speak for the industry when he deplores the social chapter, and he does not speak for the British people either. The Labour party's policies were endorsed by the British people and we intend to implement them. We do so in the knowledge that we are attempting to ensure proper job motivation, proper careers, especially for young people, and the removal of sweatshop conditions that the industry itself deplores. I recommend the hon. Gentleman to make some of the visits that I have made over the past six months in every part of the country. He will hear from people such as Jerry Walden, who wrote just a few weeks ago from the New Commercial inn in Axminster, Devon. He said—his views are important—

"the long-term future of our industry is dependent on a better paid, better cared for, better trained and more professional workforce".
That is what we intend to introduce.

Having heard numerous representations from the Opposition on the minimum wage, has my right hon. Friend formed the impression, as I have, that it is a matter of supreme indifference to them whether people are earning £1.50 an hour, £1 an hour or even less? Although we regret the fact that the Opposition are taking such a time to learn basic, decent standards of industrial relations, does my right hon. Friend share my pleasure that, even six months after the election, they still have not begun to learn some of the reasons why they were beaten?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The tourism, hospitality and leisure industry employs 1.7 million people. It has a great future, but not one based on exploitation, poor wages or lack of training. That is one of the many reasons why the Conservatives are in opposition and we are in government.

Museums (Minimum Wage)


What representations he has received on the impact of a minimum wage on employment in the nation's museums. [13428]

No direct representations have been made to me, but I am aware that a number of organisations that represent museum interests have submitted written evidence to the Low Pay Commission in response to its invitation.

Will the Minister be making any representations to the commission in order to safeguard the interests of the museums which, for the time being, are under his care? If so, what will he say? Is he concerned about the possibility that the museums might have to lose valuable staff if a minimum wage were wrong-headedly set at too high a level? Is that one of the things that he will say?

No. I have met the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Museums Association and seen their submissions to the Low Pay Commission. They have discussed the issues and are much more positive about the proposals than the right hon. Gentleman appears to be.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that tourism has a track record of low pay, which results in high staff turnover and low investment in training? Does he further recall the report that was commissioned and published by the previous Administration showing that 45 per cent. of full-time tourism staff—

Order. I regret to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but his remarks relate to the earlier question. We have moved on and are now dealing with the nation's museums. The hon. Gentleman's question must relate to the substantive question on the Order Paper.

Order. Had the hon. Gentleman mentioned museums in the earlier part of his question, it would have been acceptable. Presumably, he is talking about the staff in museums.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I omitted to mention that in the earlier part of my question.

Does my hon. Friend recall the survey commissioned by the previous Administration covering tourism staff, including museum staff, which showed that 45 per cent. of full-time staff in the sector had received no training since they left education, and that 74 per cent. of part-timers were in the same position? Does he agree, therefore, that the national minimum wage offers the museum sector of the tourism industry the chance finally to break the vicious cycle of recruitment problems, skill shortages, low pay and poor image?

I think my hon. Friend makes his point extremely well and I agree with him.

I am sorry the Minister's answers are not to be followed by a countermanding from the Secretary of State, who seems to be in the habit of saying that the Minister has it wrong whenever the hon. Gentleman opens his mouth in public.

I hope that the Minister will reconsider the effect of a national minimum wage on the enthusiasts who are the lifeblood of many small local museums, many of whom work for less than £2 an hour, which is really pocket money. Is he saying that in future, under a caring Labour Government, such people must work for nothing—if they work at all?

No. The right hon. Gentleman probably refers to the Association of Independent Museums. I have received representations from Mr. Jonathan Bryant and others in that association. It is quite right that they should make those representations—and they have done so—to the Low Pay Commission. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Low Pay Commission is required to take into account the social as well as the economic impact of the report.

Television Licence


What representations he has received concerning the television licence. [13430]

We have received nearly 500 letters from hon. Members and members of the public about the television licence. In addition, there have been 12 questions on the subject from hon. Members. The majority of those representations have been about television licence fees and licensing requirements for specific individuals or groups.

I am grateful for that reply. Since pensioners are still reeling from the news that they will get no support with their energy bills as regards the wind chill factor, does the Secretary of State agree with the early-day motion tabled by some of his colleagues just three years ago—some of whom are now Ministers—urging the Government to take urgent action to facilitate free television licences for pensioners? Is it not the case that Labour Members support pensioners when in opposition but betray their trust when in government?

It is a bit rich for Conservative Members to talk about doing down pensioners. I received a letter from the hon. Gentleman on 6 July about the BBC licence fee, in the course of which he mis-spelt the word "licence" not once but four times. That, I suppose, is the result of 18 years of Tory education policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that, if we made free licences available to all pensioner-only households, it would cost £465 million, which would mean an increase in the licence fee for everyone else of £30 a year. We are not prepared to do that.

Despite some useful changes in the regulations governing television licence fees for elderly people, I must tell my right hon. Friend that there are a huge number of anomalies in the scheme. If nothing else, will he look at those anomalies, which need to be addressed because they are causing great resentment and irritation?

My hon. Friend makes a much better point than the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). There are indeed serious anomalies in the system at the moment. We shall certainly wish to look at that, in conjunction with the general review of the licence fee in a few years' time, to which we are committed. We were committed to that review by the previous Government and we shall be following it through.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the information that was given to me by his Minister for Arts to the effect that his party has no plans whatever to consider concessionary television licences—having given the impression in opposition that they would—until at least 2002? Is he not letting pensioners down flat?

No, because we made no commitment whatever on concessionary licences before the election.



What plans he has to help improve the quality of training for British athletes. [13431]

We are committed to improving the quality of training both through the development of a British academy of sport, which will provide our athletes with the best training facilities possible, and the English Sports Council's world-class performance programme, which provides lottery support to our elite athletes.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. There is a great deal of anticipation about the establishment of a British academy of sport. When can we expect an announcement from him about the location and establishment of that facility?

Bearing in mind recent U-turns on the sporting front, will the Minister confirm the report in yesterday's papers that cricket, rugby and football will be included in the British academy of sport? In the light of recent events, can he tell the House whether the leading lights of those sporting organisations were financial contributors to the Labour party?

Those sports were never going to be excluded. There has been considerable misunderstanding over the question. [Interruption.] I shall tell the House why. The concept was very good; unfortunately, the design brief did not get very many points. Ministers previously said: "Yes, we are going to have an academy of sport. Now tell us what sort of an academy we are going to have." Since the election, we have been ensuring that we know exactly what sort of academy we will have. It will mainly be directed at the Olympic sports and at those for which there are national and world championships.

There has never been any question of the team sports, such as football, rugby and cricket, being excluded, but their needs are so particular that they should have separate academies. We are working actively to achieve that. The academy for sport and its skills in sports medicine and science will be available to all sports, including the team sports. If the right hon. Gentleman can contain himself a little longer—I know the process has been drawn out, but the wait is worth it because the decision is undoubtedly the most important that we face in British sport—the announcement will be made on Friday.

As far as I am aware, there is no question of Labour party funding—more' s the pity.

Children's Radio


What representations he has received on proposals for a children's radio channel; and if he will make a statement. [13432]

We have received representations from nine organisations and individuals in support of the award of an independent national radio licence for the provision of a children's radio service.

I thank the Minister for that answer and for the reply that I received earlier by letter. Do the Government recognise the many benefits, both educational and in general, that children receive from radio broadcasting for them?

Having been brought up on "Children's Hour", Uncle Mac and "Dick Barton, Special Agent", I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend that high-quality broadcasting, both radio and television, is important for children. It plays a major part in education, widens a child's horizons and sparks a child's imagination. Above all, it is fun.

Is the Minister aware that the BBC's children's television programme budget has been cut by £5 million since last year? Does he worry about the increased number of cartoons shown on television? Has not the time come for him to examine that issue as well as the question of a children's radio station?

The BBC charter requires the BBC to produce a large amount of high-quality, original programming and last year it produced 1,500 hours of children's programming of very high quality. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Broadcasting Standards Council's report. Both he and I need to study that report in some detail, because some of the original headlines were not borne out by the detail of the report. Indeed, in the Evening Standard today, the BBC puts a robust case and points out that only one cartoon show is on at prime time each day this week, with none at all on Wednesday.

Sport (Disabled People)


What assistance his Department is giving to sport for disabled people. [13433]

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that I take a close personal interest in that subject. We are determined to promote sport for people with disabilities. It is our aim to maximise opportunity for all people, no matter what their ability.

For the year 1997-98, the English Sports Council is providing disabled sports organisations with just under £590,000. That includes £40,000 to the British Deaf Sports Council, £195,000 to Disability Sport England and £111,500 to the English Sports Association for People with Learning Disabilities. Some £1.3 million also goes to our elite athletes with disabilities.

I am sure that the whole House supports that work. However, should not the Minister listen to what disabled people say themselves? Perhaps he should read the letter from the chairman of the British Paraplegic Shooting Association, backed up by the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, which pleaded with the Home Secretary to allow disabled sportsmen and sportswomen in wheelchairs to continue with their sport of firing pistols. The Minister should listen to those people and not dictate what they should do.

I do, indeed, listen, and since I became Minister for Sport, I have opened the special Olympic games at Portsmouth, the world blind sailing championships at Weymouth and the British disabled water-skiing facility at Heron lake. I have attended disabled rugby, volleyball, cricket, football, skiing and archery. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is making the point that I should listen to sportsmen and sportswomen with disabilities, and I have been listening to a particularly large number of them.

The Government's policy on shooting is absolutely clear. When we come to the Olympic and Commonwealth games, some arrangements will have to be made for those sports to be included, but I am afraid that Government policy cannot be overwhelmed by the interests of sportsmen and women.

Radio Licences


The Radio Authority has statutory responsibility for the advertising, award and regulation of all independent radio licences acting within the terms of the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996. Since its creation, the authority has almost doubled the number of independent radio licences issued. The authority has a continuing forward programme for the advertisement and award of new licences.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the Radio Authority on the way in which it has handled its difficult task of awarding licences? Does he agree that, once the frequencies become available, they must be publicised as widely as possible to allow as many community groups as possible the opportunity to bid, rather than just leaving it to the big guns who know when the information will be published?

I agree with my hon. Friend on both counts. The authority takes steps to advertise in local newspapers, to contact local authorities and to write to all hon. Members in the area affected by a forthcoming franchise. I hope that the authority will see what more it can do, but it is mindful of its responsibilities.

In view of Labour's commitment to open government, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be helpful to all concerned if any future applicant for a radio licence were required to state in public at the time of the application whether he was a financial donor of the Labour party?

I am not sure that I would make any such requirement specific to any political party.

Tourism (Welfare-To-Work Programme)


If he will make a statement on the employment opportunities the tourist industry will be able to offer under the welfare-to-work programme. [13435]

Tourism, with its enormous potential for employment generation, is well placed to play a key role in the new deal/welfare-to-work programme. Almost 50 leading employers and trade bodies in tourism, hospitality and leisure have already indicated strong interest in the programme.

What steps are the Government taking to encourage the active participation of the industry in the welfare-to-work programme?

The Government are preparing to take a number of steps, including a conference on 24 November, organised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and involving the Department for Education and Employment and the British Hospitality Association, to consider these matters. Almost 50 employers and trade bodies have expressed an interest in working with the Department to achieve that objective.

National Lottery


I published my proposals to reform the lottery in the White Paper "The People's Lottery" in July. They will make the lottery work better and increase the number of people who will benefit from the good causes that it supports. Some of the proposals require legislation and I expect to introduce the lottery reform Bill before Christmas.

Has the Secretary of State seen the comments from Lord Rothschild who. like others, is complaining about the increase in ministerial interference and diktat and the reduction in sums available for heritage, sport, the arts and charities? Lord Rothschild estimated that £200 million less will be available for heritage as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. Is he aware of the growing anger at his disregard for the principles of additionality and the arm's-length arrangements? Is he aware that, increasingly, his proposals are being described not as a people's lottery but as a Chancellor of the Exchequer's lottery through which Ministers' pet projects can be funded through the back pocket?

I will make three brief points in response to the right hon. Lady's six. First, we stand firmly behind the principle of additionality. In September 1994, the previous Prime Minister said:

"The money raised by the Lottery will not replace public expenditure."
If the right hon. Lady does not think that that is good enough, I would remind her of her own definition. In July 1996, she said:
"Lottery funds are not intended to substitute for funds which would have otherwise been provided by conventional public expenditure."
We agree, and there is no intention in the people's lottery proposals to do anything other than stand by those definitions of additionality.

Secondly, each of the existing distributary bodies will receive exactly the amount that they originally anticipated receiving when the lottery began: £1.8 billion during the seven-year lottery franchise. Thirdly, the right hon. Lady is ignoring the benefits that will come from the new proposals for £1 billion of additional spending on health and education-related projects, which the people of this country supported when they voted on 1 May.

The right hon. Gentleman will have to go after me. After all, he is only a little Liberal.

When the reform takes place, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the distribution of lottery money throughout the country is different from what it has been in the few years of its existence? It is well known that in the east midlands and certain counties, such as Derbyshire, the distribution has been woefully weak, and we want to ensure that in future those who participate in the lottery in our part of the world get a fair crack of the whip. If we can get rid of that dome and find some more money, so much the better.

My hon. Friend will know that one of our proposals is that the distributary bodies should draw up a strategic plan for the deployment of their resources; as part of that, we shall look to them to ensure a fair distribution across the whole country.

Bearing in mind the fact that the previous Government presided over a decline in the vote money for the Secretary of State's Department and that he has not arrested that decline, how does he propose to deal with the revenue difficulties of many companies, such as the Gate theatre in London, and the Greenwich theatre, to which Ms Polly Toynbee drew attention today—never mind the Royal Opera house? Does he believe that his proposals for changing lottery rules will in any way deal with the decline of many companies throughout the country that have so far not been assisted by the lottery?

Yes, because the proposals in the White Paper specifically suggest that we should move away from the exclusive concentration on capital spending, on bricks and mortar, and start to give more support from lottery funds to people and activities; that will be the start of resolving some of the problems that the right hon. Gentleman identified.

The Secretary of State will be aware that national lottery funding is to be used for the British academy of sport. Any hon. Member who listened to the Minister for Sport's reply could have drawn the reasonable inference that there was to be an announcement of the winner this Friday, but that will clearly not happen. It should be made clear that the announcement on Friday will be of the criteria by which national lottery bids could be judged.

Given that the Government announced on 21 July that a winner would be announced by September, is it not time that a grip was got on the whole project and that we had a clear timetable for the announcement of a winner for the British academy of sport? Many people have invested a lot of time, effort and energy. In the Heyfords, for example, we believe that we are a winner, and we have the support of the British Olympic community, but it is very frustrating not knowing where we stand. Can we have clear criteria and a clear timetable against which everyone can bid?

It is precisely because inadequate energy and effort were put in by the previous Government that we have had to spend all of the past six months trying to get a grip on this issue. On Friday, we will be announcing a clear set of details and a framework for the academy. There are three possible locations, which will be invited to submit final proposals within one or two weeks to accord with the framework that we will put in place on Friday, and a decision will then be made rapidly.

Sport (Television Coverage)


What plans he has to protect live coverage of key sporting events on terrestrial television. [13437]

As we promised before the election, we are considering the nature and extent of the list of major domestic and international sporting events that must be available for live coverage on terrestrial television. I have recently consulted all interested parties on the principles that ought to apply to such a list. The results of that consultation have been received and I shall shortly be appointing an advisory group to advise me further.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he recognise that many people will feel that it is wrong that major sporting events, which belong to the nation, such as one-day international cricket or Premier League football, are denied to ordinary people who do not have access to Mr. Murdoch's satellite television at the exorbitant charge of £22 a month? Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to ensure that those events are given proper consideration in his review? Will he also recognise that the definition of terrestrial television should not include Channel 5 because many parts of the country, including my constituency, do not receive it?

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point on Channel 5. He also has to recognise that, in determining this issue, we need to achieve a proper balance between the need for sporting organisations to get the best possible value from the matches and games that they are putting on and the right of ordinary people who cannot afford and do not want to afford subscription television to see major national events. It is getting that balance right that the review is all about.

Minister Without Portfolio (Millennium Experience)

The Minister was asked

Transport Infrastructure

What plans he has to secure the provision of an adequate transport infrastructure for the millennium experience. [13454]

In addition to the road improvements under way, there will be an excellent public transport network offering visitors a variety of ways to travel to the millennium experience, including new river boat services and the new Jubilee line extension. These developments will be an important legacy for our investment and I am sure that they will be welcomed by the whole House.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He may be aware from reports in today's press that public interest in the millennium exhibition is extremely high and that there are concerns that there may be some problems with congestion. What steps is he taking to ensure that visitors to the exhibition spend the maximum amount of time enjoying themselves at the exhibits and the minimum amount in queues to get in?

Our single most important objective is to ensure that when people come to Greenwich—we are expecting 12 million visitors in 2000—they have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, full of excitement and enjoyment, without delay or frustration in travelling to and moving around the millennium dome. That is why the New Millennium Experience Company has developed an operational plan that, through pre-booking of tickets, will guarantee access to attractions in the dome, ensure minimal queuing for the attractions and—[Interruption.]

It will leave ample capacity in terms of the transport infrastructure that I have described.

I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming the Minister to the Front Bench. How delighted we are that he has come to answer questions, albeit for only five minutes. He may not be aware that I was given this question by his parliamentary private secretary; sadly, I got no supplementary.

What definite proposals are there for improving river transport? That is a serious matter for the whole of London in the future, and not just the millennium. What definite proposals are there for money from the public side and also private money to be put into transport down to Greenwich?

We expect 1 million people to travel by boat from central London using new pier and river services and park-and-sail sites to the east of the site. Decisions on temporary park-and-sail facilities are expected in December. Five applications with Greenwich, Barking and the London Docklands development corporation have already been lodged. I am very pleased to say that the New Millennium Experience Company and the Cross-River Partnership, working closely together, are making sure that we bring about this increased use of the Thames as part of the Deputy Prime Minister's Thames 2000 initiative.

May I add to the pressure on the Minister to ensure that river transport not only is provided for the millennium but becomes part of the infrastructure of London transport for visitors, commuters and residents alike, integrated with the other public transport systems and at a price that ordinary people can afford?

That is exactly what the Deputy Prime Minister has in mind. I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is making considerable progress in developing river services and the new millennium pier at the Greenwich peninsula, as well as investing in other piers along the Thames back from the Greenwich peninsula. I stress that they will be a permanent, important legacy for the Thames for the entirety of London. That will not be the only important legacy, but it will be a very significant one flowing from our investment in the millennium experience.

It is usual to welcome a Minister on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. It is unusual to have to wait six months to do it. At the rate of answering one question every six months, we can be sure that the Minister will not outstay his welcome.

Given that the most popular visitor attraction in London attracts no more than 2.5 million visitors a year, does the Minister have any basis for believing that 12 million visitors will be drawn to the millennium dome, other than the assertion in a letter from Jennifer Page, which mysteriously makes an appearance in the Financial Times today?

The right hon. Gentleman is not correct. The British museum attracts 6 million visitors every year. The estimate of 12 million visits to the millennium experience is based on industry projections and poll findings. An NOP poll a year ago, when the future of the project was highly uncertain, showed that a third of the population were interested in visiting. A Gallup poll for The Daily Telegraph in August predicted more than 10 million United Kingdom visitors. That is, of course, together with travel industry projections that put the expected number of overseas visitors at almost 2.5 million. I do not believe that there will be any shortage of visitors to the millennium experience—something which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming strongly.

Lord Chancellor

The Parliamentary Secretary was asked

Morley Magistrates Court


What representations he has received in respect of proposals to close the magistrates court in Morley. [13459]

No representations have been received by the Lord Chancellor's Department in respect of proposals to close Morley magistrates court. Magistrates courts are provided by the local paying authority for the use of magistrates courts committees. Decisions concerning the future of any magistrates court are for the relevant MCC to determine, in consultation with the local paying authority.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will understand the concern of those Morley magistrates who have met me when he has read the report of Her Majesty's inspectors recommending that Leeds MCC consider the use of the outer courthouses and the response to it. Will he ensure that, in considering such issues, committees take account of the latest position, the investment that has gone into courts and the social consequences of any suggestion that such courts should be closed? Closure would have serious consequences, both for those who serve in the courts in Morley and for those who have to answer charges there.

I am sure that the magistrates courts committee will take that into account. I understand that, in the light of the Court Service inspectorate report of March 1997, the Leeds magistrates court committee decided at its meeting of 17 October 1997 to conduct a review of its outer courthouse premises at Morley, Pudsey and Wetherby. I assure my hon. Friend that no decisions have been taken at this stage of the review and no plans have been formulated on the outer courthouses.

I understand that the committee has recently written to the local paying authority, Leeds city council, and the local benches about additional accommodation and facilities which might be made available to the MMC at Morley and Pudsey.

Immigration Adjudicators


What plans he has to increase the training given to immigration adjudicators. [13460]

Although training is primarily a matter for the chief adjudicator, we have substantially increased the money available for judicial training from —47,000 spent last year to —220,000 planned to be spent this year.

All new adjudicators receive two days' induction training, followed by a period of sitting in and mentoring by established adjudicators. Every adjudicator receives at least a day's training each year and attends a two-day conference at least every other year. They all have back-up from a research and information team.

Given that the immigration appellate system is judicial, not administrative, and that many immigration adjudicators are becoming extremely frustrated at what they see as an over-use, possibly an abuse, of judicial review—25 per cent. of all judicial reviews are now immigration related—is it not time that the Minister considered whether he should curb, restrict or in some way remove the rights of parties to seek judicial review of such decisions?

As I have said before to the hon. Gentleman, a review of those matters is being undertaken by Ministers across Departments and, as a result, I hope that we will be able to bring forward proposals that meet his concerns.

I hope that my hon. Friend will bear it in mind that such issues must be looked at in a broad and tolerant way because we are dealing with people's lives. Two doctors in my constituency have been refused permission to bring in their mother on the basis that ladies aged 67 are not capable of work. I feel therefore that perhaps a little enlightenment in some of those Departments would not go amiss.

The Lord Chancellor's Department's responsibilities relate to appeals. The enlightenment necessary in that context should be such as to ensure that such appeals are dealt with speedily, fairly and in a satisfactory manner.

Legal Aid


What recent representations he has received regarding the availability of legal aid. [13461]

I regularly receive representations from right hon. and hon. Members and the public about the availability of legal aid. Since my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor's announcement on 18 October about the changes we propose to the rules on availability of legal aid for money claims, my officials have met the chairman of the Bar, the president of the Law Society, insurers and other professional and consumer interest groups.

As the Government's proposals are likely to result in a substantial increase in business for the insurance industry, will the Minister tell the House with which insurance companies he has had discussions about those proposals and how many of them were financial contributors to the Labour party?

A number of discussions have taken place with a variety of insurance companies. We are interested in ensuring the widest possible availability of insurance at the best possible price for the users.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the legal profession has made recent representations in favour of a conditional legal aid fund rather than the Lord Chancellor's preferred option of conditional fees arrangements? Will he confirm that the crucial difference is that a legal aid fund would pay for disbursements in a case along the way, such as court fees and expert fees, much more than the insurance premium mentioned under the conditional fees arrangement? Does my hon. Friend agree that many poor litigants would be unable to find those sums of money to fund their cases in the future?

These are matters on which we are consulting. We are receiving representations from the Bar and the Law Society, as well as the views of insurance companies, on the affordability of the proposals. We will take all those matters into account to ensure that no one is unfairly excluded from the courts.

When the Minister was in private practice and he first scrutinised the papers of a case and considered its merits, did he ever advise a client—other than those involved in personal injuries case—that he had a better than 75 per cent. chance of success?

Of course, in those days I was not required to make such an assessment of a case; therefore, I never did. However, if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the proposal made by my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor that a case should attract a 75 per cent. chance of success before it should be granted legal aid, I can say only that it has been necessary to reach that test because of the failure of lawyers, over a long period, to satisfy adequately the existing test, which is essentially a 50 per cent. chance of success. We firmly believe that there is absolutely no reason why the taxpayer should have to support litigation that someone would not take forward privately.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern about Government proposals on changes to legal aid, especially about whether poorer litigants will be able to afford the up-front costs of insurance and various medical fees for reports in medical negligence cases? Recent remarks by my hon. Friend seem to suggest that he thinks that solicitors will simply absorb those costs, but is that likely, given that many practices are not in a position to cross-subsidise legal aid or contingency work with lucrative private work?

I have said that one of the solutions to the problem which my hon. Friend set out is that lawyers themselves could absorb those up-front costs. Most lawyers are in private practice and most businesses are required to expend a certain amount of capital-in this context, we are talking about time and some disbursements-before being able to achieve a return on their investment. I have suggested that that is one of the options, although, as I have already said, there are clearly others available.

The Labour party policy document "Access to Justice", which was published just before the election, stated that conditional fees were not expected to make a significant improvement to access to justice and that they were little more than a gimmick designed to mask the state of the legal aid scheme. Was the Labour party wrong then, or is the Minister wrong now?

We have had the benefit of academic research into the use of conditional fees. That research demonstrates that, in the approximately 28,000 cases so far agreed under conditional fees, there has been a remarkable success rate. We are happy to base our policy on the results of that academic research.

Magistrates Courts


If he will make a statement on progress in respect of the rationalisation of the magistrates courts. [13462]

My hon. Friend will be aware that, on 29 October, I made a statement to the House setting out in some detail the Government's plans for the future structure of the magistrates courts service.

Does my hon. Friend agree that closures can be very controversial and sometimes very injurious to local communities? Does he understand that long distances can be involved, that taxis are expensive and that bus services are sometimes hopelessly unreliable? Would he be prepared to meet a group of magistrates to discuss such matters?

I would certainly be willing to discuss such questions with any group of magistrates whom my hon. Friend cared to bring to the Department.

I wholly endorse what the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) just said. Is the Minister aware that the Gloucestershire magistrates courts committee is consulting on the closure of Stow-on-the-Wold magistrates court? That so-called consultation is not an open exercise; it consists of consultation among the staff of the various magistrates courts, the Crown Prosecution Service and other officials, but it does not involve members of the public. Will the Minister urgently investigate that situation? Surely it is the public who use the justice system of this country and who will be inconvenienced by the closure of the court who ought to be consulted first, and not afterwards.

I should be delighted to ensure that those local questions are thoroughly investigated, but I emphasise that they are local matters for decision by local magistrates courts committees. The matter only reaches the desk of my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in the event of the local paying authority appealing against the decision made locally by the magistrates courts committee.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that was the policy followed under the previous Administration? In my present constituency and my previous constituency, under the previous Administration more than 75 per cent. of our magistrates courts closed, but, at the same time, we saw no improvement whatsoever in the quality of those magistrates courts that remained. Will my hon. Friend give me and the House an assurance that, under his policy, while there will be rationalisation of magistrates courts, there will also be an improvement in existing magistrates courts to serve the best interests not only of the accused, but of victims and witnesses?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question. I mentioned in the statement to which I recently referred that it was important that we streamlined and integrated the functions of the various agencies responsible for our criminal justice system. I anticipate, in the light of the statement that I made to the House, that that will be achieved.

Accommodation (Palace Of Westminster)


If he will report on progress in the refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's accommodation within the Palace of Westminster, indicating the latest estimated cost. [13463]

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concern about the need to refurbish my 9 by 4 office in the House of Commons—hitherto, he has not been noted for his concern for the welfare of Labour Members of Parliament. I am, however, delighted to discover that he is now participating in the art of constructive, helpful opposition.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention also that it has been suggested to me that this question is the product not of kindness but of incompetence, and that the hon. Gentleman is actually referring to the official residence provided by the House authorities to the Lord Chancellor. If that is so, I can assure him that the refurbishment has commenced and is expected to be substantially completed by January next year. The estimated cost remains at £650,000.

That is a most offensive answer. We know that old Labour still survives on the Government Benches; that cavalier attitude to £650,000 of public expenditure on the Lord Chancellor's accommodation betrays that fact.

My question on the Order Paper relates not to the Minister's accommodation but to the Lord Chancellor's—

I have not finished yet. Given that the Minister's right hon. and noble Friend wishes to dispense with the traditional attire of his office and to hand over power to the judges, perhaps the only sense in which the Lord Chancellor remains traditional is that, like all socialists, he is anxious to spend as much of other people's money as he possibly can.

The hon. Gentleman got his question wrong the first time. He will know that the Lord Chancellor is the Speaker of the House of Lords, and the official residence is provided for his use in precisely the same way as Speaker's House is provided for the Speaker of this House. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that both Departments should be properly conserved as part of the historic building programme undertaken over a 10-year period by the House authorities. Speaker's House has been maintained to a high standard, in keeping with the conservation policy, and the Lord Chancellor's official residence should match that standard.