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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Live Music

The Government are committed to supporting live music in all its forms. Through the Live Music Forum, we are working to ensure that opportunities for the promotion of live music are realised to the full.

For 25 years, The Studio in my constituency has encouraged participation in grass-roots music by delivering a range of recording, training, rehearsal and performing opportunities, while giving local people access to internationally recognised musicians. Despite making cutbacks, including redundancies, it is forecast that, by the end of the year, The Studio will run out of money, although it requires only an additional £20,000 per annum to stay open. What steps will my hon. Friend take to ensure that small yet vital concerns such as The Studio stay open, so that live music can be enjoyed today and in future?

I thank my hon. Friend for campaigning to make sure that there are the right music services, particularly for young people in his constituency. In relation to The Studio, I know that the Hartlepool local authority is looking at that issue very closely. It was keen to ensure that the services offered met its strategic priorities for the coming period, as it is an important funder. I hope that we can achieve that, and the Arts Council advises that it is keen to look into how arts provision is met at The Studio. It is important that the local authority and the Arts Council can work together on that over the coming months. I will keep a close eye on the matter but, as my hon. Friend knows, there is an arm’s length relationship between us and the Arts Council; it is right that the funding decisions are made independently.

It is important that we have the right facilities, particularly for young people in our most disadvantaged areas. I know that that is why my hon. Friend takes the issue seriously.

What would the Minister say to Steve Dickinson, the proprietor of Mojo’s café in Scarborough, who has had to curtail his popular Wednesday afternoon jamming sessions because the two-in-a-bar rule has been abolished? He now faces having to pay for a licence for such events, which allow local bands their first opportunity, and local people to hear music for free at no cost to the taxpayer, unlike the case in Hartlepool.

I like a jamming session like anybody else, but we do have licensing provisions. It is clear that small venues have been able to apply for licensing, and that music is going on. We set up, and specifically tasked, the Live Music Forum, which has representatives from the unions and the industry, to look closely at the issue. It will report to us in the autumn so that we can be clear on how, or if, the licensing provisions have affected our live music venues.

May I wish you, Mr. Speaker, the happiest of birthdays and say how extraordinarily well you are looking? It will not have escaped your notice that at least one other Westminster character shares your birthday; I refer, of course, to PC John Harrigan, although it is also my birthday.

Parts of my body are considerably older.

Further to previous questions, may I ask the Minister whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will report on a study that I understand it intends to conduct into the experience of small venues and the impact of the Licensing Act 2003—not so much on Mojo’s of Scarborough, but on the wider musical scene?

Yes, I can tell my hon. Friend that we will come back to Parliament on those issues in the autumn.

If everything is so rosy in the field of live music, why do the results of a recent survey by the Musicians Union reveal that there has been a marked drop in live music in smaller venues, particularly those previously benefiting from the two-in-a-bar rule? If Ministers think that the Licensing Act 2003 is encouraging live music, why are they issuing new guidelines to local authorities? It is not the local authorities’ fault; no, it was the Government who passed the inadequate Licensing Act, and the Government who wrote the guidelines, and arrogant and incompetent Ministers who are only now waking up to the situation that we and thousands of musicians predicted over three years ago.

The hon. Gentleman made all sorts of spurious predictions on the record that have not stood up to the facts. If there is incompetence, it is on his side, and the Hansard record will show that.

The unions are part of the Live Music Forum, which is conducting the research and the survey, and as I have already said, that forum will come back to us with its findings in the autumn.

Sporting Village

Just before I answer the question, I believe that most of the House would like to share in our deep sense of disappointment at England’s early exit from the World cup on Saturday, but it would be wrong if the House did not thank David Beckham, who has captained the England team for more than five years. Let me also thank him for the support that he gave to help London in securing the Olympic bid. To Sven—dreams were not realised, but I wish him the best for the future. To Steve McClaren—the man at the helm now—good luck, and I thank him for meeting some of the 300 young people who took part on Saturday; he realised their dreams.

The answer to the question—[Interruption.] Quite honestly, Opposition Members are being churlish when the World cup has been one of our biggest sporting events for many years.

There is no dedicated funding stream for sports villages, but between 2001 and 2006, the Government have invested about £1 billion of lottery and Exchequer funding in sports facilities, which represents the biggest sports facilities investment programme in decades. Derek Mapp, the ex-chair of East Midlands Development Agency, is currently leading a feasibility study looking at how this interesting and innovative concept might be developed further. The study will look at whether sports villages—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members listen, they might discover that there is to be one in their area. The study will consider whether sports villages have the potential to contribute to the regeneration and sustainability of communities on a wide range of fronts, as well as a role in delivering the Olympic 2012 legacy.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that the whole of England is disappointed that the World cup will not be lifted by David Beckham. Of course there is sorrow, but we look forward to four years’ time, when I believe that we can win it.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that sporting villages are very important. There must be a good geographical spread across the country, but I can think of nowhere better for one than in Chorley, because we are a former new town, with a lot of Government-owned land, where we ended up with housing with absolutely no facilities and no infrastructure to back up the people who have been left neglected. Will he meet members of the local authority and me to pursue the development of a sporting village in Lancashire, but based in Chorley?

My hon. Friend is, without doubt, a great advocate for his constituents. Mr Mapp is getting Deloittes to do a survey, and as soon as that report comes out, which is towards the end of July or the beginning of August, I should be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents and, indeed, local authority representatives.

Digital Switchover

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on having got back from his constituency, where, this morning, he opened a new £100 million bridge? We were not sure that he would get back in time. We are very pleased that he is here.

To ensure that everyone, including older people, are able to enjoy the benefits of digital switchover by 2012, we are asking Digital UK to lead the campaign to provide relevant information to all households, as each TV region is switched.

The Minister for Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), started off the bridge project, so I should thank him publicly.

Has my hon. Friend had a chance to talk to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills? We have hundreds and hundreds of specialist computer and technology schools, and one of the cheapest ways in which we could carry out the switchover would be to charge those schools with the task of being the local hub for switchover—to go into old people’s homes, to liaise and so on. That would save us millions of pounds and generate great community spirit in those centres.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. We have not held direct discussions on that specific topic with the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, but I will, of course, now initiate discussions with Education Ministers and officials. We are actively engaged in discussions with charities and public bodies, particularly those that represent older people and those who are disabled, because we believe that those are the individuals who will face the greatest difficulties in the switchover. We are absolutely confident that we have a very good plan in place, but we take on board his suggestions.

Does the Minister agree that the conversion of multiple dwelling units to digital reception presents particular challenges? What estimates have been made of the cost of converting MDUs, particularly for social landlords and local authorities? Does the Government propose to make any help available to them?

Multiple dwelling units present a particular problem, of which the hon. Gentleman has made particular efforts to make the House and departmental officials aware. There are especial problems associated with MDUs and we must adopt a sophisticated approach to them. We are in active discussion with all the relevant bodies and we believe that we are on course to solve most of the problems. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is still nearly 18 months to two years before we begin the process of switchover. We believe that during the next 12 months the discussions that we are holding will bear the fruits and the policies that the hon. Gentleman wants to see.

The Government already recognise rightly the impact of energy costs on the households of older people. Is the Minister aware that only today the Energy Savings Trust produced a report that showed that the additional energy costs of digital set-top boxes could add £30 a year to household budgets for older people, and an even greater cost with certain new digital television sets? Will the Minister agree to work with manufacturers to find ways of reducing those costs, not least by putting off buttons on digital set-top boxes, and also to ensure that there is energy-use labelling on new equipment, along the lines of that provided on white goods?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Yes, we are aware of the report; yes, we are in discussion with manufacturers about it and yes, it is our intention, when switchover takes place, for special codes to be introduced. It is not a problem that applies only to digital switchover; it applies to all digital equipment—mobile phone recharger units and just about everything in the house that uses the digital system. The Government are aware of the issue and are confronting it. I am sure that there will be bipartisan support for our efforts.

4. How the digital switchover pilot schemes have informed future policy; and if she will make a statement. (81365)

There have been two sets of relevant pilot schemes. The first of those examined the process of switchover in Llansteffan and Ferryside, and the second considered the needs of vulnerable groups in Bolton. Both pilots provided valuable real-time information. Above all, they confirmed people’s enthusiasm, and that, with support, digital television is popular. We will, of course, take those specific lessons into account in future planning. The results of both pilot studies are available in the Libraries of both Houses.

Is not the Secretary of State concerned that there is a lack of public awareness and that there are still people buying analogue televisions? Is there not much more that the right hon. Lady’s Department needs to do so that when switchover takes place in 18 months’ time it is not another Government failure?

There have been many Government successes. The process of digital switchover, commended by the Select Committee as a bold step and a bold decision, will be one of them. The right hon. Gentleman is right that people need to be properly informed, because, then, their apprehension about switchover—apprehension that tends to be higher among elderly and isolated people—falls. There is encouraging information from Digital UK. A £200 million public information campaign is now under way and in May, the first month of that campaign, the awareness in the borders—the right hon. Gentleman knows that that will be the first region to switch over—rose from 39 to 57 per cent. In Wales, awareness across the country rose from 3 to 22 per cent., as a result of targeted promotion and information. We will ensure that that is available consistently in the years up to switchover.

The Llansteffan pilot was a notable success. I am sure that the Secretary of State welcomes the fact that there is a significantly greater take up of digital television in Wales than elsewhere. Does the right hon. Lady agree that the real challenge for future policies is to ensure that all people in Wales have access to television that is produced in Wales for them? At present, 2 to 3 per cent. of people are unable to see Welsh television.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The key answer is the maintenance of platform choice. For example, in the case of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), only 9 per cent. of his constituents can get a decent signal through digital terrestrial television, and so they rely on satellite. There are other parts of the country, however, where satellite may be a more difficult option. The maintenance of platform choice is one of the ways in which the constituents of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) will receive the service to which I believe many of them will be looking forward.

Gambling Commission

The Gambling Act 2005 will be fully implemented from September 2007. Between now and then, my Department will consult on and make the necessary orders and regulations, and the commission will continue to consult on, and publish, guidance and codes of practice on how it will operate the new licensing regime. Local authorities have a vital role to play in the new regime, as well. I am meeting the chair of the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services on Thursday to address the concerns that it has about the timing issues.

With the British Medical Association warning only last week that one in 20 12 to 15-year-olds are showing signs of addiction to gambling, is it not time to educate and regulate? Some parts of the industry—such as, for example, internet poker—seem to be virtually untouched by any controls whatsoever. I understand that consultation and the appropriate actions have to be undertaken, but is it not now a matter of urgency?

I agree with my hon. Friend on two points. First, in terms of the role of the commission and internet gambling, that is the very reason for bringing the legislation forward—so that the Government have some controls over internet gambling. Secondly the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, which has been set up and is broadly run through GamCare, is looking at a wide education programme, as well as a prevention programme. I am meeting some of the industry tomorrow on those issues. There are concerns. To a large extent, that is why the 2005 Act was put on to the statute book: to give Government—indeed, Parliament—powers to intervene on behalf of the vulnerable in our society.

We were assured by the Secretary of State that the new regime for regulating gambling and the process for awarding the regional casino licence would be open and transparent. The reality is that they are now mired in chaos, confusion and disarray. Local authorities are warning of the kind of chaos and confusion that we witnessed with the Licensing Act 2003. In addition, we have now learned that the Government are to face a legal challenge from unsuccessful applicants. In a further development, Labour Back Benchers representing failed bidders are openly being encouraged to lobby Ministers to overturn a decision made by the supposedly independent commission. Is the Minister aware that the whole process is descending into complete disarray?

I have heard some rubbish from this Dispatch Box, but that is the biggest load of rubbish that I have heard for a long time. We have put in place the most transparent system—arm’s length from Government and my Department—to make an objective analysis of where the casinos should go. The confusion arose in the minds of Opposition Members when they decided to take the number of regional casinos from eight to one. They are now trying to get out of the issue politically and to blame the Government. That representation is totally untrue. We will stand by what we put in the 2005 Act and the process, which is transparent and fair. If people want to make a legal challenge, let them get on with it and take us to the courts.

But the Secretary of State has failed to ensure public confidence in the new regime. She will be aware, as will the Minister, that Ministers in her Department have already had to clarify four statements in relation to meetings held by her and her officials with overseas operators. Does the Minister consider it—to use the words he has just spoken at the Dispatch Box—transparent and arm’s length that senior Ministers are being entertained on the estates of American casino operators? Will he act urgently to ensure a complete and full disclosure of the facts to ensure public confidence and transparency in the process?

That is absolutely disgraceful. The Deputy Prime Minister, who the hon. Gentleman is referring to, had no role in planning or negotiations, or in the siting of casinos. When Opposition Members start making those allegations, they ought to come up with the facts. What is being said is totally untrue and unfounded. If anyone is being brought into disrepute, it is the hon. Gentleman.

Royal Parks

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State is a trustee for the nation of the 5,000 acres that comprise one of the most priceless assets that London has—the royal parks? Will he explain to the House why his Department’s grant to the royal parks has slipped by more than 20 per cent. since 1993? Will he further tell us why he is allowing these fragile environmental fabrics to be seriously degraded by too many unsuitable large-scale commercial events? Finally, will he deal with the £110 million backlog that the National Audit Office found in repairs undone?

If I were not aware that my right hon. Friend is a trustee of the royal parks, that would be seriously remiss of me given that I have spent quite a lot of time over the past year in the royal parks, meeting the Friends of the Royal Parks and the chief executive.

The hon. Gentleman’s tastes may well not be the same as those of Londoners and much of the country, but the Prince’s Trust concert and the success of Live8 indicate that the Royal Parks Agency has been very successful at some of the events that it has put on. However, he is right that there is a balance to be struck between those events and the more reflective enjoyment of those in the parks. That is why this year there have been fewer events in Hyde park. We keep those things under review, working with the Royal Parks Agency and, as I said, I shall be meeting the chief executive shortly.

As to the money, the hon. Gentleman should remember that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee said in his report that there was

“untapped potential for the Agency to generate income from its considerable assets.”

It is right that the Government bear that in mind when making their grant in aid.

On a beautiful day like today it is obvious how very many people—visitors to London, those who work in the city and tourists—make intensive use of the royal parks such as Hyde park, Richmond park, St. James’s park and so on. Would the Minister care to pay tribute to the work of the Royal Parks constabulary, which is responsible for the safety, enjoyment and relaxation of those many people in the parks, and will he lay to rest the rumour that it may fall victim to the merger mania of forces and be absorbed by the Metropolitan police? That would be a dreadful step, would it not?

I am happy to pay tribute to the Royal Parks constabulary. Two of our parks have been awarded the green flag for 2005, and five are being put forward for a green flag for this year. A key criterion of that is that people who enter the parks feel safe, and that is largely down to the work of the constabulary. We ought to remember when thinking and talking about these issues that on Friday in Regent’s park there will be a memorial for the victims of the London bombings. The parks play a huge and important role in our national life.

In answer to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), the merger has already taken place. The Royal Parks constabulary is now part of the Metropolitan police; I am assuming that the Minister was aware of that fact.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mr. Soames) rightly pointed out, our royal parks should be an oasis of calm and quiet contemplation for Londoners, commuters and tourists alike. The notion that in summer 2012 they should become one huge campsite to house those in London for the Olympic games, as suggested by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), is barmy. It is also in direct breach of the assurances given by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in this House in a debate initiated by me on 24 May 2004. Moneys can be raised to preserve the royal parks by other means, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) will point out—he was acting as an auctioneer at one such event last week. Will the Minister assure us that he will keep the Treasury at bay and his Department’s hands off our royal parks?

The hon. Gentleman is confused; the Royal Parks is an agency of the Government. The idea that the Government could keep their hands off is ridiculous given that we are funding it to the tune of £25.6 million. The hon. Gentleman’s tastes may not be the tastes of ordinary Londoners, but the Royal Parks always consults on its strategy for events, as he would expect, and it is right that we support it on the events taking place this year and in coming years.

Is the Minister aware that the financial position of the royal parks is now so dire that routine maintenance is having to be funded out of lottery grants? Is that an appropriate way to manage either the parks or lottery funds?

The national lottery, in particular the Heritage Lottery Fund, is funding parks throughout the country, and the constituencies of many hon. Members have benefited. Funding for the royal parks is increasing this year to £26.1 million. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are in the middle of the spending review, and it is right and proper that we consider the PAC’s comment that there is “untapped potential” to raise even more revenue from our parks. That is the position, and it is one that the Government have maintained for many years.

Digital Switchover

Ofcom estimates that approximately a quarter of homes in the Lewes constituency currently receive digital terrestrial television, although the vast majority of homes can receive digital TV via satellite, with the right equipment. Proceeding with digital switchover will allow all those who currently receive a good analogue signal to receive digital TV via an aerial, ensuring that the vast majority of people have access to a digital platform.

Does the Minister understand the strong feelings of the bulk of my constituents who cannot receive much of the BBC’s television programme output because they have no access to a digital terrestrial set-top box that works in the constituency, and will not have until 2012? Do they not deserve a reduction in the BBC licence fee for the time being? What is the position of those of my constituents for whom, when switch-off occurs, a digital set-top box will still not work and who will therefore have to use a satellite dish, but may be prevented from doing so by planning rules because they live in a conservation area or a listed building?

Obviously we are aware of the problems experienced by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. We are working towards ensuring maximum access for everybody while preserving the Government’s position of platform neutrality. I remind the hon. Gentleman that switching off the analogue signal in 2012 will automatically provide a major boost to the digital signal. Ofcom is working on how to deal with the small percentage of homes in his constituency that might still have problems. Our hope is that we will have solved that problem by the time of switchover.

Understanding Slavery Initiative

8. What assessment she has made of the work of the Understanding Slavery Initiative producing materials for schools about the trans-Atlantic slave trade to support the teaching of history and citizenship. (81369)

The Understanding Slavery Initiative is having a real and positive impact on the teaching of that complex issue, and has produced high-quality materials and training for teachers and museum educators across the country.

I thank my hon. Friend for his recent visit to Hull to see our preparations for Wilberforce 2007. Will he join me in congratulating Hull university, which this week opens the Wilberforce institute for the study of slavery and emancipation, which will study the present-day context of slavery and what we can learn from the slave trade, as well as work alongside local schools?

I truly enjoyed my visit to Hull on Monday last week to join my hon. Friend and many other colleagues on the trip to the Wilberforce museum. Hull has been key to the development of the training resource. It is important that teachers are able to discuss sensitive and difficult issues at key stage 3 and have the right materials to do that. Hull has been absolutely brilliant, especially in its work with the National Maritime museum to develop those resources. I wish everyone in Hull the best of luck for the launch of WISE on Friday. I understand that Desmond Tutu is the president of that important new research facility. The work done at Hull, together with work carried out in Liverpool, Bristol and London, will help to ensure that the commemorations and celebrations of the abolition of slavery next year are a huge success.

Does the Minister accept that Wilberforce was not only Hull’s greatest son, but probably the greatest Back Bencher in the history of the House?

He did not belong to any party. It was Wilberforce’s parliamentary campaign that led not to the abolition of slavery in 1807, but the abolition of the slave trade. Can those facts be emphasised to all young people as they study what can be achieved by a persistent parliamentary campaign?

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why a Committee of both Houses, very much with the grace of Mr. Speaker, is examining closely how those issues can be conveyed next year. It is true that Wilberforce played a key role as a parliamentary campaigner, but it is also true that the Quakers, who, for obvious reasons, sometimes remain silent about the role that they played, should be remembered, as should many of the black former slave campaigners.

Happy birthday to you, Mr. Speaker and to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), who assures me that refreshments are on him today.

Will the Minister indicate whether he agrees with and will support a grass-roots-led UK annual memorial day regarding the transatlantic slave trade?

My hon. Friend is right that some Members and communities have asked for a memorial day. There have been differences of opinion about what day that should be and about whether we should focus on a day or on other things to do with celebrations of the abolition of slavery. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that he keeps an open mind on these issues, so we will see whether a consensus can be arrived at.

Next year is the 200th anniversary of the death of the slave ship commander turned Christian hymn writer, John Newton. After his conversion on board a slave ship, he wrote one of the most famous hymns of all time, “Amazing Grace”. Will the Minister ensure that next year there is some formal recognition of that amazing figure in English religious literature?

We are in discussions with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills on these issues, as we are with leaders of our cultural institutions, some of whom sit on the advisory committee that is led by the Deputy Prime Minister. I will ensure that that specific issue is raised.

Sports Participation

9. What estimate she has made of the number of people who play football, tennis or cricket at least once a week. (81370)

This information is not available on a weekly basis, but according to the general household survey of 2002-03, 1.8 million adults had played football, 745,000 had played tennis and 235,000 had played cricket in the previous four weeks. The Department’s taking part survey will provide a complete picture of current participation levels in sport, including football, tennis and cricket, later this year.

As the House sends its commiserations to the England team for not winning on Saturday night in that dramatic penalty shootout, as it reflects on the great legacy of Fred Trueman, who died at the weekend, and as it salutes the great performance of Andy Murray, whom we hope will go further, does the Minister think that there is scope for the Government to lead on engaging the great motivating potential of people such as Andy Murray, Rio Ferdinand and Andy Flintoff to make many more people who watch sport go on to participate in it, with all the benefits that that brings us all?

Very much so. The hon. Gentleman is right that such people are incredibly powerful in the community. There is no doubt that they are icons. The sporting champions whom we are developing are playing a major role and talent is being identified through the talented athlete scholarship scheme, right up to possible world-class performers. Young people in schools from the age of 10 will be picked up not by chance, but by design, and they can be put on the pathway to excellence to allow them to realise their potential. I agree that we need to use the sporting icons in our nation more effectively than we do, and we are working to that end.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the lack of cricket coverage on free-to-air TV might have an adverse effect on the number of children who regularly play the sport? On average, only 200,000 viewers watch Sky’s coverage, compared with a peak of 8 million or 9 million people who watched Channel 4’s coverage last year. Does he also accept the good wishes of many cricket followers for the talks that he is initiating with broadcasters? There is widespread hope that that might lead to the return of at least some live test match cricket coverage to free-to-air TV.

I can partially agree with that, but may I put on record my great appreciation of a legend of Yorkshire cricket, Freddie Trueman? I saw him at Bramall Lane with my dad when I was about 10 years old, and he is truly a legend, as Dickie Bird said on Saturday night.

On Sky television and terrestrial broadcasting of cricket, we must remember what was in the Select Committee report. Had it not been for all the investment of television money in cricket, I do not think that we would have won the Ashes, which was a great feat, or had the coaching programmes and central contracts that the England and Wales Cricket Board now has. One must pay credit to the ECB for the modernisation that it has gone through. It is can now choose a team that can take the Ashes—which that team did, and we wish it well over Christmas and the new year in Australia—and also get more young people under coaching in cricket than there have been for many years. Credit must go to the ECB for that, and the funding—whether we like it or not—has largely come through television revenues.

No doubt the Minister would encourage participation in sport by boys and girls, and men and women, in equal numbers, so does he agree that it is unfortunate that the Wimbledon authorities still insist on paying much smaller amounts of prize money to their women champions than to their men champions, even though women are willing and able to play as many sets as men?

I think that the hon. Lady really believed what she said, so I have no doubt that she can join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and none other than the Prime Minister in having a joint approach to the All England Club authorities. Let us have hope for the negotiations that are taking place with the Women’s Tennis Association. I hope that the All England Club listens carefully in the meetings that I know that its representatives will attend in the next few months, and I hope that this ill will have been rectified when the Wimbledon tournament takes place next year.

Licensing Act

10. What assessment she has made of the impact on consumers, licensees and community groups of the Licensing Act 2003; and if she will make a statement. (81371)

It is too early to determine the full impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on different stakeholders. However, we know that local people are engaged in the licensing process to an unprecedented level and are confident that the interests of the public, as well as of pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other establishments, are better protected by the new regime.

Stourbridge police recommend the introduction of the cumulative impact policy in the centre of my constituency. That will enable local people to have a say in local licensing decisions. There is a committee meeting tonight to discuss the recommendation. If the decision is taken to introduce it, it will be the most wide-ranging in the United Kingdom. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating local police for their work so far in dealing with what has been a doubling of the number of bars and pubs in my town centre, and also for their foresight and vision in taking full advantage of this consultative process?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, this morning I had the pleasure of reading through the notes on the special meeting of the licensing and safety committee in preparation for this question, which were fully available on the web as part of the open, transparent government that we, of course, now operate. The serious point is that what is most interesting is the way that this provides the opportunity for the police and the council to consider together and in detail evidence to ascertain whether proposals to introduce a special policy should go forward.

That is exactly the kind of discussion that we wanted to happen as a result of the Act. We wanted a balance between the interests of the public who are affected by disorder, nuisance and other problems and those of legitimate businesses and people who enjoy themselves by having a drink, while leaving at the right time and not indulging in binge drinking. The combination of those interests and decisions being made by local communities is what this Act was properly for, and the matter raised demonstrates quintessentially why the Act is working.

What does the Minister suggest that I say to the Punch and Judy man on Southwold beach who now has to pay £300 in order to entertain the public? What should I say to the parish councils that run the annual church fête that took place yesterday, given that people now have to fill in a form several inches thick to run a perfectly reasonable charitable operation? Is this not in fact a metropolitan operation dreamt up by a Government who have never run anything in their lives?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would extend his normal courtesies to whomever he met on a beach, or in any other place that he happened to wander around. The fact is that we are conducting a review of the 2003 Act’s implementation, and, as he will be aware, we are consulting widely. But at the moment, the overwhelming evidence is that—subject to marginal changes that need to be made, and which we have committed ourselves to being prepared to make, if the evidence is there to support making them—the changes brought in by this Act have improved the regulatory regime for those in business and for the consumer.

I have seen the benefits that sensible implementation of the 2003 Act can bring in the north-east. Is my hon. Friend aware that Newcastle-Gateshead has recently topped an influential list of the best nights out in Britain? That is no surprise, given that visitors to the area have a choice of such cultural gems as the Baltic centre for contemporary art and the Sage live music centre. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the success of the Newcastle-Gateshead initiative in helping to establish the north-east as an arena at the forefront of British culture?

Clearly, the Newcastle-Gateshead initiative is an example to us all and I invite all Members, including the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), to pay a visit to that area as soon as possible.

Public Accounts Commission

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

National Audit Office

21. If he will make a statement on the progress of the National Audit Office in meeting its performance targets for 2006-07. (81384)

The National Audit Office will present its annual report and accounts to Parliament later this month, setting out its achievements for the year to 31 March 2006 and how it has used its resources. During the year, the NAO produced 61 major reports on the value for money achieved by Departments in using resources across a range of public expenditure. Examples include returning failed asylum seekers, progress in improving Government efficiency, and the failure of MG Rover. The Comptroller and Auditor General certified more than 500 accounts during the year and I know that the House will congratulate the NAO on identifying £555 million-worth of financial savings arising from its work in 2005—a return of more than £8 for every pound funded by Parliament. The Public Accounts Commission will have the opportunity to examine the NAO’s performance on the House’s behalf when it meets to consider the NAO’s corporate plan tomorrow.

I congratulate the NAO on last week’s report into the failure that is the Child Support Agency. Is it not an absolute scandal that it costs the CSA 70p to collect each £1 of child support, and that 60 per cent. of outstanding child support payments totalling £3.5 billion are deemed uncollectable?

That is really a matter for the Public Accounts Committee, rather than the Public Accounts Commission, but one is bound to feel that what we have read about is the latest in a series of disastrous performances by the CSA, which reflect what I suspect is the unpleasant experience of too many of our constituents. Our first inquiry, which was conducted a long time ago, discovered that—unbelievably—the CSA was set up with just one quarter of the staff that it required. Ever since then, it has never recovered.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the National Audit Office is saving this country a lot of money and is he concerned that its expansion is being resisted by the Executive, because they are worried that it would expose their incompetence and weaknesses?

On the latter point, I do not know what the Executive’s aspirations might be, but if there is any such aspiration, it is having no effect. The Public Accounts Commission’s role is to ensure that the NAO has the money that it requires and, so far, there has been no serious attempt by the Treasury to curtail the grants that we were considering making to the NAO. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman. Furthermore, because it has been so successful, we asked the NAO to consider whether, instead of achieving an £8:£1 rate of return for the taxpayer, it could do better. To our surprise, the NAO has said that in 2007 it hopes to increase that ratio from the present £8 to £9 for every £1 that it costs.

Does the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission agree that, if the NAO is to maintain and preserve its reputation for professionalism and independence, it would do well to resist the well-known pressure from Government for it to soft pedal its criticism of private finance initiative projects? He speaks of the savings that the NAO has achieved. If he were to press the Government to abandon PFI, which is prohibitive in cost, flawed in concept and intolerable in consequences for taxpayers, citizens and public sector workers, the savings would be vastly greater than the sum that he quoted.

Again, that is a matter for the Public Accounts Committee. If the Government have been trying get the National Audit Office to curb criticism of PFI, they have been singularly unsuccessful, and they certainly have not managed to limit the activities of the Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Retired Clergy

20. What recent assessment the commissioners have made of poverty levels among retired clergy. None. However, the Commissioners provide funding for certain schemes administered by the Church of England Pensions Board to assist clergy pensioners on low incomes. (81383)

We should find out what poverty levels are among retired clergy. Some of the clergy were late joining and therefore have not built up a sufficient pension fund to give them the income that they need to live off. When they retire, they also have to buy a property. I know they get a mortgage at 0 per cent. interest, but if they have a low pension to start with and have to pay a mortgage, it leaves those who have come late to the service at a great disadvantage. Will my hon. Friend investigate and calculate how bad poverty levels are among retired clergy?

I would rather refer to low incomes than poverty in relation to the clergy. As I told the House on 24 April at column 354 and on 5 June at column 21,

“the Church is reviewing its pension arrangements.”—[Official Report, 5 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 21.]

The scheme’s cost has been increased by reduced investment returns, new regulatory requirements and increased life expectancy. My hon. Friend’s point is well taken and I will consider it.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that poverty among retired clergy is likely to increase if the Church of England investments that fund those pensions are made on the basis of what is politically correct, rather than what is financially correct?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, in the sense that our investments are properly made and are now at £4.9 billion. We have a proper investment policy—an ethical investment policy which is appropriate for the Church. In my time as a Church Commissioner, since 1997, the assets have increased from £3 billion to £4.9 billion, but of course I would hardly take credit for that.

Cathedral Repairs

22. What the cost of repairs to Lichfield and Hereford cathedrals was in 2004-05; and if he will make a statement. (81385)

Repair costs for individual cathedrals are not held centrally. However, by way of a statement, an English Heritage survey in 2002 identified £39 million worth of essential structural repairs needed in England’s 61 cathedrals.

Is it not important that we look after our cathedrals, not least Lichfield and Hereford? They act not only as spiritual centres of worship, but as community centres where people gather for live music, as we discussed in the Chamber earlier, and where other non-religious community groups meet in cathedrals. Is it not time that the Government recognised the wider role that our cathedrals play, not only in their diocese, but also to incoming tourists, and started to fund the repairs properly?

As the hon. Gentleman says, we should remember the educational benefits, of which Hereford cathedral’s recently launched Tudor trail for schools is a fine example. Lichfield cathedral works hard to encourage school visits, as the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) often reminds us. We are consistently in dialogue with the Government in relation to church repairs, as I may point out in response to another question.

The cathedrals of England are a particularly important part of our national heritage. Does my hon. Friend worry that, if the Church of England increasingly turns its back on its liberal traditions and seems to be an organisation that becomes more and more bigoted and less and less committed to the whole of British society, it will find difficulty in getting support from the society in which it is meant to preach?

Thank you for saying that, Mr. Speaker.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, notwithstanding the accuracy of everything that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said, these buildings are intrinsically the most important single group of large buildings in our country, and that any Government who allowed them to crumble into decay would not deserve the accolade of a civilised Government?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, cathedrals generate about £91 million per year and directly support 2,600 jobs. They are therefore a strong addition to our economy as well as our national heritage.

Ecclesiastical Buildings

23. How many times in the last 12 months commissioners have met the Chancellor of the Exchequer or other Treasury Ministers to discuss financial issues affecting the fabric of churches and cathedrals. (81386)

You will be pleased to know, Mr. Speaker, as will the hon. Gentleman, that I regularly chat to the Chancellor on several matters pertaining to the Church. We are grateful to him for his listed places of worship grant scheme, whereby last year in England £12,498,019 was paid out in reimbursement of VAT on church repairs alone.

As my hon. Friends the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) said, the maintenance of cathedrals is important, but also very expensive. As the hon. Gentleman will know from what I and hon. Members on both sides of the House have said in the past, that often involves VAT on building works and grants that are available to cathedrals for work. He cannot operate in isolation on these matters. To what extent has he raised these matters with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and is he aware that the Chancellor is taking them up with the European Union, which is very much concerned with VAT rates?

I sympathise with the Chancellor in his discussions on VAT in Europe, where he needs unanimous consent for any change. In relation to my discussions with him, the hon. Gentleman should know that we equally have discussions with Ministers in other Departments, especially the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who warmly welcomed “Building Faith in our Future” and promised a Government response shortly. We look forward to that.

Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the five Scottish cathedrals in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dunblane, Dornoch and Lerwick are entirely supported and maintained by the state, while English cathedrals receive not a penny?

I am not responsible for the Episcopal church in Scotland. President Pompidou was once asked whether he was responsible for the Church, and said, “No, thank God.” I can say the same of the Episcopal church.

Would it be reasonable for me to say to all the people who look after Christian centres of worship in a borough such as Southwark—the Methodist chapels and churches, the Welsh Free chapel, and the churches and cathedrals of all three denominations, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox—that if the heritage and importance of those buildings merit it, they can look for financial support, as each plays a hugely important part in the life of a borough such as ours?

I read comments of the Dean of Southwark in the newspapers with interest, and I well understand the hon. Gentleman’s position. I am, however, responsible for the Church of England, not for the other denominations to which he refers.

“Building Faith in our Future”

25. What progress has been made in implementing the recommendations in the paper, “Building Faith in our Future”; and if he will make a statement. (81388)

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). We continue to make significant progress in helping parishes and dioceses respond to the opportunities and challenges that church buildings present. We await the Government response.

Given the potential for church tourism to support and maintain church buildings at the heart of many of our local communities, will my hon. Friend do his best to ensure a co-ordinated approach to its development, involving the Church Commissioners, the Government, the tourist industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?

My hon. Friend has regularly championed faith tourism and we agree about its importance. I am happy to tell him that Church officials had a positive meeting at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on church tourism last week. He might also be glad to know that the Churches Tourism Association will launch its tourism marketing initiative at its annual convention in November. The Church Commissioners, as well as my hon. Friend, will take a close interest in those proceedings.