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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 457: debated on Monday 5 March 2007

Order. May I inform the House that the practice of reading supplementary questions will be stopped? I call upon Members not to read supplementary questions into the record. Their response should come from what the Minister says.

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sports Clubs (Children)

As part of the national school sport strategy, we are supporting links between schools and clubs. We have exceeded our target to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds from school sport partnerships who are members of, or participate in, accredited sports clubs from 14 to 20 per cent. by 2006. The 2005-06 school sport survey shows that 27 per cent. of young people from school sport partnerships are now participating in clubs linked to schools.

I very much welcome that response, but does the Minister agree that to build on that excellent record and to provide a fitting legacy for the 2012 games it is important to develop amateur sports clubs that provide services for children? Will he therefore agree to support proposals to extend gift aid, or other financial support, to amateur community sports clubs, specifically for the work that they do for children’s sports?

Our work to strengthen sports clubs includes community amateur sports clubs grants, and gift aid can generally be accessed by such clubs. I hope that more amateur sports clubs will apply for CASC grants and the 80 per cent. managing rate relief that goes with that, because currently only about 4,000 have done so out of a potential 40,000 to 50,000 clubs that are entitled to do so, and those 4,000 that have applied for it are now receiving some £15 million. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that there are other areas in which we could bring in fiscal incentives, to incentivise young people in particular. I have no doubt that my colleagues at the Treasury will be taking suggestions on that very seriously indeed.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to the unanimous view of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that Sport England’s ability to support sports clubs will suffer if there is any further diversion of funds from the national lottery? Given the Chancellor’s new-found enthusiasm for supporting sport for young people, will the Minister press him to protect the national lottery from any further raids?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges—as, I have no doubt, do all members of the Select Committee—that Exchequer funding for sport has risen by 30 per cent. since the last spending review. That shows the commitment not only of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who gives great support to sport, but of the Government in general. I have no doubt that they will do nothing to undermine that continued investment in sport.

As secretary of the all-party rugby union group, I receive regular briefings from the rugby world on the progress being made by the Government in putting money into sport and the community. If the Minister cannot give me the answer to the following question now, will he respond to me through the Department? How many new participants have been recruited by sports clubs that have received community club development funding since that programme began?

I cannot give the exact figure. However, I can say that in the group that I referred to—five to 16-year-olds—there has been a 27 per cent. increase, and there is no doubt that the Government and the governing bodies have recently put considerable investment into strengthening the club structure, which was weak. We are now reaping some of the benefits of that investment in the numbers of those young people who participate and in the numbers of those who will get on to podiums in stadiums around the world in years to come.

The 350 children who are members of the Beavers swimming club in Wootton Bassett in my constituency are delighted that, after the Minister’s intervention—among other things—this time last month, the Liberal Democrat district council has decided to reverse its decision to close Lime Kiln leisure centre in Wootton Bassett, but the 250 children whom I met at Cricklade last Friday and whose sport centre is now closing, and those in Calne down the road whose sport centre is also closing, are asking me if the Minister will not bring special pressure to bear on the Liberal Democrats to keep their sport centres open, too.

I do not know whether the magic wand will be used again, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me with specific details on that, and if there is a case to answer, we will make sure that those who can answer that case get the question posed to them.

Fifty-seven per cent. of people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) are classified as obese. Does the Minister recognise the importance of working in partnership with the Department of Health, as well as local government, to increase participation in sport, especially for young people, because of its long-term impact on health in the country?

Very much so. We have a very productive dialogue with my colleagues at the Department of Health and, indeed, at the Department for Education and Skills on that very subject, because we think it important that we start to factor physical activity into young people’s lives in particular. That is why we are committed to providing two hours of quality physical activity or sport for every child every week from the age of five to 16, and a further two to three hours beyond the school gate. That is important not just for the sake of sport itself, but for the sake of health, social inclusion and education, because it is clear that where that happens, academic attainment levels go up and truancy and exclusion levels go down. It is a win-win situation, and one of the most successful policies of this Government.

One of the barriers for existing sports clubs seeking to do more for children is their rising cost base in other areas. A good practical example is Headcorn football club in Kent, whose licensing fee has risen from £25 every five years under the old system to a staggering £900 every five years under the new system—an increase of over 3,000 per cent. That money could otherwise be spent on youth development. Given that the Government are entirely responsible for creating that problem, what do they intend to do to sort it out?

I do not know about the situation regarding that club, which I will look at, but all I can say is that if it has a licensing fee of £900, it must be making considerable profits from bar takings. We have heard about these situations before and I have answered such questions. The Central Council of Physical Recreation will distribute a paper to Back Benchers that unfortunately cites racquet clubs that use halls for banqueting purposes. If that is true, they are in competition with other private sector organisations in their area. It is a question of fairness. If the money is going directly into grass-roots sports, we will take that into account, but if it is a commercial organisation that is taking on the rest of the leisure industry, that is a different matter. I will consider the specific problem.

All-weather Sports Pitches

Access to a wide range of good quality sports facilities, including all-weather sports pitches, is an essential part of enabling people to lead healthier lives and to participate in sport. That is why we have invested over £1 billion in more than 4,000 sports facilities. As part of that, there has been unprecedented investment in all-weather pitches, including £58 million from the lottery and £50 million from the Football Foundation, creating a new generation of such facilities across the country. There are now 1,535 public sector all-weather pitches in England, just under 70 per cent. of which have been built or refurbished since 1997.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for opening the Denhale recreation centre in my constituency in November. We very much appreciated his being able to be with us. The district of Wakefield has five third-generation pitches, but none of them is in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend and his officials work with me to ensure that the people working so hard to provide out-of-hours sporting activity for young people—in football, rugby league and rugby union—can do so whatever the weather?

Some £50 million of funding for more than 260 sports projects has been invested in Wakefield local authority. I understand that that is not necessarily coterminous with my hon. Friend’s constituency, but we will look into that.

It is important that all Members contact their local authorities about planning. One major issue is the lighting and noise associated with third-generation and artificial pitches, which means that we cannot open them for as long as they ought to be open. One or two nimbies are stopping us using sports facilities by imposing planning restrictions on the use of lights, for example. I hope that all Members will raise this issue with their local authority’s planning department and get their local paper to campaign for the maximum use of such weather-proofed facilities.

Macclesfield rugby union football club boasts an all-weather pitch, which is hugely useful and much used by young people. The club has a thriving mini rugby section, which plays every week. What additional help can the Minister give to clubs that go out of their way to provide facilities for young people, particularly in respect of the use of all-weather pitches?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the club that he represents. We want more of those facilities, but every time we build an artificial pitch on a grass area that was used for sport, it is classed as the closure of a sports field. That is a weakness in the way we compile statistics in the Department. Yes, we need more floodlit, third-generation artificial pitches that can be used 24/7, if necessary. We want to maximise their availability for our young people, along with the quality coaching that we are providing alongside those pitches, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge.

My right hon. Friend has yet to visit the fabulous athletics track at Ellesmere Port that was opened by Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2005. That is a wonderful, Olympic-standard facility, but, unfortunately, the school where it is located may be earmarked for closure in the near future. Will he liaise closely with the Department for Education and Skills and Cheshire county council to ensure that that valuable resource is properly protected?

It would be remiss if we did not put on record our thanks to Tanni Grey-Thompson, who retired last week. She was a fantastic role model in disability sports in particular, but in sports in general. She also coached me for the marathon, but I shall not go into that story. She was obviously successful—[Laughter.]

It is great that hon. Members on both sides of the House are congratulating the Labour Government on what they have done for sports facilities. That is heart-warming. My hon. Friend knows that we have introduced tough planning regimes, so that any closure of any playing field has to be referred to Sport England, which has a tough remit to preserve and extend facilities. I have no doubt that we will look carefully at the case that my hon. Friend raises and will continue to increase the stock of good sports facilities up and down the country.

Regional Museums (England)

3. What assessment the Secretary of State has made of the effect of the renaissance in the regions programme on regional museums in England. (124563)

The renaissance in the regions programme has revitalised museums across England, enhancing their role in education, access and social inclusion. Last year, 1.2 million school children participated in activities supported by renaissance hub museums.

Is the Minister aware that under the renaissance programme, outreach activity has increased by more than 7,000 per cent. in the north-east alone? Will he assure me that the programme will continue to receive full funding, so that the fantastic educational resources provided by our museums will not be put in jeopardy?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for championing the renaissance programme. She will know that we had a very good event in the House last week, in which we celebrated the contribution that museums in the north of England, in particular, are making. I know, because I was up there a few months ago, that the Tyne and Wear museums are making a fantastic contribution, particularly because they use members of the community to provide oral history, as well as having items on display. That has led to an increase in participation, especially among young people, more of whom are attending museums across the north-east. As the spending review is ongoing, it is too early to give an assessment on that, but renaissance in our museums is a key part of what the Department has been doing in the past few years.

All that is very fine, but will the Minister acknowledge that the really important point that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) made was about funding? Will he also acknowledge that we cannot have flourishing provincial and regional museums unless the great national museums are also flourishing, but they are seriously underfunded at present?

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed these matters in great detail in the past few months. I refer him to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council report, which does not say that our national museums are underfunded—on the contrary. I know that he is concerned about acquisitions, but, partly because of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, they hold up incredibly well in comparison with many of our European partners with their museums. It is right to say that free museum entry has brought an increase in the popularity of our national museums, and because of the investment in our regional museums we have seen an increase in access and participation there as well.

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the north-east museums service not only on raising the profile of museums in the area, but on raising to record levels the number of school visits to north-eastern museums, especially to Beamish museum in my constituency?

Absolutely. Some 115,000 school children have visited museums in the north-east hub over the last period. When I spoke to the museums service, I was told that previously, due to underinvestment, it was unable to reach schools in the area, so the number of visits was less than half what it is now. There has been a huge explosion in the number of young people involved in our museums, which does not mean merely that they visit for a day, but that they are actually involved in understanding who they are and where they are from in their community, thereby tackling the problems of social cohesion and antisocial behaviour that preoccupy us all on both sides of the House. Our museums play a key role.

The renaissance programme is welcome, but of course the more people who go to our museums and the more television programmes that are made, the greater the profile of archaeology and the bigger the problem of storage, especially of archaeological finds. I would be grateful if the Minister assessed that problem in the coming months, as many museums and county archaeology services are completely at their wits’ end about what to do with all the finds that have to be dug up because of planning permissions and so on. It is becoming a serious financial burden on local authorities and independent regional museums.

It is right that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges the huge success of the portable antiquities scheme, which has meant that many local finds go to our local museums, but it is probably also right to say that for most museums only between 10 and 20 per cent. of their collections are exhibited. A lot can never be exhibited because our museums play a key role in the academic study of artefacts and contribute to our knowledge base for those artefacts and their history. We are exploring with the MLA how we can increase touring, especially, in dialogue with our colleagues in Europe, to eastern Europe. I hope that that, in particular, will increase people’s access to all that wonderful treasure.

British Theatre

4. What recent assessment she has made of the contribution of British theatre to (a) the economy and (b) cultural life in England. (124564)

Arts Council England research estimates that the annual economic impact of UK theatre is £2.6 billion. Research from seven of England’s biggest publicly funded regional producing theatres shows attendances rising by almost 40 per cent. between 2000 and 2006.

The statistics are dry, but all the evidence shows that the British theatre is one of the main reasons overseas tourists visit this country. It is the cornerstone of our film and television industry, and the crowning glory of our cultural life, so is it not vital that we make sure that there is a proper subsidy for British theatre? How ferociously will my hon. Friend fight the Treasury to make sure that the next settlement is just as good as, if not better than, the last?

It is largely because of that increase, as well as the history and inheritance of our regional theatres, which were on their knees, falling apart and not providing quality performances, that we are where we are now. In Sheffield, Nottingham, Brighton and Chichester—across the piece—theatres are making a huge contribution to the life and soul of their communities. As my hon. Friend knows, the spending review continues and we are discussing those issues across Government.

British theatre is clearly a showcase for British arts and culture. When I went to see Alan Bennett’s production of “The History Boys” last year, it was selling to packed-out audiences in the theatre here. It then went to New York with the same British cast and was playing to packed-out audiences there, too. It is the same when American actors come to the British theatre here in that they act as magnets for people who would perhaps otherwise not go to the theatre. We certainly get bums on seats in British theatres because of them. Will the Minister ensure that the fair exchange of artistic people, actors and actresses from the US to Britain—and from Britain to the US—carries on? It is good business and very healthy for Britain and America.

The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, “The History Boys” received six Tony awards, including best director and best play. We have seen from the recent success of Helen Mirren, who spent a lot of time working in subsidised theatre, just how important it is for actors and actresses in this country. We will, of course, continue to explore with the Arts Council those touring opportunities.

May I first strongly endorse the trenchant remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)? I also strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement this week that state funding for the arts is of fundamental importance. Although the Minister has said that funding has increased under Labour—and there is no question about that—we are still well behind the continent of Europe in that respect. Will he look further to those comparisons and fight for higher funding for the longer term?

We are not behind continental Europe in terms of quality. It has always been the case in this country that there is a partnership between subsidy for the Arts Council, revenue that individual theatres can make—we have seen an increase in cafés and other facilities—and corporate investment. It is important that that partnership continues so that we see real health in the sector. When I have spoken to theatre directors and others, they have said that some of our friends in continental Europe are not seeing quite the quality that we have here, which is why we are picking up the awards. I hear what my hon. Friend says about public subsidy and our investment. He is right that we in government are very proud of the investment that we have been able to make in regional theatres.

The Royal and Derngate theatre in Northampton has recently faced a financial crisis, which I am happy to say has been resolved. However, the crisis stemmed from the subsidy provided by the local authority to the theatre. I recognise that there is Government subsidy for the Arts Council, but what recent discussions has the Minister had with his opposite number in the Department for Communities and Local Government to look into the threat to local theatres posed by the growing pressure on local authority budgets?

Spending on the arts by local authorities is £3 billion. I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who also raised this issue with me. It is an issue and it is a great shame, because I have to say that the money that the Arts Council has put into the theatre—and the new investment, which is only months old—has been absolutely at the centre of regeneration in Northampton. It is a matter of great regret that the local borough has decided to withdraw funds in the way that it has suggested, but I know that discussions are ongoing, particularly with the county council. The Arts Council continues to support that theatre, which has been in receipt of many millions of pounds in the last few years. I hope, particularly for the people of Northampton and the wider east England area, that we can reach a satisfactory outcome.

Will the Minister take a look at the missing middle strand of theatre in Birmingham? We have excellent professional productions and a thriving amateur dramatics sector, but a definite lack in the middle. More arts centre space needs to be devoted to theatre, so that people are not reliant on the enthusiastic vicar and the kindly teacher for the sort of infrastructure that we need if we are to give access to theatre for future generations of the kind of people who do not necessarily go to the big productions or get involved with am-dram.

I will discuss that with the regional team at the Arts Council. The creative partnerships in the midlands are important in taking into the community the work of the obviously very successful theatre in Birmingham. That work is going on, but I am happy to look at it further.

Olympic Games

5. If she will make a statement on progress with support to improve the performance of athletes for future Olympic games. (124565)

I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate our athletes who performed so well at the European indoor athletics championship. I am particularly sure that my hon. Friend will want to congratulate Phillips Idowu, his constituent, who won the gold medal in men’s triple jump, together with Jason Gardener, Nicola Sanders, and the men’s 4x400 relay team, Robert Tobin, Dale Garland, Phil Taylor and Steve Green. In a way, that is the answer to my hon. Friend’s question. This time, we topped the medal table in the European championships; two years ago, we finished sixth.

An elite performance is going from strength to strength. Why? Because of the extra investment—the extra £300 million that is being promised—and the outstanding training facilities, such as the Lee Valley athletics centre in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which he opened with me only a short time ago and which was built on time and on budget.

I thank my right hon. Friend for stealing all my thunder, but I will obviously add my congratulations, specifically on the 10 medals won by our team over the weekend. Of course my right hon. Friend mentions the fact that, in January of this year, she came to my constituency to open the new high-performance centre at Picketts Lock. That is the only six-lane indoor facility in the south of England, so when will she expand that facility? More importantly, when will we see facilities of a similar nature in other parts of the country?

As my hon. Friend knows, a large 80,000-seat stadium will be built just down the road from the Lee Valley athletics centre at the heart of the Olympic park for the 2012 Olympics. On the strength of that, he will also be aware that in the nine regions of the country, under the auspices of the English Institute of Sport, facilities are being upgraded and improved. We have already had a list of some of the great centres in Bath, in Sheffield and in the sports city in Manchester, all of which offer specialist facilities to improve the performance of our best athletes. That shows that, if we combine investment with top-class facilities, we get gold medals.

Although I welcome the Government’s programme to trawl for Olympic talent in many of the deprived and poor areas of the country, the Secretary of State will be aware that world-class talent is, in itself, class blind. What reassurance can she give to the House that any child or any young person who lives anywhere in the country who might have the ability to win a gold medal at future Olympic games will have their talent picked up and nurtured?

The intention is that the opportunity is available to every child—including, I stress, children who are disabled—and an increasing proportion of our talented athletes are coming via disability sports.

Of course, much of the attention is on the Olympic games, but not so much is on the Paralympic games. I wonder whether the Minister could think about creating a fund for local authorities that have no disabled facilities, such as Kent county council, which is the largest authority in England. One of the ways of doing that would be to challenge the Treasury on the 12p in the pound tax that it takes from lottery tickets. What we need most of all is to get our disabled athletes to be as good as the Chinese disabled athletes, or better than them, for 2012.

I take seriously what my hon. Friend says and ask him and the House to note that, in the run-up to Beijing, the funding available for Paralympians has doubled. For the Beijing games, UK Sport is supporting 23 Paralympic sports. That is an increase of eight over the number supported in Athens. It is that fundamental commitment to make sure that the Paralympics, Paralympians and disabled athletes have every equal opportunity with able-bodied athletes that will produce the results that we all want.

I thank the Secretary of State for the much-deserved praise of the sporting facilities in Bath. I join her in welcoming what the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last year: additional funding for elite athletes. But does she recognise that part of that announcement by the Chancellor was for £100 million to come from private sponsorship? Does she accept that little or no work has been done in preparing to raise that money, and will it not be particularly difficult, bearing in mind the National Audit Office’s recent comments, that private sponsorship for sport will be increasingly difficult given the uncertainty over the Olympic budget? When are we going to have a finalised budget for the Olympics?

It is categorically not the case that, as the hon. Gentleman said, not very much if anything has been done. There are discussions in train between potential private sector partners and UK Sport. I also remind him—[Interruption.] If he would like to hear the answer, I remind him that the money does not come on stream and will not be required until after the Beijing games. As with every other aspect of Olympic planning, this aspect is on time, taking account of the fact that we all have to be ready for the opening ceremony in five years’ time.

My right hon. Friend is quite right about continuing. I hope that she will continue the pressure to ensure that our elite athletes can get to the Olympics and win recognition. Surely she recognises that the prize is not just a gold medal; it is what the athletes do for the status of the clubs that they come from and the part that they play in their community as role models. They send a signal back to every youngster that, with determination and support, they too can get there.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. He is absolutely right. That is why one of the important developments of recent years has been the willingness and the enthusiasm of so many of our lottery-funded athletes to go into schools, work with local clubs and provide precisely the kind of leadership and powerful role modelling that young people want.

I associate the Conservative side of the House with the Secretary of State’s remarks regarding the success of our athletes in the indoor championships. She has just confirmed that no progress at all has been made in raising the £100 million of private money of the £300 million that the Chancellor alluded to more than a year ago. Can she further inform the House what kind of progress is being made in those negotiations, or is this just another case of press-release politics?

The hon. Gentleman fails to listen and then thinks that he can assert his view as fact if he stands at the Dispatch Box and shouts. With great respect, I have just given the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) an answer to that question and I made it absolutely clear that there are discussions between potential private sector partners and UK Sport and that all that is timely, because the money is not needed until after the Beijing games. When it is needed, it will be in place.

Is that not yet another example of the Chancellor’s incompetence when it comes to money and the Olympics? It was the Chancellor who signed off the Secretary of State’s budget, which is now two or three times the original figure. It was the Chancellor who announced in the Daily Mail that he would get the nation fit for the Olympics, but who has not produced an extra penny to fund them, and the Chancellor who is now contemplating another devastating attack—

Order. It is all right for Front Benchers to read. They need a bit more assistance than Back Benchers.

The Chancellor is contemplating another raid on the lottery to pay for his incompetence. Surely it is not the performance of elite athletes in 2012 that we should worry about, but the performance of the Chancellor, which is seriously undermining the credibility of the Olympics.

Mr. Speaker, you were very kind to the hon. Gentleman, who needs as much help as he can get. The House should beware when he starts shouting, because there was no substance whatever in what he had to say. The plan to raise money for elite sport from the private sector, agreed as part of the elite sports funding agreement, is under way. It will be negotiated, and will be in place when it is ready.

Ticket Touts (Sporting Events)

6. What steps her Department is taking to tackle ticket touts for sporting events; and if she will make a statement. (124566)

Ticket touting is a serious issue affecting sporting events and other major cultural events. We are working closely with the industries in a series of summits, and with the public, to achieve a clampdown on touting.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but ticket touting in sporting events has been going on for practically as long as I can remember. Given our application to host the World cup, and given that we have secured the Olympics, it has become a very serious issue. Is he aware of what happened last Thursday, when concert tickets for Take That went on sale? Before they even went on sale, websites were advertising tickets at twice their face value, and within 20 minutes of the tickets going on sale, they were being sold on eBay for well over double their value. Is it not time that the Government did something about ticket touting, and made sure that the people who do it end up in jails—the new ones that we are going to build?

My hon. Friend makes some very important points, but it is also important for hon. Members to consider the consumer evidence that we received recently, which asked the Government to be proportionate in their interventions. That is not to say that there should not be good practice. As a result of that evidence, we have been working with both the primary industry and the secondary industry, and at the end of the year there will be additional EU legislation clamping down on the practices about which my hon. Friend is concerned. Our dialogue is ongoing, and we are intent on clamping down on gross ticket touting.

This year, the T in the Park festival has had to limit ticket sales to two per person to try to beat ticket touting, and I understand that Michael Eavis is considering photo ID registration to try to beat the ticket touts at Glastonbury. Why is it being left to the music industry to try to address the problem? Surely the Government should be doing more to protect music fans from touting.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it is also important to remember that, in their evidence, the public told us that they want the reaction to be proportionate, and they do not want the Government to over-intervene. Where it is fair, members of the public want to be able to sell on tickets themselves. He mentioned Glastonbury and the photo experiment taking place there, and we will look into that. However, on the selling of T in the Park tickets, he should be aware that there were 80 items displayed on eBay, and that is out of the 40,000 tickets that were sold. We condemn the practice where it is wrong, but it is important to get a grip on the proportions of the problem, because it is only a minority who are involved in touting, albeit a minority whom we condemn.

Local Radio

7. What steps she is taking to encourage and improve the provision of news and music by radio to local communities. (124567)

Given what my hon. Friend says, is he as concerned as I am that the centralisation of the provision of news and music is becoming much more widespread, to the detriment of a local focus, particularly in news? That has certainly been the case in my constituency; because of centralisation, Rock FM in Preston has just lost 20 per cent. of its jobs to north-east England.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has worked hard to bring jobs to his constituency and, indeed, to keep them there, so I know that he takes the loss of those jobs at the radio station personally. It is important to bear it in mind, however, that those are commercial decisions made by radio stations. The definition of localness for commercial radio stations is a matter for Ofcom. Its guidelines state:

“Where a station is required to provide locally-made programming, its studios should be located within its licensed area.”

Ofcom will, however, consider requests for co-location on a case-by-case basis. I accept the point made by my hon. Friend, and I am happy to follow it up if he wishes to write to me.

Licensing Act

8. What assessment she has made of the effect of the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003 on the performance of live music. (124568)

The live music forum will produce its analysis in the next few weeks. Current evidence is anecdotal, but it none the less suggests a broadly neutral impact.

According to the MORI research commissioned by the Minister’s Department, only 60 per cent. of smaller venues that previously offered live music were given licences under the Licensing Act 2003, many of which have expensive conditions attached. Will the Minister tell the House what proportion of that group implemented the conditions? If he cannot do so, does that not render the statistics worthless, and what is the value of the Department’s boast that the Act is good for live music?

As the hon. Gentleman knows—he takes a keen interest in this area, which we welcome—the research published in December looked at 2,000 small establishments. It discovered that in only 3 per cent. of cases the new licensing requirements were a deterrent. From the anecdotal evidence, however, the impact appears to be broadly neutral, although it may be better than that. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are conducting a detailed analysis, which we will publish later. He should remember that the new process means that there is only one application, one fee and no renewals. The additional bonus is that local residents, who were seriously affected in the past by live music, now have a say, which is important.

I wonder whether the Minister is aware that over 38,000 people have signed the Downing street petition on live music. What comfort can he give that ever-growing body of people? Does he agree with the person who was recently reported in the press as saying that whoever dreamt up Downing street petitions was—and I quote with apologies, Mr. Speaker—“a prat”?

We absolutely agree with the 30,000 people who rightly do not want music and dance to be restricted by burdensome licensing regulations. If the hon. Lady looks at the changes, she will see that there is one application process and one fee, with no renewals. Inconsistent fees, which were often excessive, and the standard book of conditions have been removed, and the fact that 63 per cent. of venues have either obtained a music licence or put on live music via other means shows that the Act is working. In a survey, 55 per cent. of people said that they found the process easy, although I admit that 25 per cent. found it hard. We will work to improve the system—we believe that it has already been improved—and we will take very seriously the evidence submitted in the next few weeks to see whether there are more improvements to be made.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—

Electoral Returning Officers

21. What research has been undertaken into the consistency of decision making by electoral returning officers. (124551)

The Electoral Commission informs me that it has not undertaken any specific research into the consistency of decision making by returning officers. However, it issues guidance and advice to returning officers, and it has recently been given a power in the Electoral Administration Act 2006 to set and monitor performance standards in electoral services.

I am grateful for that answer. My hon. Friend will have seen the recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in January this year that called for tougher controls to prevent the misrunning of elections by errant EROs. What will the commission do to implement those recommendations?

There is much to be said for giving returning officers a degree of flexibility to enable them to respond to individual circumstances in their areas, but in the dispute about whether they should be independent or whether there should be central control, my hon. Friend will be pleased to note that the Committee on Standards in Public Life has urged that there should be further monitoring of returning officers, and recent legislation has responded to the thrust of my hon. Friend’s comments.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a need for consistency in decision making about the way in which counts are carried out, particularly in general elections, where among constituencies of similar geographical size, similar distribution of population and similar numbers of polling stations, one is able to declare within two hours or so of the close of voting, and another is still counting at three or four o’clock in the morning? Surely it is in everyone’s democratic interest that there should be a faster count. A model method of achieving an early result would therefore seem to be necessary in some constituencies.

As a late countee, I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point. The new legislation gives the Electoral Commission the opportunity to impose performance standards and to identify differences in performance and approach taken by individual returning officers, with a view to raising the general standard.

Would not we have greater consistency in decision-making if electoral returning officers knew what decisions their colleagues had taken? Is there not a role for a co-ordinating body to promote best practice?

I have no doubt that the Electoral Commission will publish the results of its research. That will enable general standards to be raised. I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s point.

church commissioners

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

International Visits

22. What the cost was of the visit of the Archbishop of (a) Canterbury and (b) York to Dar es Salaam in February 2007. (124552)

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s costs were £2,094 and the Archbishop of York’s were £2,866. The cost of the supporting staff was £5,128.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the reason for the visit was so that the archbishops could meet other bishops from around the world to discuss the situation in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Is it not particularly depressing, however, that the two British archbishops chose to side with the fundamentalist bigots from some other parts of the Anglican communion, rather than represent the ordinary faith of most Anglicans in this country, which is entirely tolerant and decent?

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the question is about the cost, not the content, of the meeting.

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. The costs were well invested and well spent. If I may say so in contradiction to my hon. Friend, if he wished to talk about bigotry and extremism, he could have done no better than his choice of language today. In relation to the costs and the conference, I would say blessed are the peacemakers. The meeting concluded with an agreed communiqué, contrary to the expectations of all those who predicted schism. Perhaps this good result came about because the Church of England has two archbishops brought up in other Churches of the Anglican communion, who may therefore appreciate its continuing value more than most. The Church is grateful for their achievement. As I said, blessed are the peacemakers.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York should be congratulated on saving the Anglican communion from itself, with remarkably good value for money, and that those of us who have our travel expenses funded by the taxpayer should be careful about throwing stones at other organisations that raise their funds internally?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the agreed communiqué specifies practical steps to address the tensions surrounding the recent actions of the Episcopal Church in the United States. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address to General Synod last week gives a full account of the significance of this outcome. Members can find the address via the archbishop’s website.

Listed Places of Worship Scheme

23. What assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the Listed Places of Worship Scheme; and if he will make a statement. (124553)

The Church welcomes the listed places of worship grant scheme which, at the end of January 2007, had paid out over £55 million to churches across the United Kingdom. Over £44 million of this was paid to listed places of worship. By way of a statement, and to put these figures in context, we believe that about £378 million worth of repairs are still needed in the Church of England alone.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. May I draw his attention to churches such as St. Margaret’s in Rainham parish, which is part of my constituency, where the congregation is valiantly trying to raise more than £1 million to save the roof of the Norman building, their having been turned down bythe listed places of worship scheme on a number of occasions? My concern is that churches—St. Margaret’s is no exception—are still an important cog in the community working on agendas such as antisocial behaviour, the respect agenda and helping communities. What steps are the charity commissioners taking to ensure that the Churches are not unduly burdened by the need to save heritage, which thereby displaces their social and community roles?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for describing the work that goes on in St. Margaret’s church, Rainham. I know that my hon. Friend is heavily involved with the churches in his constituency and that he works tremendously hard to support fundraising, on which I congratulate him. I know that St. Margaret’s church, Rainham, faces the great challenge of raising £1 million to save its roof from decay, and I wish the community well in its fundraising efforts. On how we can get other bodies involved, I am sure that he wants to work with us to help us persuade the Government of the need for a more symmetrical balance between the contribution that churches and cathedrals make to their communities, such as that made by St. Margaret’s church Rainham, and the contribution that they receive from public funds.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of my ongoing campaign to reduce VAT on church repairs. I am particularly concerned that lottery funding for church repairs may be reduced this year because of the Olympic games. Does he share my concern that church repairs may not enjoy the same support in the coming financial year as they have done in the past three financial years?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who knows that I raised that matter at the previous Question Time, when I said that I am concerned that the Olympic games will drain money from the various schemes to assist our churches. Hon. Members should be aware of that danger, which has been repeated on the Floor of the House, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be aware of our concerns.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. If the Government had invested the money squandered on the dome in preserving our churches and cathedrals, we would not be having this exchange this afternoon.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the two are not mutually exclusive—I do not want to give him a legal definition of mutual exclusivity. I warmly welcome the new memorials grant scheme, which came into effect in November 2005 and which has paid out £330,000 for the construction, renovation and maintenance of memorials in England. We continue to press the Government to assist in providing more money for the renovation of churches, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue his campaign on that point.

public Accounts commission

The Chairman was asked—

National Audit Office

24. What recent discussions have taken place within the Commission on revising the 8:1 target ratio of saving to expenditure for the National Audit Office. (124554)

The NAO target of securing £8 in savings for every £1 funded by Parliament was set in 1999. The NAO has achieved that target in each year since then—it generated some £555 million in savings in 2005 alone. The Public Accounts Commission recently endorsed a proposal to increase the savings target to 9:1 from 2007. The NAO will therefore aim to secure additional savings of £74 million from its work in 2007.

The NAO is clearly making a most effective contribution to the nation’s finances. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Select Committees other than the Public Accounts Committee could profitably make use of the NAO’s good work?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the support that he has always given to the NAO. The NAO is now involved in supplying secondees to the Select Committees, and it also provides briefings and evidence. At the moment, it is leading a five-yearly review, which I established, into the resources that are available to our Select Committees. In any one year, the NAO deals with nearly 100 inquiries from individual hon. Members. It is very approachable and responsive, although hon. Members must recognise that it cannot comment on policy and that it is there to analyse facts.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is the difference between the savings proposed by the NAO and those that are delivered by the Departments concerned? Does he further agree that we need long-term strategy in those Departments in order to deliver the NAO’s recommendations?

It could well be that if the recommendations were fully achieved by the Departments, the savings would be even greater, but the figures that I quoted are those that are actually achieved by the NAO at the moment.

Church Commissioners

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


25. What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Wolfson Foundation on the maintenance of the fabric of cathedrals; and if he will make a statement. (124555)

We welcome the recent announcement of the foundation’s partnership with English Heritage and its commitment to match, until 2010, the £1 million per annum in English Heritage’s grant scheme for repairs to Church of England and Roman Catholic cathedrals. This restores the grants available to pre-2004 funding levels. In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, we have had no direct discussions, but the commissioners are following these events with great interest.

This has created a useful precedent because, as the hon. Gentleman says, it has brought the level of funding back up to £2 million. He will be aware, however, that the cost of running a cathedral such as Lichfield is in the order of £2 million per year anyway, and that the money has to be spread among more than 40 cathedrals in England and Wales. What can the commissioners do to try to encourage more partnerships, not only with the Wolfson Foundation, which is to be congratulated, but with other organisations, to try to expand funding to beyond the £2 million level?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he will know, I do not have the exact figures for Lichfield cathedral, but I know that it does a very good job of welcoming visitors. He is perfectly right that cathedrals are centres of cultural and community activity. Some £11 million per annum was spent on the constant round of repairs and maintenance for our English cathedrals.

By way of an aside, at the previous Church Commissioners Question Time the hon. Gentleman sensibly suggested that knowledge might be shared between churches and cathedrals so that they can benefit from each others’ good ideas for welcoming visitors. I have looked into that and can tell him that the Pilgrims Association enables those responsible for the care and welcome of pilgrims, tourists and visitors to exchange ideas and solutions to common problems. I welcome his intervention.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission was asked—

Voter Registration

27. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of voter registration, broken down by housing tenure. (124557)

The Electoral Commission informs me that its report, “Understanding electoral registration”, published in 2005, found that people living in rented or rent-free accommodation were on average up to five times more likely not to be registered than owner-occupiers.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Is it not therefore somewhat surprising that the registration of voters in rented accommodation does not appear in the recommended indicators put forward by the Electoral Commission? Would it be a good idea to look at that again to see whether those indicators might be amended to provide information on the registration of people in those circumstances?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue. The figure that I gave conceals a number of discrepancies. For instance, 27 per cent. of those living in accommodation rented from private landlords or letting agencies are unregistered and 11 per cent. of those renting from a housing association are likely to be unregistered. The commission’s research identified several reasons for under-registration. Some people are unintentionally unregistered, while others are deliberately unregistered. He makes a useful proposal, and I am sure that the Electoral Commission will wish to consider it.