Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 459: debated on Monday 16 April 2007

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sport England

Sport England now holds a clear position in the sporting landscape with a primary focus on sustaining and increasing participation in community sport. It does this through promoting, investing and advising on sporting pathways, including sporting facilities. The new chair and chief executive are continuing the reforms to ensure that Sport England becomes a world class delivery agency, including delivering—as the hon. Gentleman will probably agree—the great performance yesterday in Bahrain in which young Lewis Hamilton set a record of three podium appearances in his first three races. I sent him a letter today wishing him well for the rest of the season.

I am grateful for that reply and I am sure that the whole House would wish to send our good wishes to Mr. Hamilton. Despite the lengthy reform review of Sport England, it has just suffered a £56 million cut, which the chairman, Mr. Mapp—the Minister’s lifelong friend—said was a cut too far and a true loss to community sport. He also seriously questioned the legacy from the 2012 Olympics. Does the Minister disagree with his lifelong friend?

The answer is simply yes. Sometimes friends fall out, and we fell out on this occasion. I remind the hon. Gentleman that under this Administration in the past five years, investment in community sport has increased by 40 per cent., and Government and lottery investment in sport and physical activity has been £4 billion since 1997. The new National Sports Foundation has attracted some £21 million investment, which is way beyond what is being done through Building Schools for the Future or the investment that local authorities are making in sport. Community sport has never had greater investment than at present, even with the small reduction in lottery funding as a result of the Olympics.

Can my right hon. Friend assure me that his tiff with Derek Mapp of Sport England will in no way affect the application that I made many years ago for a swimming baths at Bolsover? I hope that my right hon. Friend can tell me that everything is going well and that we are close to the date of an announcement. Perhaps he and I will be able to go for a swim together, and Derek Mapp might be able to come along too.

The cheque is in the post—on one condition, which is that my hon. Friend starts coaching an Olympic champion for 2012 from north-east Derbyshire or Chesterfield. I have no doubt that the new facility, which will—I am sure—now be realised, will start to provide benefits not only to the community, but to the elite swimmers in the area.

Does the Minister agree that Sport England suffers from two considerable structural handicaps? The first is that the amount of lottery money it gets has declined dramatically from the 25 per cent. envisaged by the Major Government to some 13 or 14 per cent. today, after the Olympic raid. The second is that it tries to deliver sport on a regional basis, whereas the Central Council of Physical Recreation says that sport in this country should work on a national and a county basis. Is it not time to follow the example of the Australians, who have had dramatic success in that area by delivering increases in mass participation through the sport governing bodies, based on schemes delivered in the communities?

It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman gives only half the story. When I spoke to the Federal Sports Minister in Australia a few months ago, he was very envious of what we have been able to do in our schools in terms of participation. In 2001, some 2 million kids were doing two hours of quality physical activity or sport a week. Today, there are 5 million. That is 6 million hours every week done by our children in our schools, and that is linked to the two extra-curricular hours.

What the hon. Gentleman does not say about lottery money is the contribution that has been made by the new opportunities fund of £0.75 billion which has facilitated more than 2,000 refurbished or newly built sports facilities up and down the country. The hon. Gentleman should give the whole picture, not part of it.

As my right hon. Friend is being very generous today, can he ensure that there will be a cheque for Chorley, which is looking forward to a much needed sporting village? What help and support can my right hon. Friend provide through his Department and Sport England to ensure that Chorley can be proud of quality facilities for the future of sport?

My hon. Friend does not have quite the charisma of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—when he has had a little more time in the House he may be able to persuade as much as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. Jesting apart, the community sports hubs are one of Sport England’s developments in bringing in private sector investment in sport that we have never had before. Indeed, over the next period, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and beyond, under the leadership of Derek Mapp at Sport England, we will see a significant increase in investment through the private sector in good quality sports facilities up and down the land.

Coastal Town Tourism

3. What recent representations she has received on tourism in coastal towns; and if she will make a statement. (131506)

I regularly have meetings with representatives of the tourism industry, which includes the British Resorts and Destinations Association and the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions.

As Southend residents are already suffering because 20,000 people were left off the national census and a Select Committee report suggests that the Government have absolutely no strategy for assisting coastal resorts, will the Minister tell the House whether the Select Committee was right or wrong, and what further assistance the Government are prepared to give Southend residents?

First, my Department clearly has responsibility only for tourism in relation to coastal towns. However, I acknowledge the work of the Select Committee, and we welcome the report’s recommendations and are considering them. The hon. Gentleman might like to consider having a word with his unitary authority, which I believe is Conservative-run, as year in, year out, it has spent less on tourism: in 2002, it spent £835,000 but at the last recorded account it had cut that to £554,000.

Apart from the Government’s proposals for casinos, which will obviously increase costs in local communities, with increased crime and increased gambling addiction, what other plans do they have for the regeneration of coastal resorts?

Does the Minister agree that one of the problems—and one of the reasons why people choose to take their holidays abroad rather than in our excellent coastal resorts—is that often our hotels and bed and breakfasts are expensive? Does he share my concern about the practice in a lot of bed and breakfasts of charging on a per person basis, rather than hotels, where the charge is on a per room basis, which often means that people end up paying more for their holiday than they expected?

It is always interesting to hear Opposition Members making an argument against a free market. None the less, tourism this year will be worth about £86 billion to the economy. The numbers of visitors coming to England and travelling within England are at record levels; and in relation to the original question, I would point out to the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) that in 1998 tourism in Southend was worth £135 million, but in the most recent figures, for 2004-05, the figure went up to £217 million.

2012 Olympics (Lottery Costs)

4. What assessment her Department has made of the likely effect of the cost increases for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games on lottery good causes funding for grassroots sport. (131507)

I obviously gave careful and close consideration to the impact on community sports clubs and facilities, and would like to set out clearly the assurances I have given them. First, there need be no impact on current lottery-funded projects, so secondly, no current lottery-funded community sport project need lose its funding. Thirdly, I remind the House of the commitment I have entered into with the Mayor of London: after the games when the land is sold there will be a profit-sharing agreement which will mean that the first call, after the London Development Agency has been repaid, will be that the lottery, too, will be repaid. Those are the commitments. I understand the concern in community projects, but my message to them is that we have addressed those concerns.

I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. Obviously, we all want the Olympics to leave a positive legacy for sport in our communities, but Sport Scotland has reported that the recent spiralling costs of the Olympics will lead to a further £7.3 million cut in funding for grassroots sport in Scotland. How can the Secretary of State talk about real benefits from the Olympics for grassroots sport when owing to her budgeting incompetence grassroots sport will face real cuts?

Presumably the hon. Lady subscribes to the manifesto on which she and her colleagues are standing in the Scottish election and which bears directly on the question; it welcomes the opportunity of the Olympics to boost participation through investment in community sports. That is precisely what the Government are ensuring.

In 1908, we introduced gold medals for culture in the Olympics. Can my right hon. Friend reassure us that there will be no cuts in the cultural part of the Olympics and that over the next four years we shall still be able to innovate?

The answer is definitely yes. My hon. Friend frequently comes up with imaginative and innovative ideas, and I hope that he will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and I continue to have the benefit of his thoughts on this issue. It is important to view the Olympics not just as a great opportunity for sport, but as a great national and international opportunity for arts and culture. The cultural Olympiad begins next year, when Liverpool is the capital of culture and we become the host city after the Beijing games—it is a great opportunity for the whole country.

The Secretary of State has assured us that there will be no cut in current plans for lottery expenditure as a result of the Olympics, but can she give me her assurance that there will be no cuts in promised lottery funds, which might withdraw the funding for really important community projects, including the Stonehenge visitor centre?

I cannot give the same sort of categorical commitment because the whole purpose in establishing agreement on lottery funding as we did was to ensure that present commitments were met. What will be affected—but not until 2009—are prospective commitments and future plans. However, because of the safeguards that I outlined to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), those matters will be revisited once the lottery is repaid in 2013. It would not be convincing for me to give a categorical and blanket assurance, but I would expect that the vast majority of commitments currently entered into by the lottery will be seen through, regardless of the take in 2009 that will affect future commitments and future plans.

Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to those unsung heroes in sport—namely, local volunteers such as my constituent, Martin Devlin, whose boxing gym is bursting at the seams? Would it not be ironic if the greatest sporting spectacle that this country will ever have seen—the Olympics—were to deprive that boxing gym of its much needed extension? Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the matter further?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, for two reasons. First, I hope to hear more about the community boxing club in his constituency, which is obviously providing an invaluable service; and, secondly, in order to underline the important potential for boxing as a sport—a particularly underestimated community sport—for young men. More broadly, I would like to provide reassurance that the lottery contribution to the Olympic special cause is not bought at the price of excellent community projects such as the one that my hon. Friend mentions.

Essential local services in my constituency, such as NeighbourCare and Speakeasy Advocacy, provide important and fundamental services to the elderly and people with learning difficulties, but they are already finding it difficult to secure lottery funding. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me and the people of Basingstoke that that situation will not get worse if there are further miscalculations about how much the Olympics will cost us?

There have been no miscalculations about how much the Olympics are going to cost. The budget has been set and it will be kept to. I would say to the hon. Lady that it is completely unrealistic to ask for the sort of categorical assurance that every single lottery application will be met. It depends on whether it meets the criteria for the lottery distributors and so forth. What the Government have done is to assemble an Olympic budget that will stand the test of time and deliver a legacy for this country. What we have not yet heard is what the Opposition’s alternative might be.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says about lottery-funded schemes, but will she comment on the suggestion that Sport England is to divert £26 million from the sort of schemes mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) into the Olympics? Can she give us the same sort of reassurance on that front?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the same sort of reassurance. I do not recognise the figure that he mentioned, but as ever, I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend or help him to meet the chairman of Sport England in order to put his mind at rest about that.

Between now and 2012, the total cut in the lottery funding budget for grass-roots sports amounts to nearly £500 million. How does the Secretary of State square that with seeking to persuade the House that there will not be a reduction in participation for grass-roots sports? The Minister for Sport may say that Mr. Derek Mapp, who has been much quoted already, is wrong to suggest that the cut to Sport England is a cut too far. Is the Secretary of State therefore surprised that Sport England is now reducing its target for people participating in sport by nearly 200,000?

I simply do not recognise the claim of a cut of £500 million. That is the kind of financial probity that we have come to expect from the Liberal Democrats, which is why I am afraid that—[Interruption.]

Although I welcome my right hon. Friend’s assurances so far about current budgets, I received over the Easter recess several lobbies from grass-roots sports clubs, so the message is not getting through—something encouraged in some cases by what one might call mischievous local election candidates. Will she consider giving a written assurance or a co-ordinating body an assurance, so that local organisations will get the message properly?

My hon. Friend has done an enormous amount for her constituents in trying to get the message out clearly and to win community sports facilities, both through the lottery and other sources, for her constituents. Yes, I will certainly take any suggestions that she thinks might be helpful to overcome some Opposition Members’ misrepresentations.

In her statement to the House last month on the revised 2012 budget, the Secretary of State gave the broad headings for the new figures, but since then has failed to supply a more exact and detailed breakdown of costs. When will she provide an open, honest and transparent budget as a matter of urgency?

The Olympic Delivery Authority will publish its budget, which will be set out in full. At every turn, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have been open and transparent in ensuring that the Opposition have access to the figures and, as importantly, that Londoners and people who will be affected also have access to them.

That will come as some news to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), who is still waiting to hear from the right hon. Lady about this precise matter.

We have seen speculation in the media in recent weeks and in off-the-record briefings that the Chancellor is set to remove responsibility for the Olympics from the Secretary of State’s Department. If that were to happen, what does she think it would say about her handling of the games? Would she not take that as a personal failure and a humiliation for her Department?

One of the jobs of government is to deal with issues, problems and challenges as they arise, rather than being diverted by some of the rather fanciful speculation in the papers.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to ignore the whinging by Opposition parties, which were quick enough to jump on to the bandwagon for the Olympic games and now want to criticise? But may I go back to something that she said in her original answer about the knock-on effect of moneys going to other areas? In Scotland, we would very much like to see some of that money, particularly in Glasgow for our bid for the Commonwealth games in 2014.

As my hon. Friend knows, we expect to make a formidable and very important bid, and we will do precisely the same if it is one for Glasgow as we did for the Commonwealth games for Manchester. Of course, as I have said many times from the Dispatch Box, it is absolutely vital that we ensure that the whole country has the opportunity to benefit, as the people of the country have given such strong support for the Olympics.

Licensing Act

5. How many representations she has received on the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on fundraising events for charities. (131508)

We have received a wide range of representations from community groups and not-for-profit organisations about the costs and processes involved in licensing events under the Licensing Act 2003 and we will continue our dialogue with those organisations to evaluate the effect of the Act.

My constituent Mr. John Sutton, who is chairman of the county fair committee of the rotary club of Kettering Huxloe, has written to me to express his understandable concerns about the cost—and the financial and other regulatory burdens on exclusively charitable events—of the new premises and entertainment licences. What firm plans does the Minister have to bring forward legislation to exempt charities from the new burdens that he has imposed?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are currently considering some of the proposals in Sir Les Elton’s report and will subsequently put those out for public consultation. The purpose of the 2003 Act was to introduce a streamlined system. It included charitable events for one simple reason: we had to make a proper assessment, regardless of whether the event was for charity, to make sure that appropriate conditions were attached to licences, to protect to the public. His constituent, Mr. John Sutton, acknowledged the fact that a charge would have to be paid. That does not mean that Daventry council could not make a contribution to that. As Mr. Sutton said,

“We will simply make the fair bigger and better than ever”.

In looking at the impact of legislation on charities, will the Minister also consider, in relation to charitable events that use microphones, the impact of the review of how the spectrum is going to be dealt with? As I understand it, there has been a further section of Ofcom’s review. Will he make sure that charitable fundraising events can continue without limitations on their use of the spectrum?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I reassure her and other hon. Members that we are in dialogue with Ofcom about this matter and that we are in constant contact with organisations that will be affected to ensure that in the future the spectrum is allocated effectively, not adversely—which is what she is concerned about.

The Minister may be aware that my constituency is rural and semi-rural. There are 32 villages. Most have their own halls. Most of those are charities. None has a record of disorderly behaviour at any of its functions. The halls are run for charity and they—particularly the little halls—have been severely hit by the legislation. In his review, will he consider taking some of this heavy-handed legislation off those little village halls, perhaps starting with a de minimis level below which the legislation need not apply?

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I wish to point out that 91 per cent. of village halls have a premises licence, which allows all kinds of regulated entertainment to take place. The purpose of the new legislation was to introduce a light-touch regime, bearing in mind that previously an appearance before a magistrate was required or there was a need to apply for different temporary provisions when offering a combination of entertainment. None the less, his point is well made and we are considering proposals for the future.

Film Industry

6. When she last met representatives of the British film industry to discuss public support for the sector. (131510)

I frequently meet representatives of the film industry and regularly consult a wide-range of representatives. Most recently, at the end of March, I consulted the International Indian Film Academy in relation to the promotion of Yorkshire’s successful bid—I add my congratulations in relation to that—to host this year’s Indian academy awards.

Although there have been some notable successes—in particular the film “The Queen”, which was recognised in the Oscars this year; we recognise that that was funded in large part by organisations such as ITV—the film industry operates internationally in a highly competitive environment. What are the Minister and his Department doing to ensure that British films will continue to be made in this country, not overseas, where it is frequently cheaper to make them?

I wonder whether the hon. Lady has had a chance to look at the figures for the film industry recently. She would see that—if we simply take last year alone—between 2005-06 and last year, the spend on film production in the UK was up by 50 per cent., and that inward investment last year in the film industry by companies that want to come to Britain to make their films was up by 83 per cent.

An important, but often forgotten, part of the film industry are the regional film archives. I went to visit the Yorkshire Film Archive over Easter. Will the Minister tell us what support is being given to film archives, and will he consider visiting the Yorkshire Film Archive to see the important work that it does?

Of course the film archive in the UK is an absolutely essential part of the UK film industry. In fact, we have the largest archive of moving film image in the world. This year, the UK Film Council will make £472,000 available to Screen Yorkshire for its work, and I understand that £45,000 of that will be given to the Yorkshire Film Archive.

The Minister paints a rosy picture of the state of the British film industry, but he knows full well that that success comes despite, not because of, the Government. After the frequent changes to film tax relief, not to mention the fiasco of the British film test, one director was moved to complain that the Government change the rules “frequently and arbitrarily”. Now, the abolition of sideways loss relief has led a leading film investor—

Will the Minister make representations to the Treasury about the abolition of sideways loss relief, which a leading film investor has said will put the British film industry seriously at risk?

It is a real shame that every time the hon. Gentleman speaks at the Dispatch Box, he talks down the successes of the film industry, which is one of the great successes of our creative industries. It is estimated that the film tax relief scheme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will cost the Treasury £120 million a year to ensure that we have a sustainable film industry. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should stop talking down the industry and recognise its terrific successes.

Digital Dividend Review

Ofcom plans to release a statement on the consultation on the digital dividend review this summer. Before then, I will have full discussions with Ofcom about the findings of the consultation.

The Secretary of State will know of widespread concerns about the possibly unintended consequences of the DDR on the programme making and special events sector, which are highlighted by early-day motion 531, which has been signed by many hon. Members, including me. Will she reassure the House that Ofcom will guarantee that sufficient quality and quantity of spectrum will be available to prevent serious damage to this wide-ranging, £15 billion UK industry, which covers, inter alia, performing arts, news gathering and many major sporting occasions?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I know that the matter is of great concern to him—he has taken a leading role—and to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are two elements: the impact on what are essentially amateur events, such as community festivals; and the possible impact on professional theatre and other forms of entertainment. Ofcom has recognised the specific concern about the perceived—I believe that it is unfounded—threat to professional entertainment. It will carry out a separate consultation specifically on that to ensure that any unintended consequences are avoided.

The Government are determined to avoid the risks that early-day motions and other interventions have outlined. Obviously, Ofcom’s responsibility is to consider the market price that can be raised for spectrum. However, it was specifically put in the legislation that Ofcom would have to take account of the citizenship impact of any such decision. This is a good example of citizenship in practice.

Order. Perhaps the Secretary of State could use the microphone. It is not necessary to address individual hon. Members; perhaps addressing the Chair is the best way to do things.

I was fascinated by the Secretary of State’s reply. I assure her that the threats from the original proposals set out by Ofcom in its consultation document were not widely perceived, but very well founded. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), for agreeing to meet a delegation of users—including those involved in the theatre industry, the film industry, the music industry, news gathering, sports, and special events such as Live Earth—to discuss in detail the consequences for the sector. Does the Secretary of State realise that if the original proposals are not amended, the effective loss of radio microphones will have a devastating impact?

We absolutely recognise that. It is why we shall not allow the review to have an impact on the sort of community events that I described, or on the professional theatre and other professional entertainment.

Is my right hon. Friend concerned about one aspect of the digital dividend review? Freeview is now the most popular digital television platform and millions of people are being sold HD-ready television sets, but there is a real prospect that, unless something is done, most British viewers will not be able to watch the 2012 Olympics on high-definition television, whereas most viewers in the rest of the developed world will be able to do so.

That is precisely why the review is so important and timely. My hon. Friend will know that 70 per cent. of the potentially available spectrum has been allocated to freeview to enable the roll-out of digital television. The further availability of spectrum for high-definition television is a matter for discussion with the public service broadcasters, but technology and consumer expectations are moving fast and we have to make sure that we keep up with them.

Footballers’ Behaviour

8. If she will convene a meeting of football club chairmen to discuss the on-pitch behaviour of footballers and the example set for young sports participants. (131512)

First, I thank my hon. Friend for again raising this important matter, which we debated in Westminster Hall only a few months ago.

We can rightly be proud of professional football in this country. The premiership is now undoubtedly the best and most competitive football league in the world. That was underlined last week when Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool qualified for the champions league semi-finals. However, football players, who are idols and role models to millions of young boys and girls must understand the responsibility of the privileged position they hold. I have written to the chairmen of the professional clubs a couple of times now to make sure that they remind their players—and, indeed, their managers—of the fact that they have all signed up to the fair play charter, and of their responsibilities as role models in our society.

The Minister will know that the values that sport promotes—leadership, teamwork and fair play—are nowhere more important than in under- educated and poor constituencies, where there is often no male role model in the house and where parents and teachers struggle to communicate those values to children. Does he accept that the impact of the antics—cheating, cynical fouling and a lack of sportsmanship—that we see sometimes from a minority of professional footballers, who are role models for those youngsters, runs exactly counter to the efforts that parents and teachers are making? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that professional footballers, managers and chairs live up to their social as well as their sporting responsibilities?

I fully agree. We should remember that there are 40,000 amateur football clubs in this country—football is by far the most widely played sport. We should emphasise respect for referees from players on the local parks right up to the national stadiums. Many of us are fed up with the growing sport of referee bashing played by some managers, who spend most of the post-match interview defending the indefensible actions of their players. Managers should set a better example by accepting their team’s responsibility rather than berating referees, who do a pretty tough job, by and large, in a very fair way. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend.

To continue the theme of the Minister in acknowledging that the on-pitch behaviour of some players is the responsibility of managers, does he agree that boards of directors and the parasitic behaviour of some agents and others in the game are also involved? Obviously, I exclude Colchester United from those observations. Does he agree that, notwithstanding the elite performance of some premiership clubs, the state of football in this country all the way down to the grass roots is such that it is time we set up a royal commission on the national sport?

I do not think that we need a royal commission; we just need some common sense in the game. In rugby union, rugby league and cricket, do we get the professional players or the managers arguing about the officials in those sports? No, we do not. I thought that it was time to write to the chairmen—the chairpersons, I should say, because I think that there was one lady among them. [Interruption.] If they were all chairmen, I would call them chairmen. On the very point raised by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), I raised with the managers the issue of bringing back that type of discipline. Without mentioning one or two clubs in the premier league, there are some—

A recent report told us that schoolgirls as young as nine or 10 have given up all playground activity, including football and other games. We are not sure whether that is because of role models and the behaviour that has been mentioned by hon. Members, but the lack of physical activity undertaken by girls of that age should concern us all. Will my right hon. Friend take up the lack of activity at school among girls as young as nine and 10, and see what can be done to increase their activity in games at school?

Very much so. More competitive sport is being played in school than has been played for many years, and football has a role in that. After “Bend It Like Beckham”, in excess of 1 million young girls and women have registered with the Football Association, and football is the fastest growing participation sport for young women, so in that respect it has done a first-class job. I repeat that there is more competitive sport in schools than there has been for many years.

Urban Regeneration

The role of culture in regeneration has recently been strengthened by a joint agreement signed by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and a number of non-departmental public bodies.

During the Easter recess I visited Dot To Dot, a community arts project in my constituency. It has a good record of involving the community in its projects. A lot of its work is done with mosaics; it gets people from the community to put the tiles together, and it has found that when the mosaics are put up, there is a significant reduction in vandalism and graffiti. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when there is community ownership of that kind, we get the best out of cultural projects in urban regeneration?

My hon. Friend’s constituency has some real deprivation and culture is making a positive contribution, particularly at the Making Space centre in Leigh Park in Havant. We have moved forward from the days when culture was not on the table when planning and housing developments were under way. I look forward to visiting her constituency over the coming months to see what is happening there.

We are blessed in Crewe with a live theatre housed in an Edwardian gem. Does the Minister agree that what we really need is a little flair in connecting the theatres and the arts movement in the north-west, so that we can get some of the benefits of having so many bright people in the region, and can use them outside the large urban areas?

My hon. Friend will know that there has been an increase in funding to the arts of 73 per cent., and the lion’s share of that funding from the Arts Council has gone on theatre. I am happy to look into the theatre infrastructure in her area and into the wider arts community to see what more can be done with the Arts Council.

BBC World

I cannot say that I am surprised by that response, but will the Minister explain what the logic is of the BBC World Service radio programmes—I understand that there is now some television, too—being funded through a Foreign and Commonwealth Office grant? I recognise the great value of the BBC World Service to this country, but BBC World, which after all uses the growing medium of television rather than radio, is not funded in that manner. Is that not an anachronism that ought to be sorted out?

The hon. Gentleman makes what may seem to be an interesting point, but I think that he may be a little dispossessed of the facts. Of course we admire the work done by BBC World, as well as the work done by the World Service. The World Service receives £252 million through grant in aid from the Foreign Office, but BBC World is a separate operation. Unlike the World Service, it is a commercial operation funded by subscription and advertising revenues. As such, BBC World contributes to relieving financial burdens on the licence fee payer for the BBC overall.

Remote Gambling Summit

During the summit there was widespread agreement to co-operate further in a number of key areas to ensure that gambling remains fair and crime-free and that vulnerable people are protected. On 29 January, we published the summit communiqué. We are now inviting views on the scope and membership of an international working group to consider standards in these key areas, and my Department is in discussion with the industry, regulators and experts in other key sectors, including finance.

The simple truth is that online gambling is just about impossible to police, so does the Minister agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s proposals to increase taxation on gambling in this country will drive more of the industry abroad and make it even harder for the Minister to regulate, which he and I both want.

Irrespective of the taxation issue, that international conference was attended by representatives from 35 jurisdictions, because of the very issues raised by the right hon. Member. It is true that it is not an easy issue, but at the conference, for which we called because of the problems of internet gambling, we agreed that we should have a framework of international regulation and governance that begins to address the three principles that I outlined. Irrespective of where the operation is, and in whatever country, it is important that people sign up to that charter, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Political Engagement

18. What assessment he has made of recent work undertaken by the Electoral Commission on political engagement; and if he will make a statement. (131439)

The Electoral Commission and the Hansard Society have recently published the results of their fourth joint audit on political engagement. However, the hon. Lady will know that the Speaker’s Committee has no role or duty to make a specific assessment of that or of other recent work undertaken by the Electoral Commission on political engagement.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply but, like me, he will have noted that that report showed that 70 per cent. of people were willing to sign a petition and that 55 per cent., which is about the same as the number of people who voted in the last election, had done so. Does he therefore think that the way in which the House deals with petitions from members of the public can be improved, and will he discuss with the House authorities how we can use petitions from our constituents more effectively?

The Speaker’s Committee has no specific role in examining those matters, but the hon. Lady makes a very important point. The growth in early-day motions in the House has led to an awareness that there are many ways in which people seek to draw issues to public attention, and petitions are one way in which they do so. She makes a valuable point which, I am sure, will be considered.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a need to engage younger people in the process, and should not greater support be given to the UK Youth Parliament, and excellent youth MPs such as Luke Springthorpe in my constituency, who do a great deal to engage young people? Perhaps we should even provide votes for them at 17 rather than at 18.

Yes; the commission informs me that it has enjoyed significant success in increasing young people’s interest in politics through activities such as advertising campaigns, educational resources, workshops and a grant programme. An independent survey of 18 to 24-year-olds found that 52 per cent. of them had seen the commission’s 2006 local elections campaigns, and 24 per cent. claimed to have voted because of them.

Will my hon. Friend give encouragement, through the Speaker’s Commission, to the Electoral Commission, to continue to encourage voters and potential voters to register to vote where they are, which will help young people and others to take part in elections, whether local or national.

Yes, the recent study of the Electoral Commission by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the Electoral Commission’s response, indicated that the Electoral Commission does indeed intend to devote more resources to electoral registration and the mechanics of voting.

Church Commissioners

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


19. What assessment the commissioners have made of the effect of single stream funding on the operations of English cathedrals; and if he will make a statement. (131440)

The rationale behind the proposal is that funds might be more accurately matched to local priorities if some of the financial decision making were localised. By way of a statement, some dioceses and cathedrals have asked to test the proposal, which is one of a number under consideration as we contemplate the best use of the commissioners’ funds from 2008 to 2010.

The hon. Gentleman may know that a number of cathedrals feel very uncomfortable about that arrangement. Does he agree that diverting funds away from cathedrals to dioceses will weaken cathedrals’ ability to attract people of faith and of no faith at all? Does he agree that a centrally based body, rather than a diocesan-based body, is better positioned to give a strategic view on how funding should apply to cathedrals?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s point will be taken into account in the consultation process. We are consulting the Association of English Cathedrals, the House of Bishops, the Archbishops Council and diocesan representatives about our spending plans, and we will consider very carefully the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

Will my hon. Friend say whether he thinks that consultation should take place directly with cathedrals, such as St. Martin’s in Leicester? I agree with the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) that there is a deal of unease that the proposals might weaken the way in which that cathedral has developed its community role in such a magnificent fashion in the past two decades.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the cathedral to which he has referred. We will write to the cathedral directly and ask for its views. The single stream idea will not be imposed on anybody, but some dioceses have indicated that they might like to have a trial run. I welcome that, because we need to be creative if the Church is to enjoy maximum value from our distributions, as I am sure that he and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) agree.

The English cathedrals have had a double whammy from this Government. First, single streaming will have a damaging impact. Secondly, have the Church Commissioners assessed the impact of the reduction in the basic rate of tax on tax-giving in cathedrals? An unintended consequence of lowering the basic rate of tax has been a substantial loss.

The hon. Gentleman’s question is broad and wide. With your dispensation, Mr. Speaker, I will take up that point with the commissioners and give him a proper answer, which may also end up in the Library.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the great glories of our English cathedrals is the quality of the music that they produce, which is at risk because of the proposals that are being considered?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to music. One of the great features of my visits to Lichfield cathedral is listening to the music, and many cathedrals are renowned for their music. We often discuss the importance of our outstanding cathedrals and their ministry to the whole nation. This House pays tribute to the cathedrals, to their music and to all that goes on within their precincts.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Electoral Spending

20. What progress the commission has made in its consideration of whether further regulation is required to differentiate more clearly expenditure spent on behalf of an individual candidate in a constituency and national expenditure spent on behalf of that candidate’s party in that constituency. (131441)

The commission has informed me that it intends to consult the political parties following the 2007 May elections to consider, among other issues, whether there is a need for further regulation on the treatment of party and candidate expenditure.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that election literature that names a constituency, that comments on issues in a constituency and that urges people to vote for one party and not for another should no longer be kept off candidates’ expenses, even though the candidates are not named?

The hon. Gentleman’s point does not precisely follow his question, in my opinion, but he has made his point. On the broader issue of funding, the Electoral Commission made its own recommendations in its study in 2004. The situation has moved on since then with the publication of Sir Hayden Phillips’s report. The matter is now in the hands of the parties to discuss that report and to find a way forward.

Church Commissioners

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

Clergy Working Group

21. What recent discussions the Church Commissioners have held with the Department of Trade and Industry on the work of the clergy working group. (131442)

The clergy working group, on which the Church of England was represented, produced a statement of good practice setting out minimum standards for the terms and conditions of service for ministers of religion. The Church of England has committed itself to those principles and the General Synod has drafted legislation that has been sent to DTI officials, with whom we regularly communicate.

Even accepting that the wheels of the Church grind slowly, does my hon. Friend agree that, given that we have been talking about this for some 10 years, it needs to move more quickly than it has? In so far as he can, will he encourage, through the clergy working group, other churches with similar problems to move equally quickly?

With regard to my hon. Friend’s latter point, I certainly agree to do that. He has campaigned consistently on this and is understandably impatient about the synodical timetable. I can assure him that the Church has made excellent progress with these complex matters, and with his support, and that of the House, we will ensure that they reach legislation as quickly as possible. I have to tell him, however, that within the Church “quickly as possible” means “not before 2009.”

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Electoral Administration

22. What plans the Electoral Commission has to exercise the powers given to it under the Electoral Administration Act 2006 to set and monitor performance standards in electoral services. (131443)

The Electoral Commission informs me that it is developing performance standards for electoral services. It is intended that the standards for electoral registration will be set in early 2008 and that the standards for elections will be in place for 2009.

I am grateful for that answer, but how can we ensure that during the current elections, pending the new performance standards, no electoral returning officer will make perverse decisions that are possibly against the law?

The commission informs me that it has no powers to compel performance improvement. Its powers are restricted to setting the standards and requesting information in order to measure performance against the standards. To put that in context, the Audit Commission has no powers to enforce particular regulations on local authorities; it does it by example. The Electoral Commission feels that it has sufficient authority to raise standards among electoral registration officers.

Constituency Boundaries

23. If his Committee will discuss with the Electoral Commission the effect of disparity in sizes of electorate on the constituency boundaries. (131444)

The Speaker’s Committee has no plans to do so. Responsibility for review of parliamentary constituency boundaries rests with the four parliamentary boundary commissioners, not the Electoral Commission.

Will the hon. Gentleman discuss with his colleagues on the Speaker’s Committee and the Electoral Commission the proposal that is on the agenda to bring under one umbrella somewhere the review of all the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies for Westminster in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, in order to ensure that whatever way people vote and whatever constituency they are in, the same criteria apply across the country, and above all that votes are worth the same because the constituency quota is the same whether in Scotland, Wales, England or Northern Ireland?

The Electoral Commission has no direct role in relation to parliamentary constituency boundaries. As to how the review might be carried forward, the last review was carried through by Parliament itself. The Electoral Commission has no opinion as to whether it should be responsible for the review. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Committee on Standards in Public Life also expressed a view on this issue.

Church Commissioners

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

Parish Interregnums

It is a shame that the figure is not available, because we should know how many interregnums last for a substantial period during which many churchwardens and ordinary clergy are happy to take up the slack in parishes around the country. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the many clergy and churchwardens who are not only doing a fabulous job in their own parish but covering for others when there are prolonged periods without clergy in other parishes nearby?

Of course, we pay respect and homage to all those within the Church who do their job and do their duty, certainly as regards the case that my hon. Friend mentions. I would point out to him that churches often find that a period of interregnum results in the congregation becoming more vibrant as greater numbers of parishioners participate. However, his point is well taken.

Equality Act Regulations

25. What recent discussions the commissioners have had on the likely effect of the implementation of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 on parish ministries in areas of need. (131446)

The Archbishops Council has been giving careful consideration to the effect of the regulations and will be producing general advice. [Interruption.]

Order. It is unfair to the hon. Gentleman for hon. Members to make so much noise. I ask them to be quiet. There are only a few minutes to go.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s reply, but does he agree that it would have been better if there had been more discussion about those regulations and Members of this House had been allowed to speak on them before the decision was made?

That is of course a matter for the House authorities, not for me. I would, however, say that the regulations contain a set of exceptions for religious organisations, broadly equivalent to those in the Equality Act 2006, and it is for individual parishes to decide whether to take advantage of those exceptions.