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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Renaissance in the Regions

Renaissance in the regions is transforming England’s regional museums. More than 13 million visits were made to renaissance hub museums last year, of which 3.7 million visits were made by children.

May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to his new post, and add that I am sad that my good friend the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is not on the Conservative Front Bench? Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the north east regional museums hub, which with Government support has generated record numbers of school visits to museums throughout the north-east, including Beamish open air museum in my constituency, which received 43,000 school visits last year? Will he take time out of his busy schedule to visit Beamish museum and the north-east museums hub to thank them for the tremendous work they are doing on behalf of the museum service in the north-east?

I would be delighted to visit Beamish with my hon. Friend and to see the work being done in the north-east. The £1.4 million that has been invested has enabled us to treble the number of visits by children, and Beamish is only one of the many world-class cultural attractions in the north-east. Thanks to the money that has been invested over the past 10 years, culture in Britain is truly world class, and my goal is to make sure that it stays that way.

May I welcome the Secretary of State to his post and say how much I am looking forward to him and his Ministers visiting Stonehenge? One element of the renaissance in the regions programme is to do with archives of museum and archaeological material. Will he look into the problem in the English Heritage and Department for Culture, Media and Sport project for archives in the regions, which has ground to a halt causing a crisis in access to archaeological and museum archives?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter in previous questions. Funding for local archaeological services is primarily the responsibility of local authorities, but we are looking into the matter and I would be happy to meet him to discuss any specific concerns he might have.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post. I am sure that he is as enthusiastic about access for his constituents to museums and libraries in Manchester and the north-west as I am about such access for mine. However, is he aware that the renaissance in the regions programme is successful not only because so many young people are visiting our museums and libraries but because many of them come from non-traditional museum and library-visiting homes? Can we ensure that money is in place in the future to enable the programme to continue?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are still in discussions on our spending review settlements and it would be brave to make a commitment before that is decided. However, I can say that I share his strong support for renaissance in the regions. It is not a one-off project; we intend it to be ongoing. It builds on our other great successes in museums policy, such as our free charging policy which is being imitated by the right-wing Government in France—although, it appears, not by the British Opposition Front-Bench team—and is being followed with interest around the world.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, although I should add that I am also sad that the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) has departed from the post. He is a young man of great promise, and I am sure that he will do well. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of recent Culture, Media and Sport Committee warnings about rumoured cuts to renaissance in the regions funding. Will he assure the House that he will heed those warnings, particularly as we learn today that per capita lottery arts funding in England has fallen to its lowest level ever—a full £1 less than four years ago, and four times lower than in Scotland and eight times lower than in Wales?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, overall lottery revenue has been declining, which explains the situation he describes. We intend renaissance in the regions to be an ongoing programme. It is a successful project and the Select Committee said that it provided the Treasury with an example of an ideal programme to be funded. I am sure that such comments will be taken on board, but we cannot make any announcements before the spending review.

Last Saturday morning I visited Bolton museum and art gallery, where I met one of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s constituents, Frances McIntosh, who pointed out that the portable antiquities scheme will run out of funding at some time in the future. Will my right hon. Friend consider the funding of that scheme, because I saw on Saturday morning—part of national archaeology week—that it does excellent work in engaging children in archaeology?

That picks up on the point that was being made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. I am committing myself to lots of meetings, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that.


2. If he will make a statement on the Government’s policy on the casinos proposed under the Gambling Act 2005. (151096)

I set out my next steps in the written statement that I gave on Monday 16 July. I have written to the 16 local authorities recommended to license a large or small casino to confirm their continued desire to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. In September 2004, the Government stated that their approach to casinos would secure protection of the vulnerable and ensure that new, regionally significant casino developments delivered optimum tourism and regeneration benefits. What has changed since that statement, and why was that new-found prudence not mentioned by the Prime Minister and other Ministers when they voted for up to 40 new regional casinos?

I am slightly confused, because I thought that the Liberal Democrats opposed that policy. Perhaps there is a split between the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Front-Bench spokesman on this issue. Our policy is clear: we have listened to the concerns expressed in the House and in the other place and, as the Prime Minister said, the right thing to do is to see whether there are better forms of regeneration than a regional casino. We will be looking at that over the summer and will report afterwards. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman to reconcile with his Front Benchers, with whom he obviously disagrees.

My right hon. Friend will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and I have both read his written statement very carefully. It is important to put it in the context of the Prime Minister’s remarks at Prime Minister’s questions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the super-casino has been such a major issue in my constituency has been the need for a major and significant economic regenerator that sustains instead of just building new infrastructure? Will he give me an assurance that the issue of a sustained economic regenerator will be central to his considerations this summer?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I gather that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has responsibility for sport and licensing will meet him later this week to discuss that point. Regeneration will be at the heart of those considerations. As my hon. Friend knows, the taskforce looking at his constituency and council area has already met and is due to report shortly. It has been looking at exactly that issue.

Can the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to why, only a week or so ago and from that Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister changed the Government’s policy on casinos at a stroke? Was not the Prime Minister present at Cabinet meetings that endorsed the 888 principle?

It is sensible to listen to what Parliament says. Concerns were expressed in this House and in the other place: we listened to those concerns. I know that the hon. Gentleman was a great supporter of the policy, so he must be very disappointed, but the policy that we have announced is right. We will listen to the concerns that are expressed.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. He has a personal interest in the arts and culture, although I fear that with him behind the roulette table, the country may learn that it is unwise to gamble everything on red.

Was the Cabinet consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino or was it taken from the comfort of a large, soft No. 10 sofa?

There was a proper process of consultation around Government. The Prime Minister and I took the decision together after discussions with colleagues in the Cabinet. It was exactly the right process for taking that decision.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Front Bench, as part of his meteoric rise. I also pay tribute to my predecessor. I am looking forward greatly to working with her in her new role and I could not have greater respect for her. I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, for whom I also have great respect. He made the one cardinal mistake in today’s Tory party of actually having a policy. I am sure that that is not a mistake that the hon. Gentleman will repeat.

I think that the answer is that the Cabinet was not consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino. Is not the confusion that many local authorities now feel about the policy partly caused by the fact that on the one hand we have No. 10 briefing that the Prime Minister is against casinos in principle, but on the other we have the Secretary of State’s statement on 16 July that his Department wishes to support local authorities who want to use casinos as a regeneration tool? What is his policy on casinos, or is it the case that the Government’s left one-armed bandit does not know what its right one-armed bandit is doing?

The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer, because I gave him an exact answer, which was that Cabinet colleagues were consulted, and the decision was taken in absolutely the proper way. However, the interesting question is, “What is his policy?”. I have been listening to him for the past few weeks and I have absolutely no idea. Does he agree with his shadow Chancellor, his leader and his predecessor, all of whom said that it was the right decision that the casino should to go to Manchester? Is his party in favour of regional casinos or not?


I am pleased to tell the House that VisitBritain and tourism industry leaders have reported only a negligible impact on tourism, with few booking cancellations.

The firm and effective response by the police and security services did much to reassure domestic and overseas visitors. Likewise, the fact that many high-profile televised events went ahead in London, such as the Diana tribute concert, the Gay Pride march and the Tour de France—in Scotland, there was also the T in the Park festival—did much to reassure visitors.

Portsmouth is the historic home of the Royal Navy and is held in great esteem and affection by many people from all over the world. We have many naval heritage and service heritage sites, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, both national and international. What advice would my right hon. Friend give those visitors in this time of heightened national security?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I would advise them to go to Portsmouth because, as she said, there is an enormous amount to see, including HMS Victory, the Mary Rose and Charles Dickens’s birthplace. Of course, to ensure their security we give constant advice on security levels. We in the DCMS work with the Home Office and others to ensure that we give proper advice to all those who provide tourist attractions.

May I welcome the Minister and the entire new Front-Bench team to their posts? However, the Minister will be aware that security incidents do affect tourism, and there was, for instance, a 7 per cent. drop in visa applications following the 7/7 bombings. In those circumstances does not tourism need more support, not less? Will she therefore explain why the Government have cut the funding to VisitBritain, with the loss of 80 jobs, downgraded the role of the chairman of VisitBritain and delayed yet again the publication of the tourism plan for 2012?

In fact, 2005, which was an extremely difficult year, saw a growth in tourism in London. It is really important for all hon. Members to realise that when there are terrorism threats and security threats, we should not overplay them at the expense of British industry in general and tourism in particular.

The funding for VistBritain is £50 million, which is much more than when we came into government. Across the public sector, about £300 million goes into supporting tourism, and, of course, the private sector plays a role.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the short delay in publishing the tourism strategy for the Olympics. It is absolutely appropriate, with a completely new team in the DCMS, that we feel that we own that document. I have already had discussions with the industry, which feels perfectly at ease with the fact that the document will be published in September.

Will the right hon. Lady make sure that her Department gets across the message that London is open for business—particularly the west end of London, although the same applies to suburban London, as I am sure that she would make clear? Our theatres, museums, and galleries, as well as a vast array of retail outlets, are very much open for business and very much need tourism, both international and from within the UK.

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, London is the No. 1 international destination for tourists, and we need to maintain that and ensure that it is sustained in the future. However, we also want to ensure that visitors to London take advantage of the many other tourist attractions right across the UK, so that the benefit is felt by all regions of the country.

Although the Minister says that there is relatively little change in inward tourism, the fact is that, no matter what measures are taken to deter people by making it more difficult to fly, the numbers increase. The fact is that our seaside resorts are crying out for more tourists. Will she take note of the Select Committee report that identified poor transport links as the real problem of getting people into British seaside resorts?

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the balance of trade deficit remains a growing one, and we need to address that issue constantly and properly, to encourage more inward-bound tourists and to ensure that more people stay in the UK and enjoy the many attractions that we have here on their holidays. As he knows, in my previous job, I took a particular interest in ensuring the regeneration of many of our seaside towns. I will maintain that interest in my current job. Although he alluded to one issue—transport infrastructure—there are many others, and I look forward to working with him and others who are affected by the decline in tourism at seaside resorts to ensure their proper regeneration, so that they, too, can enjoy the prosperity that the rest of Britain enjoys.

Music Studios

4. If he will discuss with ministerial colleagues increasing Government spending on music studios accessible to young people. (151098)

With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, we have asked the former Live Music Forum chairman, Feargal Sharkey, to work with key music industry figures, local and regional government and other potential partners to explore what funding opportunities might exist to establish a network of music rehearsal and performance spaces across the country.

I am delighted to hear that announcement from the new Secretary of State. In Wrexham, the energy, enthusiasm and talent of young people has been harnessed excellently by Wrexham youth service and a studio has been opened. It is hugely successful, engaging young people and creating bands for the future. Of course, bands are one of the UK’s greatest exports. I am delighted that he has appointed Feargal Sharkey, who opened the Wrexham studio, to take that forward. Will he please encourage as many hon. Members as possible, from both sides of the House, to get involved with young people and to encourage the opening of studios in their constituencies?

I am very happy to do so, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for helping to bring the project to Wrexham, which will lead the way in rehearsal spaces and has shown the great advantage that they can have, both in giving young people something positive to do and, we hope, in creating successful bands in the future. We are looking forward to working with the music industry to ensure that more such spaces can be opened around the country and that they can provide technical and creative expertise to help the industry to grow.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. He may be aware that Luton Youth Music is quite wonderful, quite superb, with hundreds of young musicians playing music of all kinds. Nine days ago, the Luton Youth Jazz orchestra was judged to be the best youth jazz orchestra in the country at the national youth music festival in Birmingham. May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit Luton to talk to the young musicians and, indeed, the adults who service them to find out what facilities the young musicians would like?

How could I resist? We will ensure that we visit Luton, as well as potentially the constituency of every other Member who is in the House today, and I look forward to doing so and seeing whether Luton can be one of the places that successfully bids for one of those rehearsal spaces.

PE Lessons

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on provision of physical education lessons in schools in the last 12 months. (151099)

The Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport work jointly to deliver the national school sport strategy. Eighty per cent. of children in school sport partnerships now do at least two hours of high-quality PE and school sport a week. Both Departments will continue to work closely to develop the plans to offer all children and young people five hours a week of sport.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I notice that the title of his colleague with whom he will hold discussions is the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. In those discussions, will he also consider the facilities that are being made available to families, so that parents can join their children in physical education? Will he also ensure that any good practice that is developed will be discussed with Ministers from the devolved Administrations, so that we can have a programme that benefits the whole United Kingdom?

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s warm acceptance of what we are trying to do, and I assure him that this really is about participation and ensuring that schools and community sport come together and that, with the £100 million that we will spend, we really do increase participation in sport.

Does the Minister accept that, although physical education is good for all young people, and perhaps also for quite a number of adults, team sports in schools are particularly important? Team sports can inculcate discipline and a sense of working together. Team spirit and team sports are critical. What emphasis is the Minister—[Interruption.] I know that we can have a lot of sport in here today. What emphasis is the Minister placing on team sport?

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is taking the idea of team work and competition seriously. Obviously, he can talk to members of his Front Bench about how he can do that within the Conservative party, although I think it will be difficult. On the serious point about competition in schools, over many years competition has been seen as a dirty word. It is important to make competition a key element of inter-school and intra-school sport. The announcement last week will help to do that. Clearly, a lot of work has to take place with the national governing bodies of sports and the schools associations, but if we are united, we will see a sea change in competitive sport, which will bring benefits in terms of team work, competition and individual development.

It was welcome to hear last week about the additional support for sports in schools, but in real terms it will mean about £3 extra per child per year for children in our schools. That is against the backdrop of a 50 per cent. cut in lottery funding for grassroots sports. Is the Minister confident that sports teachers will be able to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise of making participation in sport a new British characteristic?

I hope that I do not detect that the hon. Lady is decrying the Olympics and the proper funding of the Olympics. She is right to make the point about the £100 million. It is additional money, on top of the money that is spent on school sports anyway. A great deal of that money will go towards coaching, the development of coaching, and the competition managers who will assist teachers. I am confident that the money will be well spent and that it will deliver what we all want to see: increased competition and participation in school sport.

Community Amateur Sports Club Scheme

6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the community amateur sports club scheme; and if he will make a statement. (151100)

The community amateur sports club scheme has, since its introduction in 2002, seen 4,380 clubs register and Deloitte estimates that that has saved more than £19.7 million for community sport through mandatory rate relief and gift aid. However, I believe that this represents a small percentage of the clubs that are eligible for CASC status and I encourage hon. Members and local authorities to publicise the benefits of the scheme as widely as possible.

As my hon. Friend knows, I have taken a keen interest in the matter since I introduced my ten-minute Bill in 2000. The Government caved in two years later and included the provision in the Budget. It has been worth about £19 million, but is he aware—he hinted at this—that that probably involves only about 10 per cent. of the clubs that are eligible for the scheme? The form is probably one of the simplest that the Inland Revenue has ever produced. Will he work with local authorities, in particular—because they have the ability to push the message to sports clubs in their areas—to ensure that people know that there is a tax benefit, money is available and the process is easy to undertake? He should encourage everybody up and down the country to play their part. I encourage Members to try to write to every sports club in their area to achieve wider coverage.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting the initiative. He started the whole thing off with a ten-minute Bill. That has resulted in support for community sport. He is quite right: we think that there are about 40,000 clubs that could get involved and they could see savings of £60 million. There is a leaflet available in the Department and I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will ask me for a copy. He is right that we need to speak to local authorities. My predecessor wrote to them, but we need to do that again. This is an opportunity for money to go back into sport very easily and quickly, and I hope that Members will support that.

May I add my congratulations to the Minister and his colleagues? If he really wants to achieve what he has indicated that he wants to achieve, should he not talk to his colleague in charge of schools? What would do more than anything else to improve community sport throughout the country would be a restoration of the days when all schools had teams—many teams—and most schools had playing fields as well.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my post. With your indulgence Mr. Speaker, I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), who was the longest-serving Minister for Sport and did a tremendous amount of work in that role. I am happy to do the job. There has never been a better time to be the Minister with responsibility for sports. May I put on record my congratulations to Mr. Padraig Harrington for winning the British Open yesterday? That was a tremendous feat.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right: we need to develop competition in school sports and we are doing that through the investment of the £100 million. He is quite right that, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said, that brings advantages such as team work. We have put in place a much more rigorous way of dealing with the sale of school playing fields. I am pleased that last year there was a net gain of 35 playing fields, so we have arrested the decline in numbers.

British Film Institute

The Government are firmly committed to protecting and increasing access to the British Film Institute’s archive. Of the £16 million a year that the BFI receives in grant in aid, it invests £6.2 million specifically in the archive.

After the Tory by-election candidate selection a few weeks ago turned into a Southall farce, we now find that the Ealing comedies and other films of that era may decay into dust for want of central finance to copy and conserve them. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is a real problem of paramount importance?

I certainly agree that the BFI archive is a national treasure. It is arguably the finest film and television archive anywhere in the world and I assure my hon. Friend that it is safe in our hands.

Will the Secretary of State undertake to do what he can to ensure that films, particularly drama productions, depicting regions across the United Kingdom that receive funding from his Department continue to do so? Will he also ensure that they are not filmed in central Europe—that has been the experience of many companies in Northern Ireland—but in the regions that they depict?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have recently introduced a new tax break to ensure that we can do exactly that. It is available both to people from Northern Ireland and to all the nations and regions in the country. It has been a great success for the film industry and for tourism, because it has attracted people to this country to visit the places that feature in our great films, so we are doing exactly what he suggests.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to one of the most exciting jobs in Government. Some of us who contributed to the document, “A Bigger Picture”, which remains the most comprehensive review of the British film industry, and which supports the Film Council, still think that the British Film Institute has an important role, not least because of its responsibilities for preserving the film archives, which represent some of the best material, not only in Britain, but in the world.

That is right, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s role in producing that policy document and in reforming support for the film industry in this country. That work has been a great success and that is to his credit. He is right to say that the archive needs to be supported and protected, but obviously we cannot make any announcements ahead of the spending review. It is right that we not only protect the archive, but modernise the way in which it is used. The BFI has introduced important proposals, such as proposals for ensuring that it is made available online, and I know that many schools are already using that facility all around the country. We need to protect what we have and ensure that there is wide access to it.

Sport England

9. What discussions he has had with Sport England on the potential contribution of sport to community regeneration; and if he will make a statement. (151103)

I have had no discussions on that subject, although my predecessor and officials have had discussions with Sport England.

Sport plays a key role in a number of areas of community social regeneration. Sports projects can have a significant impact by breaking down barriers and providing positive opportunities for people to mix with others. Sport can help reduce crime and antisocial behaviour and increase people’s levels of trust and community involvement.

Does the Minister think that Sport England should play a more mainstream role in regeneration and that it should build up our communities, and work together with other bodies on issues of health, crime reduction, and the education of our young people? Does he feel that its image, which is dominated by the blazerati who seem to corner a lot of the money at a national level, needs to be changed so that youngsters at a local level can enjoy sport not only for its own sake, but for the wider benefits that it brings through regeneration?

First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend, with whom I have played sport—cricket or football—on numerous occasions. I know his sporting prowess. He hits the nail on the head when he suggests ensuring that Sport England get involved in community regeneration. I know that he will shortly meet the chief executive of Sport England, Derek Mapp, to discuss what is going on in Nottinghamshire. He knows that the sports participation rate in Nottinghamshire is low, and I am pleased that he chairs the local strategic partnership to help develop and increase participation. Nobody knows better than I, a former Home Office Minister, the impact that sport can have on reducing reoffending and diverting people to other routes. I am sure that Sport England will take up the challenge, and I look forward to working with it and with my hon. Friend to deliver on participation.

Music Industry (Copyright)

As the Department for Culture, Media and Sport sponsors the creative industries, the music industry has raised the issue of the copyright term for sound recordings most recently in discussions that were held in the context of our creative economy programme. The policy responsibility for copyright issues, however, rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

The Minister will be aware of the profound sense of disappointment in the music industry that musicians alone are not to receive the same type of copyright protection as other artists and creators in the creative economy. It also seems that the economic case for rejecting term extension has been blown out of the water by consultants LEGG, who conclude that term extension would be good not just for musicians, but for the industry and for the economy. I welcome the Minister and her team to the Dispatch Box. Will she do the right thing by UK musicians, look at term extension again and ensure that our musicians get the same protection as other artists and creators?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and look forward in my new role to hearing him play in MP4. On the issue that he raises, the research evidence is extremely mixed. He knows that Gowers undertook a review, and the Europeans have undertaken a review from Hugenholtz. I am told that the Gowers review involved five Nobel prize winners and many well known academics. The important thing for the music industry is to ensure that in the changing environment in which it must survive, there are proper business models which will enable individual performers, composers and all those who are involved in the music industry to get a proper return for their creative investment in that industry. That is what I shall be turning my mind to, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in that exercise.


The Minister for the Olympics was asked—

Risk Management

20. If she will make a statement on the progress of the monitoring and risk management arrangements for the 2012 Olympics. (151114)

The Olympics is a risky project, by definition. It is the biggest public sector construction project in Europe and must be completed by the fixed deadline—on Friday, it will be five years to go until the opening ceremony—so risk management is a key part of the arrangements for delivering the 2012 games at every level of its operation. In developing the approaches to risk management, we have built on best practice from previous games—what to do and what not to do—and have looked at best practice in relation to other large projects. Staff are being recruited, particularly from terminal 5, to the delivery authority, the organising committee and the delivery partner.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. The lack of strong progress monitoring and risk management arrangements identified in the Public Accounts Committee report presents a real risk to good causes which have already been hurt by the diversion of £1.7 billion worth of funding, a figure confirmed by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. Can the Minister confirm that any future slippage will be funded from the contingency fund and not by further raids on Olympic legacy projects, such as participation in sports or the arts?

I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities, and suggest that before he makes claims about the National Audit Office report, he reads the report carefully. There is a clear recognition by the NAO report published at the end of last week of the scale of risk involved in the project. That is a statement of fact. Building a project of such a size to a fixed deadline is, by definition, risky. That is why we have put in place the means by which that risk is mitigated. The scale and effectiveness of risk management is one of the many reasons why the president of the International Olympic Committee recently said that we were further ahead in our planning than any other city has ever been.

To paraphrase earlier remarks, there has never been a better time to be a sports lover in this country, thanks in no small part to the exemplary work of my right hon. Friend. As we strain our ears towards the sound of the starting pistol in 2012, we must look at infrastructure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as is the case with any major construction project, the level of risk will reduce as the development of the Olympic park progresses? Will she give an update on progress on the Olympic venues?

Yes, I am delighted to do that for my hon. Friend. Progress has been made on approving the design of the aquatic centre, and companies have been shortlisted to build it. Last week, we announced the design team, which will be led by Hopkins Architects, to build the velopark, which Chris Hoy, one of our gold medallists, has said he expects to be the finest velopark in the world. Planning for the Olympic stadium has moved to the next stage, and the Olympic Delivery Authority has signed a memorandum of understanding with Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd for the development of the stadium. As everyone knows, McAlpine was responsible for, among other great projects, the magnificent new stadium at Arsenal.

I welcome the Minister to her role back at the Dispatch Box, and I also welcome the news about McAlpine. However, is there not a risk management issue? As one newspaper has put it:

“Britain is facing a huge skills shortage that could undermine the success of the Olympics.”

We know that we need thousands more electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and many others. What progress is being made to implement the necessary training to ensure that we have sufficient people with the relevant skills, so that we are not later held to ransom by unscrupulous contractors?

The right hon. Gentleman has identified an important point. One aspect of the legacy that we intend for the Olympic games, quite apart from the success in building the games on budget and to time, is to change that part of London, which is characterised by local people as having very low levels of skill and therefore high levels of unemployment. Local people will have skills as a result of the job opportunities created by the Olympics. A large number of initiatives are already under way, led by the Mayor and the Learning and Skills Council, in order to develop the skilled work force that the Olympics will require in every single respect, with a particular emphasis on increasing the skills of people through, for instance, the pre-volunteer programme. That will enable us to achieve two things: first, we will achieve a higher level of skill in east London; secondly, we will ensure that the skill match between people’s skills when they look for work and the skills needed by the Olympics means that the Olympic park is constructed to budget and to time.

The London-Tilbury-Southend line franchise of c2c terminates or is renewable before the Olympics. Will the Minister tell us what she intends to do to ensure that that line receives the appropriate investment to make it welcoming and to maximise mobility in and around the Olympics? What will happen?

I am happy to examine the extent to which that line will serve the Olympic park. The Olympic park and the area around Stratford will benefit from an unprecedented level of investment in new transport infrastructure, with 10 new rail services and other public transport links, including, of course, the channel tunnel rail link, which will be an important part of the infrastructure. Much of that major investment is specifically because of the Olympic games, and I will write to my hon. Friend about the point that he has raised.

Departmental Reorganisation

21. How she expects the recent departmental reorganisation to affect the delivery of London 2012; and if she will make a statement. (151115)

As I have said, with five years to go, the Olympic programme now moves into the next phase of delivery. It will require intense ministerial oversight and scrutiny of the building programme, as well as an increased focus to ensure that the resources of the whole of Government are mobilised and focused on delivering on the five legacy promises that were announced last month. These games are arguably the most ambitious in terms of legacy—a point commented on by the International Olympic Committee, which said that the legacy ambition of the London Olympics would serve as a model for future games. That is why it is important to have a dedicated Minister for the Olympics and why I am delighted to be that Minister.

I congratulate the Minister on her new appointment and thank her for her kind reply. A recent Public Accounts Committee report said that it was important that her Department had a plan of

“what needs to be decided, when and by whom.”

Does she share the concern of many people that the reorganisation in her Department has blurred the lines of responsibility, and what does she propose to do to allay those fears?

I do not accept the fears that lie behind a perfectly legitimate question. The important thing is to set out clearly the facts and how the divisions of responsibilities will work. I am responsible in Government for the Olympic games. There is a large level of public investment—62 per cent. of the overall provided-for budget will come from the Exchequer—and it is important that that is properly safeguarded. The division of responsibilities is clearly established and was set out last week in a written answer. We have very much followed the precedent of other successful cities in ensuring proper Government engagement at the proper level of ministerial oversight.

First, I welcome my right hon. Friend to her renewed responsibility for the Olympics. Whatever the framework within the Department, which rightly has to oversee the project, it is crucial to recognise that she has, in the Olympic Delivery Authority and in the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, absolutely first-class teams of professionals who are well capable of delivering an exemplary Olympics. Will she ensure that they are allowed to get on with the job so that we are the success that most international commentators believe that we are, and will she not be swayed by the frankly unfocused and sometimes rather outdated criticisms that we hear from the Opposition and from certain quarters in this building?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is entirely legitimate to question and challenge the progress of the Olympic games, but it would not be right for people to lack confidence in the team in place at the ODA, who are widely recognised as world class. Unlike many of the armchair commentators and more sceptical contributors to the debate, they have built towns and cities, whereas those armchair commentators have probably not even built a garden shed.

I was about to start by welcoming the right hon. Lady back to her old job in the new Ministry. As she is aware, the Olympics enjoy cross-party support, and we wish her well. However, may I take her back to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara)? Could she explain to the House, very simply, why the Government think that it is more efficient to put the budget holders and civil servants in one Department and the Minister in another than to put them all in the same Department together?

We think so for two reasons. First, realisation of legacy is absolutely critical to the wider responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and secondly, it is one of the aspects of the Olympic bid that defined our programme as being different and more ambitious, whether in relation to the scale of the cultural Olympiad or, as mentioned in earlier exchanges, the sporting legacy.

It is not just a matter, as most countries recognise, of becoming a world-class sporting nation in terms of elite performance, but in terms of participation and of sport in schools. Those arrangements are within the custody and oversight of the DCMS, but there is a further aspect to the legacy ambition that relates to transport and other infrastructure. There are issues relating to security and the use of health services during the games. That dual reach—

Public Accounts Commission

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—

Comptroller and Auditor General

27. What progress has been made in developing the new system for overseeing the expenses incurred by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the performance of his duties. (151088)

The Public Accounts Commission met on 11 July and agreed a system of oversight for expenses incurred by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the discharge of his functions. The new arrangements are set out in the Commission’s 13th report.

While I and other Members from the east midlands were on a nightmare journey to Westminster via a Midland Mainline train with standing room only, and King’s Cross-St. Pancras station was closed, the head of the National Audit Office was purring from home to work by chauffeur-driven car at the public expense, using a perk that is not even recorded in NAO accounts. Can the feisty Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee get a grip on this flagrant exploitation of the public purse by the Comptroller and Auditor General; otherwise, Sir John really will think that in this Government, there is one born every minute.

I do not think that those remarks do the hon. Gentleman, who is Parliamentarian, or should I say Back Bencher, of the year any credit. The fact is that Sir John Bourn has done an outstanding job in Parliament on behalf of the taxpayer for many years. It is also important that we preserve the independence of the National Audit Office. The car referred to by the hon. Gentleman is provided by the NAO for its work, and it is used by the Comptroller and Auditor General for that purpose. As he well knows, the Commission, in the light of recent public concern, has put a transparent system in place, by which an external auditor—the chairman of the NAO audit committee—will be briefed in advance on planned expenses. He will discuss them with the Comptroller and Auditor General, and if necessary, with the Chairman of the Commission. These expenses, in turn, can be discussed in public with the Commission. I believe that we have a transparent system.

Church Commissioners

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


28. What the average stipend for clergymen in rural parishes was on 1 July (a) 1997 and (b) 2007; and if he will make a statement. (151089)

The average stipend for incumbents in rural and urban parishes alike was £14,510 at 1 July 1997, and is projected to stand at £21,060 at 1 July 2007. By way of a statement, we agree with the hon. Lady’s view that parish churches and their congregations are at the heart of rural life. That is why we seek to appoint appropriately remunerated stipendiary priests where possible.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Has the average stipend kept up with the cost of living? Moreover, will he take away from this afternoon’s exchange that we hold in the highest regard those rural clergymen who are serving a record number of parishes each Sunday? In times of crisis, such as the current flood emergency, and also during the recent BSE disaster, they work beyond the call of duty, which should be recognised.

The hon. Lady has often expressed her frustration at the difficulty that rural parishes sometimes have in attracting stipendiary priests. I commend her for continuing to put that point of view, and also for drawing the attention of the House to the work of priests in flood areas.

In response to the hon. Lady’s more technical question on the cost of living, I should point out that the national stipends benchmark for 2007-08 is £20,980. This was an increase of 2.5 per cent. on the previous year’s benchmark, compared with a projected increase in average earnings of 4.3 per cent. for the year. As the hon. Lady will know, the stipend forms only part of the remuneration package of the parish priest.

Does my hon. Friend believe that there should be a rate for the job in such appointments, and does he have any figures about whether female incumbents receive the same as male incumbents?

My hon. Friend may like to know that stipends are fixed each year by the Central Stipends Authority, after careful consideration with dioceses, and the figures reflect what the dioceses can afford. The idea is that stipends should be adequate to enable clergy to discharge their duties without financial anxiety, flexible enough to allow the Church to put clergy where they are best deployed, and equitable to avoid impeding clergy mobility. That applies to male and female clergy.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Fixed-term Parliaments

The Electoral Commission advises me that it has not held any recent discussions on fixed-term Parliaments.

That is rather disappointing. Former Prime Minister Blair promised the electorate in 2005 that if he was re-elected he would serve for a full term. The current Prime Minister has not called a general election, despite that promise. Would it not be appropriate to note that, with a fixed-term Parliament, that sort of political deception could not occur?

The Electoral Commission recognises that other elected bodies, including local government, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, are elected for fixed terms. However, the commission believes that the question whether fixed terms should be introduced for the House of Commons is a matter for the Government of the day, and, ultimately, Parliament, to decide. It would not be appropriate for me to reply on behalf of the Speaker’s Committee to my hon. Friend’s specific point.

Many of us believe that the case for a fixed-term Parliament, rather than reliance on the whim of a Prime Minister, is unanswerable, but I doubt very much whether it is a matter for the Electoral Commission rather than the political system. There is, however, a desperate need for the Electoral Commission to be strengthened so that it can perform a much stronger regulatory and monitoring role. Is that transition to a stronger role now well in hand?

Yes, there has been change in emphasis in the Electoral Commission, which is reflected in the corporate plan for 2007-08, which was laid before the House of Commons in May 2007. The report stated

“some areas of our work will assume less importance in terms of resource allocation in the future. Rather than taking a lead role in public policy development, we will contribute our expertise and experience to inform new legislation and offer independent evaluation of the Government’s own policy initiatives.”

Thus there has been an evolution in the role of the commission.

As the new Prime Minister has indicated that he would not want to go to the country without consulting Parliament—he made that very plain as one of his first utterances in the post—would it be appropriate for the commission to initiate a dialogue on the desirability of fixed terms, as there are many, on both sides of the House, who believe that they are a sensible solution?

The Electoral Commission does not believe that that is an appropriate matter for it to become involved in, but I have no doubt that the points made by my hon. Friend will have been heard at the commission, as indeed they will have been heard by the Government.

List Votes (Disregards)

30. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to assess the effect on voter turnout of the disregarding of list votes cast for candidates elected in constituencies in the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. (151091)

That is very unfortunate, because when I cast my vote for the Labour party in the north Wales regional list at the National Assembly elections, that vote has no consequence, as it is not counted; it does not result in the meaningful casting of a vote on my part. It is irrelevant for me to take the action of voting, and in my view the commission should look at the issue to decide whether there is a disincentive for individuals to vote. Is not that exactly what the Electoral Commission should look at?

The additional Member system was introduced, for the Welsh Assembly elections, the Scottish Parliament elections, and elections to the Greater London Authority, by Parliament at the initiative of the Government in 1999. It includes the D’Hondt system of alternative counting, on which I have made myself an expert in advance of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but the commission takes the view that it would not be appropriate for it to make an assessment of the merits of different electoral systems. It believes that that is Parliament’s role.

Church Commissioners

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


32. What the policy of the Church Commissioners is on broadcasts from cathedrals and churches; and if he will make a statement. (151093)

The commissioners themselves do not have such a policy. However, by way of a statement, church buildings play a central part in the community and the Church welcomes the wide range of uses to which its buildings are put, as long as they are not contrary to its teaching and do not conflict with its mission.

I understand that the General Synod debated the issue two years ago, but there is no agreed policy on how church buildings, particularly cathedrals, can and should be used for film making and other types of broadcasting. Given the recent controversies about the use of church buildings and places of worship, is it not time that the Synod set down an agreed policy?

The Synod has just met and will hold its next meeting later in the year. I shall be happy to put the hon. Gentleman’s point to its representatives, but I am sure that he will agree that, whether on television, radio or the internet, regular broadcasts from churches and cathedrals allow a wider audience to keep in touch with one of the treasures of our national life, particularly at times of national joy or grief. Many come together through the broadcast of special services.