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Topical Questions

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

Among the responsibilities of my Department is ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy world-class cultural and sporting activity. To that end, in my recent speech to the Youth Sport Trust I announced a review by Sport England which aims to ensure that we have a world-class community sports system. We put in place funding to ensure that all children will have the chance to do five hours of sport a week. Now my Department is working closely with the Department for Children, Schools and Families on a new ambition to give all children a five-hour offer of culture in and out of the curriculum. Our ambitions will be set out in the children’s plan, published this week.

In view of the serious problems affecting football in England, including the stewardship of the game’s affairs, questionable financial matters, parasitic agents, increasing foreign ownership of clubs and the huge influx of foreign players to the detriment of the national side, is it not time that the Government arranged for a royal commission to consider the long-term interests of English football?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has asked about that before, but I do not think that the solution to the issues arising in English football is for politicians to step in and run it. However, it is important—I suspect the hon. Gentleman and I agree on this—that we all look at our role in making sure that we get over our recent problem with qualification. That means that we must look at our role in school sport, which we are doing—we are going from very few people doing sport to all children being offered five hours. It also means that the Football Association must look at its role and make sure that it does not compromise in terms of the reforms of the FA, that it implements the Burns report recommendations in full, and also that we have as independent chair of the FA someone who has the credibility to do that job as we would all want it to be done.

T2. Earlier this year, the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, undertook to increase BBC Scotland’s contribution to the national network to more than 8 per cent. However, its current share is very much lower that that, and this has had a consequent effect on commissions to independent TV companies, some of which are based in my constituency and are struggling to survive. I ask the Minister to impress upon the BBC that it must address this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure the survival of the industry in Scotland. (172218)

We did impress that upon the BBC—indeed, we put it at the heart of its purposes. In response, the BBC has announced that it will increase the share of production in exactly the way outlined by my hon. Friend, and that should help the independent producers in her constituency.

This morning, 10 of the most senior chief executives of the tourism industry wrote to the Prime Minister expressing their

“anger and disappointment with the Government’s tourism policy.”

Despite the fact that 1.4 million people depend on the industry for their livelihood, one of the chief executives said that

“the DCMS is inadequately defending our interests.”

Given that the Secretary of State’s Department has cut the VisitBritain budget and abandoned a public service agreement target to make tourism a £100 billion industry, will he say whether he has a vision for tourism, whether he has given up on the tourism industry, or whether this is what Baldrick would call “a cunning plan” to minimise the international attention on domestic Government crises by minimising the number of international visitors?

I am afraid that that was almost as laboured as the druid joke of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). The hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) fails to recognise that we have a plan; it is published in the 2012 document, of which I am sure he is aware. We have also doubled over the past 10 years the amount of money going from central Government to tourism, and we have announced that we want to make sure that we use more effectively the £348 million that is being spent, which is why we have asked VisitBritain to conduct a review of how it does so.

The Secretary of State may like to use soothing words, and this Government have always been good at words and reports, but here are the facts: since his Government came to power, this country’s market share of international tourist visits has fallen by 10 per cent. and our market share of international tourism spend has decreased by 14 per cent. The report mentioned was about the Olympics, which offers a huge opportunity to put this right, but tourism chiefs also said this morning that the Government were

“squandering a once in a lifetime opportunity”

to use the Olympics. Will the Secretary of State have the courage to revisit his approach, so that our hard-pressed tourism industry can thrive because of Government policies rather than despite them?

That is exactly what we are trying to do. The hon. Gentleman is failing to recognise the fact that since 1997 we have doubled the amount of money spent by central Government through the regional development agencies, which I believe he is committed to abolishing. Until he is prepared to match his criticisms with increased funding, the tourism industry will not pay any attention to him.

T7. The Secretary of State has taken a detailed interest in the digital switchover process in my constituency, one of the most important parts of which was clearly the targeted assistance scheme. Now that switchover has occurred, has his Department made any assessment of the effectiveness of that scheme? (172223)

We shall be reviewing that as a consequence of the scheme in Copeland. The initial conclusion is that the scheme is broadly correct; it is the most generous in the world and it is one of the things that will help to smooth the process of digital switchover. We all recognise that this is a huge undertaking—it is a significant technological undertaking and a big social change—and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his local council and voluntary organisations which played such a proactive and confident role in ensuring that this was a success and in putting Copeland and Whitehaven on the map.

T3. The Secretary of State recently announced that Sport England will no longer have responsibility for ensuring that people keep active and participate in exercise—that will now be the Department of Health’s responsibility. Will he set out what written undertaking he has received from the Department of Health that it will make this a priority? May we see a copy of any such written undertaking? (172219)

Given that it was leaked to The Observer recently, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have read about it. It was rather misrepresented in The Observer as the newspaper talked about our wanting to focus on elite sport. We want to focus on having world-class community sport: we said in our Olympic promises that we would have a world-class sporting nation, and that is exactly what we will do. The goal of raising activity is important and legitimate. As the hon. Gentleman said, we shall be working with the Department of Health, and with other colleagues, on ensuring that a long-term cultural change takes place so that the problem of obesity is addressed. We need to be clear that that will be done partly through sport—that will be Sport England’s role—but not exclusively so.

We are always concerned when issues affect the integrity of a sport. I hope that the horse racing authorities will examine what happened in this individual case and make any necessary changes to their rules.

T6. Will the Secretary of State have a word with all lottery distributors about the fairness of their grants, given that the much wealthier Buckingham constituency, which borders mine, has received more than three times as much grant as my constituency? Excellent applications from both Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard have recently been turned down. Will he look into the matter? (172222)

It is important that all constituencies do their utmost to get as much money from the lottery as possible. Clearly, that depends on the quality of the bids, so is it important that the hon. Gentleman helps his constituents to ensure that the bids that they put forward are quality bids. I am sure that they will then get the money to which they are entitled.

T8. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Hebden Royd town council on its successful People’s Millions bids to develop and reform Calder Homes park following a momentous regional head-to-head battle on television, which genuinely allowed the people to vote? (172224)

I congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents on the outstanding bid that they put forward. The point that we are making about bids is not so much about the quality, but about the number of bids received by the lottery funders. It is important that people consider what they are trying to achieve with the different types of bids for the different types of funds that are available.

T9. Is the Minister aware that there is still real concern in my constituency, particularly among pensioners, about the rising costs of the Olympics? Will he reassure my constituents that London council tax payers will not be responsible for funding any Olympic losses, and that their contribution will be capped? (172225)

The Mayor has been quite clear on that matter. I understand that these issues are best addressed in the next set of questions to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics.

T10. Could the Minister of State explain the contradiction in the fact that Stonehenge is considered a national issue by her Department but it is considered a regional one where transport is concerned? (172226)

Stonehenge is a national issue because it is one of our world heritage sites, but decisions on transport priorities are best left to the regions. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, as a Liberal Democrat, would support the decentralisation of decision making in all areas of government.

I and other seaside MPs warmly welcome the dedicated £45 million investment. Will my right hon. Friend consider the charms of the proposal to relocate the theatre museum to Blackpool and, more prosaically, how quickly the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment will produce the guidelines and open the competition for the funding?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the group of MPs who have worked with him to persuade us of the importance of investing in our seaside resorts. We are waiting for CABE to come forward with some guidelines and proposal for its management of that budget. The money comes on stream from April and we would like to get it spent as quickly as possible.

Despite the tough stance taken by Guildford borough council on town centre drinking and standing up to big business, residents of Guildford continue to suffer from alcohol-fuelled crimes in some of our streets. What action will the Secretary of State take to give comfort to my residents?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady grew up in Guildford, as I did, but there was no problem then and, as my family continue to live there, I know that it emerged before the Licensing Act 2003, which was introduced to provide people with tough powers. I take it that the hon. Lady also disagrees with her leader when he said—[Interruption.] I am sure that the Opposition do not like—