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Topical Questions

Volume 473: debated on Monday 10 March 2008

Two events this week highlight the vital role culture, media and sport play in the economic and social life of the country. I have just come from the launch of British tourism week. Tourism is incredibly important to people in constituencies up and down the country. We have a fantastic product to sell and a tremendous opportunity in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic games, and I hope that Members of all parties will get out this week and support this important initiative in their constituencies. At the end of the week, there is Sport Relief, an event that shows the unique power of sport to bring communities together and to get people to be active and have fun while raising money for people in need in the UK and in some of the poorest countries in the world. I think that there are a few candidates in this House who could do with getting out and doing a bit of sport and physical activity this weekend.

Although many in this House are looking forward to the Beijing Olympics, why do the Government continue to turn a blind eye to the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, unspeakable animal cruelty and continual repression of religious minorities?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics rightly pointed out that we negotiated free expression for journalists attending this year’s Olympic games and free movement in China. Sport is an incredibly important way of bringing the world together, and we can then discuss and address issues of common concern. The Government raise issues of China’s approach to human rights around the world in all our meetings with Chinese counterparts. It would be wrong to confuse such issues with regard to the Olympic games this summer. We have known about the games in China for a long time, and we must work to make them as successful as possible, while using them as an opportunity to raise issues of concern to the whole world.

As we celebrate British tourism week, what can we do to encourage overseas visitors to visit not only London, but our coastal resorts? May we have a marketing campaign aimed at promoting those resorts?

As my hon. Friend knows, because I have met her and some of her constituents to discuss that matter, we are investing £45 million specifically to regenerate some of our coastal resorts that have not adjusted to changing patterns of domestic tourism. I hope that her area will benefit from that. London is a successful destination for many inbound tourists, but I agree that we must see it as a gateway through to the rest of this country’s fantastic resorts, countryside, heritage and history. We are doing that, using 2012 as a catalyst. Some 80 per cent. of our tourism income comes from people in Britain, so it is also hugely important to build on that.

Forty per cent. of off-licences recently surveyed were selling alcohol to people who were under age and the Government claim that they will get tough. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in 2005, the Government said that the Licensing Act 2003 would introduce the forfeiture of a personal licence for under-age sales “at first offence”? If that is the case, why is the Government’s new tough action to move to forfeiture not after first offence but after second offence? What does he think of Conservative proposals to move it still further to third offence?

In publishing the Government’s first review of the 2003 Act last week, I made it clear that there is a mixed picture around the country. Alcohol consumption has decreased in the past couple of years, but we did acknowledge problems, particularly the increase in the number of offences in the early hours of the morning. I do not think that there is any division in the House on sales to children—we all want the full use of the 2003 Act’s powers to tackle that. It is right to say that some have used the freedoms that the Act grants but not necessarily all its powers. We sent a clear message last week in publishing our review that licensing authorities should use all the powers available to them and that they should particularly target the sale of alcohol to under-18s. I believe hon. Members on both sides of the House would support that.

T2. With the Welsh singer Duffy at No. 1 in both the singles and albums chart and the Welsh team having won the triple crown on Saturday and almost certain to win the grand slam this coming Saturday, may I urge the Secretary of State to give a rather more enthusiastic response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) on S4C? The Secretary of State’s predecessor suggested that he was open to the idea of S4C being devolved to the Welsh Assembly, so is it not time that we did that? In addition, will he sponsor me in April’s London marathon? (192274)

My hon. Friend is nothing if not an opportunist. Of course I shall sponsor him, and I wish him well in that endeavour.

My instinct is to preserve what is good about British broadcasting. I do not want to break it down and lose one of its great strengths, which is in bringing the whole country together. It reminds us what is great about this country, and it is right that it is a reserved matter so that we can consider it in the round at UK level. However, I am always ready to listen to representations from my hon. Friend, and I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter further if he wishes.

T3. The Secretary of State said a moment ago that the Chinese had made a number of promises in order to secure the Olympic games in Beijing. Does he accept that they are not keeping them? They are not keeping their promises about free access for journalists or human rights. What will the Government do to ensure that the Chinese keep their promises rather than simply sign pieces of paper? Does he agree that athletes who want to make objections about human rights abuses should be able to do so? (192275)

The hon. Gentleman is right that promises were made, and it is incredibly important that they are kept. The Minister for the Olympics has just told me that she regularly raises the matter with the Chinese authorities and that she has also raised the unblocking of the BBC website with them. As we move towards the Olympic games in Beijing, it is important that we continue to make those representations and ensure that promises given are promises kept. I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised this important matter. We must ensure that we have a successful Olympic games in Beijing, but also that we raise issues of concern as we approach the games.

T4. A topical subject for my right hon. Friend is the opening of the Leigh sports village, which is enviable and a great asset for Greater Manchester. What can he do to ensure that funding is available for a sports village in Lancashire? There would be no better place for it to be based than Chorley. (192276)

I bow to no one other than my hon. Friend in making the case for our local area. If he looks down the M6 at our sports village—

It is a tremendous project that embodies how sport can regenerate an area that has had difficult times over the years, and it is a tremendous success. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the efforts to do something similar in Chorley. I think that he has ambitions for Chorley to be used as a base for the Olympics, and I want to work with him on that. The model that we have developed at Leigh can provide an excellent example of how to use sport to regenerate towns such as Chorley.

Going back to the Licensing Act, if the problem was the signal that it sent to a minority of binge drinkers, does the Secretary of State agree that the solution is not to punish the majority of responsible drinkers, the 37 million who enjoy an innocent tipple or two? They should not be made to pay the price for the total failure of the Government’s alcohol policy.

I agreed with the shadow Secretary of State until his last point. He expressed well the fact that a balance must be struck when dealing with problems that arise in an area. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Act provides many powers to do precisely that without penalising the vast majority of people, who want to enjoy a relaxed drink at a time of their choosing. He will have seen in our review last week that on average, opening hours have increased by only 20 minutes. There has not been a huge change in the time at which pubs and clubs close, but the Act has given some people the ability to enjoy a drink later than they previously could. Local licensing authorities should use the powers that they were given if there is clear evidence of a breach of licensing conditions or if public disorder arises from drinking establishments.

T5. The Secretary of State will know that the elitist snobs who run Arts Council England are spending more money on promoting contemporary Latin American art than on promoting England’s traditional, working-class folk dance and song. In view of the Secretary of State’s commitment to five hours of culture each week for schoolchildren, will he join me in meeting the English Folk Dance and Song Society to see how much England’s traditional folk dance and song can be included in those five hours? (192277)

The hon. Gentleman’s comments demonstrate why it is so important that politicians do not get involved in determining how the allocation of funding should be distributed between various organisations. That is why the arm’s length principle, which has been established for many years, is the best way to ensure that the most excellent of our artistic organisations get the funding that they require. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to meet me on the subject of English folk dancing, I shall be happy to do so.

T6. The Minister for Sport will be aware that on Friday the Totesport Cheltenham gold cup, which is the highest quality steeplechase in the world of racing, will take place in my constituency. He will also be aware of the concern caused throughout racing by his announcement last week that the Tote would be sold on the open market. The Tote was set up 80 years ago purely to benefit racing. No Government have ever put any money into it. Is it not wrong that the Government should seek to obtain some £400 million from selling the Tote? If Europe is the problem, should not the Government go back to Europe and try to get the classic fudge that is always available? Will the Minister go back to Europe and say that this was about not state aid, but a small administrative change? (192278)

I look forward to joining the hon. Gentleman at Cheltenham this week. He has worked very hard on the Tote and I listen with great interest to what he has to say. He will know that we have to get the appropriate price for the Tote, but everything is on the table. He will be aware of my statement last week, and we now look forward to discussions with the Tote and anyone else who is interested to ensure that we can benefit racing in some way.

T7. If the Secretary of State is serious about British tourism week—I hope that he is—will he make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to put a further tuppence on fuel duty, as that would single-handedly destroy rural tourism in North Yorkshire? (192279)

Decisions about taxation are, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to make in the Budget. He will come to this House later this week with those conclusions. I think that the hon. Lady might be overstating the case somewhat. The British tourism industry has posted some encouraging visitor numbers recently, despite the difficulties that were faced because of foot and mouth disease and last summer’s floods. Of course, a lot of issues can impact on our tourism industry and the hon. Lady is right to challenge me and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to do all we can to support the British tourism industry, particularly as it has faced challenges in recent times. I assure her that I shall continue to do that.