The Secretary of State was asked—
The Secretary of State for Health and I have today written to all Members of the House following the announcement that we made on 6 June of a £142 million fund to help local authorities in England to offer free swimming to people aged over 60 and under 16, in support of a longer-term ambition to offer free swimming for all by 2012.
I welcome what the Secretary of State will confirm in writing to us. I was about to buy a new pair of swimming trunks, when I realised that in the borough of Fylde, the problem would not be accessing a swimming pool. The financially hard-pressed borough is committed to closing one of its two municipal pools. The borough is not isolated in the pressures it experiences in maintaining publicly available swimming facilities. In pursuance of the answer that the Secretary of State has just given, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will work with the Local Government Association to investigate the financial pressures that hard-pressed district councils such as mine face in maintaining their swimming facilities?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I should not want to dissuade him from purchasing his swimming trunks—we want to get as many people active as possible in time for 2012. Local authorities must make a judgment about providing enough pools for the local population. His council must take its own decisions on that. The scheme that I announced gives incentives to councils that are prepared to do the most to make swimming more accessible to people, including giving them the opportunity to access capital funding to support their swimming pool stock. I hope that he will talk to Conservative colleagues on his local council so that they can come up with proposals to get more people into pools, rather than let them decline, ensuring that more people are active in time for the Olympic games.
I welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend. In 2005, Wigan metropolitan borough council—a Labour borough—introduced free swimming for under-16s, and in the following year it did the same for the over-60s. There have already been some 300,000 free swims, and tens of thousands of young and older people are taking up sport and leisure for the first time. In April 2009, the scheme is to be extended to all citizens of the borough. As a consequence, we will improve health opportunities for all in sport, and people like me will start swimming rather than end up having triple heart bypasses to save their lives.
I say to my good friend and neighbour that the Wigan scheme was very much the inspiration for the policy that we announced a few weeks ago. As he rightly says, it is popular and it gets people active. That is the best use of public money in my view—getting people healthy and happy, and getting them out of their homes to lead an active and independent life. My right hon. Friend puts it so well; I am proud that Wigan is one of the first councils that want to make swimming universally free by next year. I hope that will set a path for others to follow. He is right to say that in the long term the policy can relieve pressure on the national health service, and social services, too.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are different models of swimming provision throughout the country, and in some cases community organisations own swimming pools. The idea is that the council is in the driving seat. We want councils to make swimming as available as possible and to remove the barriers. Whatever people say, for many families throughout the country, entry charges are still a significant barrier to going to the pool. We will announce more details before the summer recess, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We want to be as flexible as possible in helping councils throughout the country come with us on this journey of removing entry charges for swimming.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative-led Bradford district council proposes the closure of four swimming pools in the district? I have a letter from a constituent of mine at Oxenhope, in which she says:
“I am writing to voice my dismay about the proposed closure of four of our local swimming pools.”
That includes Bingley, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but the lady who has written to me is my constituent. She has been taking her daughter for swimming lessons for the past 30 weeks, and if the pool closes, they will cease. Will my right hon. Friend make representations to Bradford and persuade it not to close those pools?
I have been concerned about some of the local plans in Bradford and the area, where, it has been brought to my attention, five pools were earmarked for closure. The whole idea of the scheme is to stop councils managing a process of decline in swimming—in pools, stock and use—and get them thinking more positively about the contribution that swimming can make to people’s sense of well-being, happiness and activity. I have made the judgment that swimming is universally popular—something that everyone can imagine themselves doing and that different generations of families can do together. I believe that, if councils take a positive view of the contribution that swimming can make to managing other costs, they will reach different decisions. However, I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend and other colleagues about pursuing those discussions locally.
A range of Departments contributed to the fund. The Departments for Work and Pensions, for Children, Schools and Families and for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health came together and contributed to the fund that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had initiated and to which we, too, have contributed.
Will the hon. Gentleman hear me out? The Departments’ contributions make an important statement about the way in which the Government can collectively pursue a positive policy that will have an impact on people throughout the country.
Let us have the discussion: if people think that the policy is the right way to go and that we should develop it further, I personally believe that that sort of activity would be a good use of lottery funds because it gives something back to everybody. However, the fund that I described is drawn from the Departments that I mentioned and will show that not only people who work in sport but the wider public endorse that way of working.
I am not sure whether the Secretary of State appreciates the significance of what he has said. In January, his predecessor gave a categorical assurance in the House that there would be no more lottery raids to fund Government Olympic budget miscalculations. Yet the Secretary of State claims that the lottery would be a good source of money, and the Under-Secretary said in a parliamentary answer last week that he would discuss with Sport England a lottery contribution this summer. When will Ministers leave the lottery alone and stop using it to fund Government Olympic budget incompetence?
It is amazing that the shadow Secretary of State can come to the House and try to proclaim as a bad news story an unprecedented announcement to take promoting physical activity to a different level. Five Departments are lining up behind that initiative, and that sends an incredibly positive signal to those who work in sport and to councils.
I said quite clearly that the lottery has not contributed to the fund that I have assembled. I said that I was open minded about whether it could have a role if we wanted to take the initiative further, but it is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to mix up the £9.3 billion Olympic budget with the wider scheme, which will help sport, physical activity and the Olympic games to touch the lives of and have meaning for people throughout the country.
Ilford has had a swimming pool since 1931, and I swam there as a child. However, the Conservative council in Redbridge proposes to close the pool by December. What advice can the Secretary of State give to the more than 100,000 people in my constituency who will no longer have a pool because of Conservative council incompetence?
My hon. Friend is a living embodiment of the good that swimming can do early, often and throughout one’s life. I would give his council similar advice to the advice that I would offer the council of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer): to come out of a position whereby swimming is an easy target—the item to be cut and the first thing to take away from people when the pressure is on—and take a more enlightened view. If councils invest in sport and physical activity in the long run, they can relieve pressure on other parts of the council budget. Given that we have made the money available and are providing incentives for councils to take up the scheme, I hope that my hon. Friend can persuade his council to follow that route with us.
Experience from existing schemes, such as in Wales and Wigan, leads us to believe that our free swimming initiative will make an important contribution to the aim of getting 2 million more people active in time for the London Olympics games in 2012.
Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), I have a pair of swimming trunks and I swim regularly. I pay tribute to the Government for wanting people to go swimming. However, from the Secretary of State’s answer, it appears that the Government have no evidence that their proposal will increase the uptake of swimming among the over-60s or the under-16s. People who already swim will get free swimming, which is very nice for them, but that will not encourage swimming. In fact, let us be blunt: the Government are just spending money on an eye-catching gimmick.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, the thought of him and his right hon. Friend in their swimming trunks is nearly putting me off my stride, but I will try to banish it from my mind. What I am beginning to hear, floating up, as it were, from the Opposition Benches, is a negativity and cynicism that is not shared by the public at large, who like the initiative and want the Olympic games to improve the way the country embraces sport and physical activity. The evidence is clear. My local authority has seen a nearly 50 per cent. increase in the number of young people going swimming. Trevor Barton, who was chair of Wigan borough sports council, and Rodney Hill, the chief executive of the Wigan leisure and culture trust, have said and proven that if we go down that path, people will take up swimming and new people will be brought into the pool. The hon. Gentleman might be cynical about that, but I most certainly am not.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Labour-controlled Bolton council, which has already introduced free entrance to all swimming pools for all pensioners and children? This year, the council will introduce free swimming lessons for children. Furthermore, it will build a brand new swimming pool in partnership with the university and, surprisingly, the primary care trust, because the pool will have a health facility built within it. Is that not a good thing?
It is a very good thing. I was at the Bolton arena not long ago to see the efforts being made to engage young people in sport in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and a mighty fine thing that is, too. What you are hearing today, Mr. Speaker, is that this policy—a Labour policy—is about the Government making sport available to as many people as possible. The Opposition carped about free entry to museums and galleries, which has seen the number of people using museums and galleries double, and they are doing the same today. I congratulate Bolton. I will have the courage of my convictions and say that what we are doing is the right thing to do. As a result, we can make lots more people healthy and active.
Will the Secretary of State congratulate the London borough of Redbridge on its investment in leisure facilities, with improvements in my swimming pool in Ilford, North and the commitment that it has given to swimming in Ilford, South? Under health and safety regulations, the council may indeed have to close the pool later this year, but is consulting the entire borough on how to raise the £50 million needed to replace the swimming pool in Ilford, South. Will the Secretary of State congratulate the Conservative-led Redbridge administration?
I will congratulate any council, of any political colour, that takes a bold vision on sport and physical activity. Let there be no doubt about that. Let me say also that we are talking about a fund to benefit everybody in the country. Any council is absolutely welcome to make its case to benefit from it. In the past four years, more local authority pools have opened than have closed in this country, contrary to popular belief. In the local area agreement process, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has been conducting, more than half of all councils have selected participation in sport as a priority indicator. That tells me that, at the local level, councils are prioritising sport. I congratulate them, but I ask them to work with us and to persuade those who have a different view to change tack.
Does my right hon. Friend wonder, like me, how we can encourage swimming under councils such as the Liberal Democrat council in Liverpool? It closed New Hall swimming pool in my constituency, which had been specially adapted for special needs? The next pool along, in Queen’s drive, was merged into Alsop school, thereby taking it out of public use for half the day. How is that encouraging people in a deprived part of the city to take up swimming?
On my frequent visits to Goodison Park, I see the new facility at Alsop school. It looks like a very good facility, and I hope that my hon. Friend will work hard to ensure that it is made as widely available to the community as possible. As much as possible, we need to work with councils to identify the barriers that prevent facilities from being used, and to help them to overcome them. If all else fails in making progress down this path in my hon. Friend’s constituency, I am sure that he will agree that swimming will always be free in the River Mersey.
The Secretary of State has just told the House that £142 million has been designated for this budget from a variety of Government Departments. Will he tell us how long he expects this budget to last, and at what point and in what financial year he will start raiding lottery funds?
The fund that we have put together is within the spending limits from the current comprehensive spending review. It predominantly covers the financial years 2009-10 and 2010-11—the back two years of the current spending review. We will want to see how the initiative develops, but, as I have already said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), councils such as ours are already saying that they are minded to make swimming universally free from April next year. We shall look at the evidence that emerges from Wigan, and from Blackburn, where the primary care trust has already agreed to make swimming universally free from April next year. Let us work with the areas that are going down this path, examine the evidence and consider whether to extend the scheme further as we approach the next spending review.
The UK has three tracks capable of hosting European standard series events, none of which is indoors. As part of the development of cycling facilities for the London 2012 Olympic games and Paralympic games, a velopark will be created in the Olympic park consisting of an Olympic standard BMX track with 6,000 spectator seats. After the games, the facility will remain as a permanent open-air BMX track.
Here we have a sport at which Britain excels, and Bassetlaw, which was the centre of the cycling revolution in Britain from the time of Tommy Simpson in the 1960s onwards, has one of the three BMX tracks. Will the Minister consider how much opportunities for our cyclist athletes would be improved, not least in terms of medal contention, if the BMX track at Harworth could be encased so that it is available in bad weather as well as in good weather? If that were to happen, we could be the very top team in the world, rather than just being among the top teams.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on championing some great sports. He will be aware that we have a BMX world champion in Shazane Reade, who is one of the leaders in the sport. My hon. Friend needs to speak to British Cycling, the national governing body for cycling, on the basis that it has transformed cycling. Anyone who saw the world cycling championships recently will know that Great Britain got 10 of the 17 gold medals available. Cycling is a progressive sport, and the organisation will perhaps consider my hon. Friend’s bid in the light of the new sports plans.
As the international standard cross-country mountain biking tracks are in Wales, Scotland, the north and the west, why is public money being used to create a new track in Essex, which lacks one of the key essential requirements for mountain biking—mountains? Could we not hold the event in south Wales, where there is an excellent track at Margam?
I understand that there are a few hills in Essex. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, in that we need to ensure that the recent Sport England review actually works. We need to talk to sports governing bodies to ensure that their whole sport plans will benefit everyone through different types of sport. The cycling governing bodies are leaders in reacting to proposals, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to take up this issue with the relevant organisation.
The Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with the chair and the chief executive of the Arts Council. We will meet them at the beginning of July to discuss the new three-year funding agreement and arrangements for monitoring.
Brighton and Hove arts commission has benefited from Arts Council England and Millennium Commission funding over the past few years, which has made a huge difference. The making a difference programme itself has put on nearly 2,000 performances and 300 events. Will the Minister tell me how she believes such funding will benefit not only the cultural diversity of my city but the run-up to the cultural Olympiad in 2012?
We are very proud of our record of investment in culture. Two out of three people nowadays go to a performance of some kind every year. All the figures show that, with a real-terms increase in spending, people’s participation and enjoyment of cultural experiences has more than doubled. Much of the work over the last decade or so—and, indeed, the work that we will be taking forward—has been to widen the pool of people who enjoy culture. Many who were perhaps disadvantaged in the past are now getting the benefit of that. In my visits to theatres, concerts, art exhibitions and dance performances, I am increasingly proud of the growing diversity of the audience and of the participation in those media.
The Government have now received advice on the strategic sale options to which I referred in my written statement to the House on 5 March this year. The Government are considering that advice and will announce as soon as possible how they intend to proceed.
It is now some seven years since the Government gave their manifesto commitment to privatise the Tote for the benefit of racing. As a result of dithering and failures in policy, the work force and the management are now still unclear about the Tote’s future. Will the Minister please give a commitment to a final date when we will really know the future for the work force and the management so that we can ensure that the Tote continues as an independent successful model that benefits racing and Wigan?
I know that the hon. Gentleman, along with other Members, takes a close interest in the Tote’s future—not only its development, but what will happen to its staff. The Goldman Sachs report is now with us and we will take a decision on the way forward at the earliest opportunity.
What recent meetings and discussions has the Minister had with representatives of the British Horseracing Authority? Will he reassure the House that once the sale of the Tote has been completed, racing will receive its fair share of the sale as soon as practicably possible?
Again, I know that my hon. Friend, as co-chair of the all-party racing and bloodstock industries group, takes a keen interest in this issue. He will understand the complexity of the issues we face in trying to meet our manifesto commitment while also giving 50 per cent. back to racing. I have had recent meetings with the British Horseracing Authority, the Racehorse Owners Association, the Racecourse Association and others, and they all have a view on what should be done with the 50 per cent. amount after the sale. First things first, however, as we need to take a decision on the way forward, and when we have done that we can talk to the racing authorities about how to divvy up the profits.
After seven years of dithering, incompetence and indecision, what confidence can the horse racing industry have in this Government to deliver any benefit to it from the sale of the Tote when Goldman Sachs is now reporting a £90 million black hole in the accounts and the price tag for the Tote has reduced by £100 million since last year alone?
I do not accept at all that there has been dithering. The issues are complex, involving state aid rules, the price of the Tote and how to give money back to racing. I believe that we have already shown in our discussions with the racing bodies that we are keen to move forward quickly and we will do so. We will honour the commitments that we have made.
Have we not already gone through plan A, plan B and plan C to get to the current plan D, and cannot we only surmise how many more alphabetic characters are to follow? Will not Brussels in any case veto any deal that redistributes any significant part of the proceeds to the racing industry; and in that light, should we not abandon the whole sorry saga?
We could do that, but it would be the wrong direction of travel. What we have to do is look at the options made available to us through the report that I mentioned. We will study it as quickly as we can and then take the appropriate decisions. In the interests of racing and of the staff who work at the Tote, I believe that we have to move forward. It is important to consider all the options, which I hope to do as quickly as possible.
Half the proceeds of the sale would be welcome to racing, if indeed the Minister can get that past Europe, but probably more important is the ongoing contribution that the Tote makes year on year to racing. If the Tote is sold on the open market, how will he guarantee that the money remains available to racing year after year after year?
That is the difficulty if we sell. We will also have to determine what the 50 per cent. should go to by working through what the definition of “racing” should be. Everybody in racing thinks that they should receive the 50 per cent. following the sale, but I have tried to get the racing industry to be more modern in its outlook, which is why we have tried to find a different way of dealing with the levy.
Whether it is with the pitch tenure positions or with the Tote, we are positively engaged with racing. All round the House, there are people who support racing and know that it is a great sport, but we have to try to move from a mentality of looking for handouts and towards the sport standing on its own two feet.
There is a sense of déjà vu: I understand that this question has been posed to the Government more than 40 times since 2001, when the manifesto commitment was made. The Minister must, at some point, make a decision—not only on the Tote, but, as he mentioned, about on-course bookmakers and the future of the levy. To add to that, we have the eagerly anticipated announcement, so to speak, on stakes and prizes. I plead with the Minister: may we please have some support for the £4 billion racing industry?
I will not take any lessons from the Conservative party on investment in racing. We have worked properly with racing to ensure that it modernises, which is why we have seen great developments and great strides forward. The issue involving the Tote is complex and governed by state aid rules. We want to ensure that we act in the best interests not only of racing and the people who work at the Tote, but of the taxpayer. On the other issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions, we will make announcements very soon.
Television Services (Sight-impaired People)
Blind or partially sighted people and those aged 75 or over are two of the groups eligible for the digital switchover help scheme. Voice-over narration, or audio description, is accessible through the equipment provided by the scheme. Recent trials of a talking electronic programme guide developed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People appear promising and will be kept under consideration by my Department in relation to the scheme.
I am sure that the RNIB and others who are concerned about people with sight impairment will welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. I am sure that she appreciates that the digital switchover, which could open up access to so many services, might extend the digital divide unless this process is put in place expeditiously.
Will my right hon. Friend agree to ensure that voice-over narration and talking menus are made available without delay through the core receiver requirements and for the set-top boxes that are available through that support scheme, which she mentioned? Will she also ensure that they are in place and available in good time for switchover in south Wales and my constituency of Cardiff, South and Penarth—that is, the middle part of next year?
First, I acknowledge the contribution that my right hon. Friend made to digital switchover during his time as a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. He is right to say that if we do not get this right it will increase the digital divide just when the opportunity of digital switchover ought to extend access to more programmes. We will ensure that audio description is integrated into the offer for all who need it. If we make progress as swift as technology allows on the electronic programming guide, clearly we will want to incorporate that, too, into the digital switchover programme.
Is the Minister aware that switchover in the borders later this year will affect hundreds of disabled and elderly people for whom it is essential that controls and menus are easy to use, if they are able to access digital TV at all? Will she assure the House that an individual’s need, not the cost, will be the deciding factor in which type of digital receiver is provided, because some disabled people find freeview easier to use than Sky?
Indeed, we must ensure that individuals have access to the system that suits them best. We have been working to ensure that the equipment available is accessible not just to the general population but to those with the greatest need, who might find it difficult to use buttons on a handset or whatever. That concern has driven our negotiations with manufacturers over the nature of the equipment.
We are working with the Amateur Swimming Association, the Local Government Association, Sport England and others to develop the arrangements for implementing the scheme. We will issue guidance to local authorities as early as possible, and, in any event, in plenty of time to allow them to prepare for setting budgets in the autumn. I will make a further statement, outlining progress, before the House rises for the summer recess.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. We dived into the swimming pool for Questions 1 and 2, and now we are on the surface for some swimming. Will he note that in Stafford the local council has just opened a brand-new, modern-design swimming pool, which has plenty of happy swimmers? The council is very interested in the scheme, but is anxious to know the criteria so that its plans for a new swimming pool can fit them. May I urge him to keep to the timetable that he has described, and to consult local government about design?
We have been very grateful for the help, co-operation and advice of the Local Government Association so far, and we will continue to have the closest possible dialogue with it in taking the scheme forward. As I said, the intention is to have a partnership with local government, not to impose anything on anybody. We want councils voluntarily to come up with the basic idea, and to help make swimming as free as possible. It is a fantastic statement to the public that brand-new facilities such as those described by my hon. Friend are available free. We will start with the over-60s and then hope to make progress on the under-16s. We will give details before the summer recess, which will allow his council to plan accordingly.
In many parts of the country, local authority swimming pools are already very busy, whereas swimming pools in private gyms are often underused. Has the Minister thought about encouraging the participation of the private sector in the initiative?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In the past few years, many private sector pools have opened, and making the best possible use of them is a matter for local decision making. As I said earlier, more local authority pools have opened than have closed, which is in itself a positive statement. In constructing the scheme, we want to provide the capital that is available to those local authorities that are prepared to do most. If the hon. Gentleman will accept the logic, the more that people use pools, the more that such local authorities deserve help with the maintenance and improvement of facilities. He makes a good point: some councils’ pools are run by private organisations on a contractual basis. I am prepared to be flexible to help all councils make the best possible use of the pools located in their areas.
The Government do not intend to introduce new regulation to tackle ticket touting. Ticket touting is banned for football matches on public disorder grounds, and for the Olympic games in 2012 to meet International Olympic Committee bid conditions. The Government have consistently taken the view that the consumer interest comes first, and market-led measures to benefit consumers are a far better option than the burden of legislation.
I thought that the Minister would say that, and I must say that I profoundly and utterly disagree with him. The truth is that ticket touts are parasites who prey on the legitimate interests of fans and the sporting and cultural achievements of this country. As he says, ticket touting is illegal in relation to the Olympics and football. Why should it be legal in relation to Wimbledon or big arts events? Let us make it illegal.
Well, he did; anyway, he has been vociferous in his support for making ticket touting illegal. The consumer should come first. First, we want to work with the governing bodies to see what the primary market can do to stop ticket touting. Secondly, we want to work with the secondary market to see what safeguards can be put in place in future. A market-led approach is better than a legislative one.
Today, I shall place the interim report from the digital radio working group in the Libraries of both Houses. Millions of people are already enjoying the benefits of digital radio, and I believe that radio must have a digital future if it is to remain relevant.
I am pleased that the working group has set a possible framework for digital radio migration, but a number of issues must be resolved before a decision on the framework can be made, not least the impact of digital migration on consumers. I look forward to the group’s final report at the end of the year, and to considering what steps can be taken to build a strong digital future for radio.
What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills about the consultation that that Department is conducting on informal learning, especially on the future of courses such as the exercise class that I attended at the Sutton College of Learning for Adults last Friday? Such provision is key to the delivery of the 1 per cent. increase in participation in physical activity that the Secretary of State wants to see. Can he promise some joined-up government and no cuts in exercise-related adult learning classes?
I have had one discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Both he and I recognise that the worlds of sport, music, the arts and culture have the potential to contribute enormously to informal learning provision for older people.
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s broad suggestion. The discussions are at the earliest stage and I do not want to imply that they are anywhere near finished, but I am thinking about how the DCMS world can make a contribution, and I will keep the hon. Gentleman up to date on progress.
The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) raised the issue of the Tote. May I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that there is a wider issue for the industry as a whole? In constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), literally hundreds of jobs are at stake. It is important for the final decision to be right for not just the short term but the long term. Will it take account of the fact that in metropolitan areas such as Wigan, investment of this kind has been a driver for change in the labour market over the past decade? We should like that change to be sustained through the ensuring of good access to the excellent jobs that the Tote currently provides.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner). Both have shown considerable interest in matters relating to the Tote, especially those involving the work force. The decision will affect 600 jobs, so it is important that we get it right, not only for the taxpayer but for people who work in the north-west. I shall be happy to meet both my hon. Friends later today to discuss the issue in more detail.
I am always interested in issues of national importance. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to me with the details so that I can consider this matter properly. If it requires me to visit his constituency, of course I shall be happy to do so.
My constituency is very close to that of my hon. Friend. When I look at Winter Hill and think about the signal being switched off in a little over a year’s time, it certainly focuses my mind.
I am aware of the problems in Skelmersdale, where people have historically received television programmes via a local authority-operated cable system that is now approaching the end of its useful life. Ofcom has required that a new relay transmitter to serve the town must be built and operational before switchover in the Granada area late in 2009. I understand that the process is likely to be completed as planned, subject to the availability of a suitable site, local planning permission and the allocation of suitable frequencies, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will pay the closest possible attention to the issue, and will ensure that her constituents benefit from switchover when the time comes.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern that has been expressed about his recent remarks that appear to rule out the possibility of taking advantage of the European Union audiovisual media services directive to allow some product placement on commercial television? If he has made up his mind on this issue, what is the point of having a consultation on it?
May I say to the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the Government often conduct a consultation on the back of a preference—a clearly stated view—and that is what I did in this instance? I take the view that British television has benefited from having standards and integrity, and that it has an international reputation for that. I further take the view that, especially when we contemplate the pressures that commercial television may face in the future, we in this country should think about allowing the space between programmes to be sold, and not the space within them. I do not believe that British viewers want to think that the hand of the ad sales director might have been at play in editorial decisions. That is my preference, but I said in my speech that I understood that others would say that there are benefits to product placement. We will conduct the consultation, and although I have made my initial preference clear I am prepared to hear other sides of the debate. If the hon. Gentleman holds different views, he is welcome to put them to me, and at the end of the process we will come to a considered decision.
I would be very willing to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues in order to see how we might be able to help take further forward the discussions in her area. Only on Friday, I opened the Leigh indoor sports centre. It is part of the £80-million Leigh sports village, which, frankly, is my pride and joy. It is a scheme that will, in a deprived part of the country such as my hon. Friend’s, give people access to the highest quality sports facilities. I could not be more proud of anything I have ever achieved than I am of that. If she is seeking to do something similar in her constituency, she will have my full support.
In January, the Arts Council announced that it was cutting funding to respected organisations such as the Derby playhouse, the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford and the City of London Symphonia, yet over seven years its spending on administration has risen from 5p in every pound distributed to 12p in every pound distributed. What measures will the Department take to ensure that the public’s money is being spent on arts, not arts administration?
Let me first say that in that same settlement, which was very generous, and under which there has been a £50 million increase in the money available to the Arts Council over what is a very tight spending review period, more than 80 new organisations received Arts Council funding for the first time. That is as it should be, because the arts change and it is important that the Arts Council reflects that in its distribution of moneys. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that we should always work towards reducing the money spent on administration and ensuring that it goes out to the front line. The Arts Council has been taking steps over the past years to reduce its administrative costs, and it has succeeded in doing so. [Interruption.] From the figures I have in front of me, I do not recognise the figures the hon. Gentleman puts to us, but of course there is more work to be done on this, and part of the Arts Council’s remit over the current spending review settlement period is to produce a cut in the administrative costs year on year.
I am as passionate about cricket—not just Test cricket but all cricket—as my hon. Friend is, and I understand how high passions run on this issue. However, I point out that when Test rights were drawn up on the secondary list—on the B-list—that allowed the England and Wales Cricket Board significantly to increase the amount of money it was able to invest in grass-roots cricket: £30 million in investment in facilities and clubs, and there is also the “Chance to shine” scheme, which has been a real success. There always has to be a balance between grass-roots investment and access to the sport. I hear what my hon. Friend says and I have a lot of sympathy with his wish to get more people watching cricket, but we always have to listen to the governing body and get money into the grass roots to get more young people playing.
Do the Government acknowledge that amusement arcades and bingo clubs are on their knees? In February, the Minister with responsibility for such matters promised to respond to recovery proposals within a week. In March, he said that he would respond shortly; in May, he said that it would be very soon. And yet we are still waiting. Is he aware that while the softer forms of gambling are collapsing, there is a huge growth in the highly addictive and super-lucrative gaming machines in betting shops? Has he not got his priorities wrong, and how soon is very soon?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have referred the issue of fixed-odds betting terminals to the Gambling Commission because of our concern about the migration to FOBTs. I am pleased to reassure him with the announcement that we will make a written statement this Wednesday to answer the issues of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and the bingo industry.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is of prime importance. The question is how, given the changing technology, we ensure that proper value is obtained for creators across all our sectors—be it music, film or the written word. We said in our “Creative Britain” document that if we could not get a voluntary agreement between the ISPs and the industry on these issues, we would introduce proposals for regulation. We stand by that, but I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that the mere publication of the document is already encouraging both parties to come to the table. We are hopeful that we can in the near future obtain a voluntary agreement between them, to the benefit of all those who create in Britain today.
The questions that the hon. Gentleman raises are straightforwardly an editorial matter for the BBC, but in all her discussions with the Chinese authorities my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has repeatedly made the point that there should be progress toward full freedom of speech on all issues. She continues to make that case at every opportunity.
As my hon. Friend knows, we have made our new policy for Sport England public in the past few weeks, and it is very much a policy of working through the national governing bodies of sport. We want to get 1 million more people playing organised and competitive sport, and that means having a clear relationship with the governing bodies in order to provide more coaching and more competitive opportunities to young people, thus expanding the talent pool at the very bottom, so that we can increase the chances of international success for the country. That is the vision that we have set out. It is a clear vision that sharpens the distinction between sport and physical activity. We think it is the right way to go, when coupled with initiatives such as free swimming, which will help to get more people active.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on listed sporting events and his robust defence of the need for such a list to ensure free-to-air access to our main national sports. I am as committed as he is to that principle, because it is important to balance giving sports access to the widest possible public and getting money into the grass roots. He will be aware that the list is subject to some challenge in Europe—for example whether it is possible to maintain such a policy. I assure him that I am vigorously defending the principles of the list, and I look forward to having continued discussions with him on this subject.