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House of Commons

Monday 14 June 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what grants his Department is making to support the preservation of the major cathedrals.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke) : The cathedral repair grant scheme assists with the repair both of cathedrals and of comparable buildings of other denominations. English Heritage has provided £11.5 million over the three financial years to 1993-94, and I was pleased to announce that £4 million will be available for this work in each of the years 1994-95 and 1995-96.

Mr. Brandreth : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the maintenance of our great cathedrals can no longer be left to the cathedrals themselves and the Church Commissioners? Chester cathedral is enormously grateful for the support of English Heritage, the European Community and local businesses such as North West Securities. Does my right hon. Friend plan to do more to explore, encourage and sustain partnerships of that kind for the further support of our great and ancient cathedrals?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend is right to identify the need for help for the fabric of our cathedrals and about the notable effectiveness of a pluralist response. I am grateful to him for his comments about English Heritage's contribution, and I look forward to the kind of partnership that he described in a series of cases.

Mr. Enright : While welcoming the support for cathedrals, may I ask whether it applies only to ecclesia Anglicana, or do all other churches and similar buildings receive a grant?

Mr. Brooke : I shall reiterate my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). I said that the cathedral repair grant scheme assists with the repair both of cathedrals and of comparable buildings of other denominations.


2. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what initiatives his Department has taken to promote deregulation.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : My Department is currently carrying out a detailed review of those regulations which impact upon businesses that regularly and significantly supply goods and services in areas for which my Department is responsible. Most of these regulations are not the direct responsibility of my Department but, where justified, my Department will be making strong representations to the relevant Department about unnecessary and burdensome regulations and over-zealous or unacceptably inconsistent standards of enforcement.

Lady Olga Maitland : I warmly welcome my hon. Friend on his return to the Dispatch Box and congratulate him on his commitment, about which I know, to dealing with absurd red tape. Will he tackle as a priority the extraordinary absurdities in fire regulations? Is he aware that they date back to the days when theatres were lighted by gas flames, when cinemas distributed films on highly combustible nitrate, and when there were no smoke alarms or fire ventilators? Such regulations place impossible burdens on places of entertainment. Therefore, will my hon. Friend tackle that problem and modernise all the regulations, bringing them up to date?

Mr. Sproat : I am glad that my hon. Friend asked that question, because she made two important points. First, with regulations on such matters as fire safety, it is extremely important to ensure that we keep them and that we have the right ones. Equally, it is clear that it is unlikely that fire safety regulations introduced for theatres lighted by gas will be as modern as they should be. Following her perspicacious question, I shall see whether that should be changed.

Mrs. Clwyd : I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box, and have a question about maintaining a policy of deregulation of the press. Will he enlighten the House on the extent of the disagreement between his Department and the Prime Minister on that issue? Is it true that the policy unit at No. 10 was planning a meeting on that matter with Fleet street editors without consulting the Secretary of State? Is it not the case that the Secretary of State favours self-regulation, while the Prime Minister, facing a hostile press, wants to impose tough controls? Is there some disagreement?

Mr. Sproat : No, there is no disagreement. We shall make our views known in due course, as the hon. Lady well knows from the debate last Thursday.

Mr. Waterson : May I join those welcoming my hon. Friend back to the Dispatch Box after he was rudely interrupted? Does he agree that the last thing that restaurateurs and hoteliers in my constituency of Eastbourne need is more regulation, and that it is quite absurd that, for example, cheeses have to be kept in a separate room in a fridge, when one has only to cross the channel to see them kept as they should be, in the restaurant, without benefit of refrigeration?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. There are many such examples. We may come to deal with them in more detail in a later question. I shall certainly look at the example that he gave and deal with it.

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Regional Orchestras

3. Mr. Barry Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy on regional orchestras ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sproat : The Arts Council and the BBC are responsible for formulating policy relating to regional orchestras. They are collaborating on a joint review of orchestral provision, and a report will be considered by their governing councils later this year. A period of public consultation is planned subsequently.

Mr. Jones : Bearing in mind the pressure on the Arts Council budget, what is the future for great northern orchestras, such as the Liverpool Philharmonic and Manchester Halle ? I declare my interest as a life member of the Liverpool Philharmonic and as a friend and subscriber.

Does the Minister accept that the Liverpool Philharmonic has considerable financial difficulities? Will he explain how he may help that great orchestra, as it has a great record of touring and artistic success, and has a charismatic maestro in the person of Libor Pesak? I think that he will agree that Liverpool is now making a new economic future. it is proud of its orchestra and to make the best of its prospects, Liverpool needs the Philharmonic to have the best possible financial backing. What can he do to help that great orchestra?

Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I share his view of the high qualities of the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Halle . I can tell him--these are not glib words--that the Arts Council increased the grant to both orchestras by more than 6 per cent. last year, which was more than other main regional orchestras got. That was more than £1 million to each. We are both seized of the importance of the artistic quality to which he referred and, through the Arts Council, are doing something specific and considerable about it.

Mr. Dickens : Will my hon. Friend concede that the Halle is one of the finest orchestras in the world? It gives great pleasure in Manchester and the north-west--and, indeed, internationally : it is admired throughout the world. Can we assume from the assurances that my hon. Friend has given that he will ensure that our northern orchestras are properly funded?

Mr. Sproat : I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. It is a great tribute to the Halle orchestra that its standards have never been higher than they are today, even in the days of Sir John Barbirolli. We are determined to maintain those high standards, both for the people of Manchester and around the world, where the orchestra tours.

Film Industry

4. Mr. Jessel : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what discussions he has held with the British and international film industry ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke : In February this year, I met the president of the Motion Picture Export Association of America, at his request, to discuss the state of the United Kingdom industry and United States interests here. I am now engaged in a round of 10 meetings with the different

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sectors of the United Kingdom industry to discuss the state of the industry and possible measures to help it. I will announce my conclusions in due course.

Mr. Jessel : Many British films are brilliant--of outstanding quality--with British talent winning top awards for acting, photography, direction and production. Will my right hon. Friend see what can be done to retain as much British talent as possible in British-made films, and to bring together people who might finance more first-class films?

Mr. Brooke : I wholly agree with my hon. Friend's analysis of the strength of the industry. The aim of the important talks in which we are engaged is to discover whether, by some means or other, we can restore critical mass to the industry, and build on that.

Mrs. Dunwoody : Is the Secretary of State aware that there is no great secret about the matter? The industry is capable of not only attracting large sums to this country, but providing a good deal of employment. Its present parlous state is directly due to Her Majesty's Government's refusal to give it any assistance, either fiscally or in any other way. Will the right hon. Gentleman simply accept that it is his responsibility to do something quickly?

Mr. Brooke : I do not often address one of my constituents in so direct a manner, but that was not the most knowledgeable question that the hon. Lady has ever asked. [Hon. Members :-- "She will not vote for you now."] The hon. Lady has frequently told me that she does not vote for me.

The Government provide £24 million in support of the industry, by a variety of means. In the talks in which we are engaged, we are analysing possible other ways in which help could be provided.

Mr. Harry Greenway : May another of my right hon. Friend's constituents--who does vote for him--remind him of the excellent work done by the Ealing film studios

Mr. Cormack : Carry on Harry !

Mr. Greenway : --mostly in producing comedies? Is he aware that there are many more excellent films where those great films came from, and that they can be made if money goes into the industry? Will he do even more than he is already doing?

Mr. Brooke : It is because of the industry's underlying strength-- not least in terms of technical resources, as well as creative and acting resources--that we are conducting our conversations. It may be worth recording that the bringing together of various aspects of film in my Department represents the first occasion on which the cultural and commercial considerations have been united in a single place.

Mr. Corbett : We welcome the talks between the Secretary of State and those involved in the film industry. I hope that he will also consult those who are active in film making in the regions ; they have a role to play as well.

Films involving British producers, directors and writers have won about a third of the Hollywood Oscars over the past 20 years. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, however, that last year only one major cinema film was made here? Is he aware that American films netted 10 times the £24.4 million earned by British films in the United Kingdom last

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year? Will he not introduce tax breaks and other incentives to help British film makers build on their success and compete more equally, here and in the international market, at a time of rising cinema attendances?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the talks in which we are engaged. I can give the House a further piece of news about the industry's achievements : of the 36 scripts chosen last week under the EC media programme, seven were British film scripts.

As for the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, although I may discuss the issue with the Chancellor, tax is essentially a matter for him.


5. Mr. Coe : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he is taking to introduce more deregulation measures to help the tourist industry.

Mr. Sproat : I am deeply concerned about the reports of unnecessary and seemingly counter-productive regulatory burdens under which large sections of the tourism industry believe that they currently operate. I am therefore now inviting those involved in the tourism industry to write to me and/or to come and speak to me directly in the next month about problems arising from over-regulation. I shall be writing later today to all the regional tourist boards and other appropriate tourist bodies, inviting their views. I have already asked my officials to undertake an urgent and detailed inquiry into burdensome regulations specifically in tourism. My Department will then produce a report on this important subject and make the results known before the House rises.

Mr. Coe : I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and wish him particular luck with the part of his portfolio relating to sport--he will certainly need it.

I thank my hon. Friend for his specific and helpful reply. He should be aware that the tourism industry will be pleased and encouraged by his words. May I immediately take him up on his offer to consult directly with hoteliers and other branches of the industry, and ask him whether he will see a delegation from my constituency which will put to him at first hand the deeply damaging regulations which beset many hoteliers and most branches of the industry?

Mr. Sproat : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I should be extremely pleased to see a delegation from his constituency, because I know only too well that the south-west of England is one of the areas in which tourism is suffering particularly dramatically.

Mr. Raynsford : Does not the Minister recognise that, without proper and effective regulation on many aspects of our national heritage, we should not have much of a tourist industry, because historic buildings would have been demolished, our beauty spots destroyed by insensitive road development and works of art exported because of a lack of controls? Will he put aside the absurd ideological fetish of deregulation and recognise that there is a need to preserve what is best in Britain's heritage?

Mr. Sproat : I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that of course there are many spheres in which regulation is extremely important. I have already mentioned fire regulation, and I agree that regulation to preserve and

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conserve that which is best in our heritage is another. However, it does not mean that, while preserving good regulations, we should not consider the barmy ones, which is precisely what my Department is going to do--distinguish sharply and clearly between the two different types.

Mr. Gorst : Can my hon. Friend estimate what regulation is costing at the moment? If he is not able, at this stage, to give an estimate, will he ensure that, when the survey has been carried out, we are given figures as well as general facts?

Mr. Sproat : I will gladly do my very best to produce figures on the burdens that the tourist industry is suffering from regulation. It will not be easy, but we shall ask the industry for its best estimates, and we will certainly publish them.

Mr. Pendry : In welcoming the Minister to his new post and recognising his zealous approach to most regulations, may I remind him that the tourist retail task force initiative is well under way, and that many new measures of good deregulation could flow from its deliberations? Will he assure us that his initiative will not in any way hinder or duplicate its efforts? Will he accept it from me that what the industry wants from him is a clear commitment to restore the damaging cuts made by his predecessor to the English tourist board? As the chief executive of the board said, unless the Government make such an effort, there will be no meaningful services beyond 1994.

Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman, perfectly fairly, asks two quite separate questions. I give him the guarantee that he seeks on regulations : we will not hinder any work that anybody else is doing. We shall draw on work that other bodies are doing on deregulation and use it. On cuts in the ETB, it is quite impossible at a time of severe economic restraint for anybody to be wholly immune from economic restraint. The ETB must bear its burden. Tourism increased by 8 per cent. in the first quarter of this year. We have low interest rates and low inflation. Tourism is doing very well, and it is my intention to make it do even better.

Mr. Nigel Evans : Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a cost benefit analysis of rules and regulations as they affect tourism and other departments and that, where costs are disproportionate to the benefit that they would bring, the rules and regulations should be scrapped?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I assure him that we shall seek to make not only a compliance cost assessment of every regulation but a risk assessment to see whether it is worth the risk that it is trying to obviate. I give my hon. Friend the assurances that he seeks.

Broadcasting Act 1990

6. Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what assessment he has made of the working of the Broadcasting Act 1990 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke : The aim was to increase diversity and choice in radio and television service, and this is being achieved.

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Mr. Mandelson : In view of the private conclave that the Secretary of State is holding with ITV bigwigs later this afternoon, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the Government still believe in the principles of competition and regional diversity, as contained in the Broadcasting Act 1990, or now support greater concentration of ownership and takeovers among ITV companies? If it is the latter, what steps will he take to ensure that we do not suffer from a wave of foreign takeovers and invasions of British television companies?

Mr. Brooke : Since I took office, a number of television companies have asked to see me to discuss aspects of the 1990 Act. Some put one position, some put another, but these were a series of bilateral conversations in which the stations and companies argued their case. I thought that there was virtue in having a meeting, which I am holding this afternoon, at which it would be possible for all to express their opinions with others present so that there will be discussion among them. My job is to listen to the debate.

Mr. Alison : Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Independent Television Commission to ensure in its review of the codes of practice for religious broadcasting that the Christian gospel, of which he is a doughty champion and which is an essential part of our cultural heritage, can be presented directly and unambiguously on all main independent television channels?

Mr. Brooke : I am conscious of the responsibility and intention of the ITC to review the code, and I shall be in touch with it about that review.

Mr. Maclennan : Has the Secretary of State yet had a chance to reach a conclusion on the representations that he has received from a number of companies about the allocation of transmission costs and the proposal to depart from the IBA formula that related costs to the earning power of regions? The proposals that have been made by the majority of companies in the Independent Television Companies Association would leave at least five of the small companies bearing a burden that would put at risk the continuance of television in those areas.

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that propositions have been put to me by the association. My Department has been in touch with individual broadcasters on matters deriving from those propositions. I am addressing that matter at the moment.

Mr. John Greenway : As an adviser to Yorkshire Television, may I thank my right hon. Friend for the very courteous and constructive way in which he is listening to the real concerns about the future of commercial television in this country? He is right that there is a difference of view among regional franchise holders about the sort of structure needed for the ownership of television franchises in the United Kingdom. But the franchise holders are united in their request for an extension of the moratorium on foreign takeovers, as referred to by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). Will my right hon. Friend please see to it that that is done?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend identifies part of the problem that I was reflecting when I answered the hon. Member for Hartlepool. We do not enjoy unanimity in these matters, and that is one of the reasons why I wish to hear the companies debate the matter in my presence.

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Mrs. Clwyd : Will the Secretary of State reflect when he meets the ITV companies this afternoon that there is unanimity about the chaos caused to the companies by the Broadcasting Act 1990? Will he also reflect on the widespread belief that concentration of ownership will mean less regional diversity, less--not more--competition within ITV and less employment in the regions? Will he remember that the rationale for the Act was not to make the biggest profits for operators, but to ensure the survival of regional commercial television?

Mr. Brooke : I understand that, in circumstances such as Question Time, it can be impossible to expand on a particular point. However, the hon. Lady did not amplify her remark about chaos. With regard to the representations that she made about a particular point of view, they have been made to me before and, no doubt, will be made to me again later this afternoon by those directly involved.

Theatre and Dance Companies

7. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will list all those (a) theatre, (b) ballet, and (c) dance companies which have had their arts grant funding withdrawn in each of the last three years.

Mr. Sproat : Aggregate funding in these three areas by the Arts Council is currently more than £60 million. In the past three years, no theatre or ballet company has had its grant withdrawn by the Arts Council. Funding was withdrawn from one dance company, Extemporary Dance, in December 1991.

Mr. Hughes : Do the Minister and the Secretary of State realise that, unless some extra funding can be secured, the London City Ballet will have gone into liquidation and come to an end before the next Question Time on this issue? The company is extremely popular and successful and a high revenue earner, both at home and abroad. Would Ministers be willing to meet a deputation from all parts of the House in the next few days and before the deadline, to ensure we do not have the economic madness of a company going out of production that would cost the taxpayer more if it were not performing than if it was?

Mr. Sproat : I am well aware of the 3 July deadline to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I also think that his description of the work of the London City Ballet is accurate. I should be pleased to meet a delegation from all parts of the House to see what might be done. However, I would not wish to raise expectations too high, given that the Arts Council operates at arm's length and has decided that it does not want to continue to support the company.

Mr. Dicks : May I welcome my hon. Friend to his Front-Bench position? May I tell him that there are many thousands of people in the country who are sick and tired of any of that nonsense being funded from the public purse? Can he take the opportunity, at a time of financial stringency, to recommend to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that his Department be done away with altogether?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend's views on the matter are well known, and I take them seriously. [Interruption.] Well, I would say that many people--perhaps more outside the House than inside--who look at the £225 million that the Arts Council receives each year say that

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that is equivalent to three brand-new hospitals. We have to look after the spiritual health as well as the physical state of the nation, but both should have their proper place in our accounting.

Mr. Sheldon : Has the Minister seen the new Globe theatre rising on the south bank? It is now visible even from the other side of the river. As the theatre has not received public funds and is nearing completion, will the Minister ensure that some funds are now made available to that project in some way that is open to him?

Mr. Sproat : I am not aware of the details of the case to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. However, I will certainly look at the matter and give it proper consideration.

Industrial Heritage Year

8. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received about Industrial Heritage Year ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke : I have received no representations, but I understand that there has been an encouraging response to the English tourist board's promotional campaign : "Experience the Making of Britain".

Mr. Thurnham : In view of the importance of Industrial Heritage Year in the north-west, may I extend an invitation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to visit the historic Hall i' th' Wood museum in my constituency, which is the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the home of Samuel Crompton and which is now very much in need of repair? It would be excellent if Industrial Heritage Year could be the occasion for that historic building to be restored properly.

Mr. Brooke : As my hon. Friend knows, I had the great pleasure of visiting his constituency in March so that we could both watch Bolton Wanderers win and we are both delighted by the success of Bolton Wanderers this season. I very much hope that there will be a further opportunity to visit Bolton in the reasonably near future.

Ms Eagle : Is not it a damning indictment of 14 years of Conservative rule that we are to have an Industrial Heritage Year when the Government have destroyed large swathes of British industry? All we are good at producing is museums of industrial heritage and not a good, viable industrial future for the people of this country.

Mr. Brooke : I draw the hon. Lady's attention to the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) to the fact that we were talking about the residence of Samuel Crompton. We have an industrial heritage which dates back more than two centuries and it is something of which we are extremely proud.

Tourist Attractions (Signing)

9. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has had about European signs for tourist attractions.

Mr. Sproat : I have had no such representations.

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Mr. Evans : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that there is a rumour that an elephant is to be used as the sign for a tourist attraction? Does he agree that elephants trumpet a lot, that they are lethargic and that they are very grey? Does he agree that it might be a good idea if the lot opposite changed the red rose to an elephant?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend makes his usual forthright and trenchant contributions to our deliberations.

Broadcasting Act 1990

10. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received regarding the workings of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Mr. Brooke : I have received representations on a number of issues through meetings and correspondence with broadcasters and others, including somes it too much to hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge that the Broadcasting Act 1990 was a disaster ; that morale in the industry is at an all-time low and that about one third of the work force in independent television--skilled people--has been lost since the 1990 Act was passed ; that there has been a steady drift of production facilities to London away from the regions and that there has been a very worrying and, indeed, frightening concentration of ownership within the industry?

British broadcasting, which was once admired throughout the world, is now drifting inexorably towards American-style broadcasting. Is it too much to hope that the Secretary of State, who is responsible for our national heritage, will acknowledge that broadcasting, which used to be part of our national heritage and which was admired, needs to be preserved and that he needs to review the 1990 Act if he is to do that?

Mr. Brooke : I would not for a moment dream of accepting the language that the hon. Gentleman used in posing the first part of his question. Indeed, many think that the transition which has flowed through the introduction of the 1990 Act has been remarkable. As to the further substance of what the hon. Gentleman said, I think that he knows from other places that I am as concerned as he is about ensuring that we retain a critical mass in British broadcasting which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, is admired throughout the world.

Dr. Spink : I am amazed at the Luddite attitude of the Labour party. Does not my right hon. Friend recall that it was the Labour party which opposed the introduction of ITV--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should remember that we ask questions about Government policy in Question Time.

Dr. Spink : The Labour party also opposed the introduction of Channel 4. Will my right hon. Friend join me in deploring the Labour party's continued hostility towards the extension of choice?

Madam Speaker : Order. I recall calling the hon. Gentleman to order previously on these matters. Hon.

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Members must question Government policy at Question Time. The hon. Gentleman has one more minute to have another go.

Hon. Members : No.

English Tourist Board (Redundancies)

11. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he intends to meet the chairman of the English tourist board to discuss staff redundancies.

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