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House of Commons

Monday 7 February 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Tourism (London)

1. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what initiatives his Department is taking to promote tourism in London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : Government support for tourism is channelled through the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board. Through the English tourist board, support is also made available to the 11 regional boards, including the London tourist board. Only last week, my right hon. Friend co-hosted the reception to launch the inaugural London arts season. This ETB/BTA-led initiative, in conjunction with several of my Department's sponsor bodies, will help to boost tourism at a traditionally slack time of year.

Mr. Hughes : I thank the Minister for that answer. Is not our greatest tourist asset our capital city? The people whose job it is to promote the capital and to guarantee the huge amounts of revenue that flow from tourism feel at a disadvantage because of the lack of coherence and structure that govern their ability to present London as a

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city. Will the Minister look at ways to ensure that, in future, we can present the tourism potential of London strategically rather than piecemeal?

Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, because 54 per cent. of foreigners who visit this country come to London and tourism is responsible for more than 200,000 jobs and £4.8 billion in revenue. He is entirely right to stress the importance of tourism. I also accept that bringing all the tourism effort together is an important consideration, but it is not always appropriate to have one body to deal with everything. London First has been launched to try to improve the quality of life for Londoners and the London tourist board is primarily responsible for tourists. Those organisations meet and we certainly try to achieve the maximum co-ordination.

Mr. Jessell : As tourists come to London not for our weather but because London is one of the arts capitals of the world, with an unparalleled range of opera, ballet, concerts, museums, historic buildings and heritage, not to mention the monarchy and our royal family, are not those the things which we should continue most to promote among tourists?

Mr. Sproat : Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely right : London is the arts capital of the world nowadays. I entirely accept what my hon. Friend has said and, through the British Tourist Authority, the English tourist board and the London tourist board, we shall do everything possible to do what he wishes.

Mr. Cohen : Was not London so far behind in the race to host the Commonwealth games that it was humiliating? If London had won, that would have brought in a lot of tourists. That bid was put forward by a quango that had been set up by the Government, of which no one in London had ever heard. Is not it about time that the Government admitted their mistake and re-established a Londonwide authority to represent London properly?

Mr. Sproat : I think that the whole House will congratulate Manchester, including even those hon.

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Members who represent London and Sheffield, which did not win. We certainly do not want to return to one body like the former Greater London council.

Competitive Sport

2. Mr. Hawkins : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what plans he has to encourage greater participation by children in competitive sport ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sproat : I am talking to a number of organisations and practitioners about ways of promoting competitive sport more widely, and will be holding a consultative seminar on this issue very shortly.

Mr. Hawkins : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Was not the positive response from many leading sports bodies to the report produced by the Conservative Back-Bench committee on sport extremely welcome? Will my hon. Friend be having further discussions with our ministerial colleagues at the Department for Education about enhancing the opportunities for competitive sports in our schools?

Mr. Sproat : I congratulate my hon. Friend and all those who produced the report "Team Games and Competitive Sport in Schools". It is an extremely valuable contribution to an important debate. The Department for Education is well aware of the importance of team games and competitive sports. I hope that, together, we can produce a plan for even more team games and competitive sport in schools.

Mr. Pendry : If the Minister genuinely wants to encourage more competitive team sport in schools, had not he better start winning some battles with the Department for Education? For instance, is there to be one hour a day for physical education in the national curriculum, as the Minister advocated to sports writers last month, or is there to be the totally inadequate time of one hour a week, as advocated by Sir Ron Dearing? Is the Minister battling with the Secretary of State for Education to scrap regulation 909, which resulted in £70,000-worth of playing fields being sold off every day of last year? Unless that regulation is scrapped, few playing fields for any sports will be left. Unless the Minister's tough words are matched by strong ministerial action, his credibility in the sporting world will decline even faster, and that is saying a lot.

Mr. Sproat : I am having no battles with the Department for Education, just a series of friendly and genial conversations. I hope that, in the end, much more time will be given to physical education in schools, by which I mean not just lectures on the history of sport but team games and competitive sports.

The point about playing fields is important. I hate to see playing fields sold off, but I understand the pressures. The hon. Gentleman will know that, since December, we have for the first time a register of all playing fields in the country. It is a good move forward, which I hope will help us with the problems that he described.

Mr. John Carlisle : After England's magnificent and comprehensive victory against the Scots on Saturday, will my hon. Friend take time to consider encouraging the playing of rugby union in schools? Will he also support the many local junior clubs that encourage and coach the

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youngsters, often in the parents' spare time and on a voluntary basis? If he encourages them, may not we hope for even more magnificent victories at Twickenham in the future?

Mr. Sproat : Having seen the match, I thought that England was very lucky to win and it was a heart-breaking result. None the less, I congratulate rugby union on what it has done for those youth sports. It has made tremendous strides. All the home countries can learn from rugby union's promotion of rugby among young people.

News At Ten"

3. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what recent discussions he has had with the ITV Association over proposals to move the timing of "News at Ten".

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke : None. The scheduling of news programmes is a matter for the ITV companies and the Independent Television Commission.

Mr. Patchett : Does the Minister recall the Government's stated commitment in the Broadcasting Act 1990 to the importance of national and world news? Will he now make it clear that he backs the Prime Minister in objecting to plans to move "News at Ten" to a much earlier time slot?

Mr. Brooke : The matter that the hon. Gentleman raises has latterly gone on the back burner. Following the exchanges between the ITC and Channel 3 licensees, the ITC has made it clear that "News at Ten" will continue to be broadcast at 10 o'clock.

Mr. Fabricant : I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments and am glad that he accepts that it is primarily a matter for the independent television contractors. Does he agree that, were it not for a Conservative Government, we would have neither ITV nor "Sky News", because the Labour party voted against the formation of independent television and the implementation of satellite television?

Mr. Brooke : As a Conservative, I pay close attention to history, and I share my hon. Friend's view that the Opposition occasionally suffer from amnesia about what has gone before.

Mr. Corbett : Is not it clear that ITV beat only a tactical withdrawal from its plans to move "News at Ten" to an earlier slot last year, the better to counter the livelier scheduling of Channel 4--which runs its news between 7 and 8 pm and which can therefore get its evening film on earlier--and the better to attract the audience that it needs? Is the Secretary of State simply going to let the provisions of the Broadcasting Act be tinkered with in a piecemeal way, as he did with ownership? Would not it make more sense to announce a review of the Act, to sort out the sorry mess that it is creating?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman speaks of a "tactical withdrawal". The fact remains that the rescheduling of "News at Ten" would require the ITC's approval if all the regional licensees are to remain in compliance with their general licence conditions. Given that that is how the Act stands, it sounds to me as though we are better off with the Act than with what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

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4. Mr. McCartney : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he last met representatives of the Rugby Football League to discuss rugby matters.

Mr. Sproat : I met representatives of the Rugby Football League on 22 November 1993 and discussed a number of issues with them. I was also pleased to attend the annual dinner of the all-party rugby league group on 13 December.

Mr. McCartney : I thank the Minister for that answer. I am also pleased that he did not give us a detailed report of what went on at the dinner of the all-party rugby league group.

What negotiations and discussions has the hon. Gentleman had with the Ministry of Defence about that Ministry's continued determination, which has lasted for 99 years, to exclude the playing of rugby league by the armed forces? Last time the matter was raised in the House, the Minister gave us a commitment that he would hold discussions and said that he hoped to produce a report which would mean that, for the first time in nearly a century, the game could be played without the interference of civil servants or senior officers in the affairs of those squaddies and others who want to play the game.

Mr. Sproat : I had a meeting with the Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence on 16 December and wrote him a letter following up the meeting. I told him that I wanted a new and fair deal for rugby league in the armed services. He gave me what I thought was an extremely positive and helpful reply. He is now conducting a review of the way in which not just rugby league but all sports are financed and dealt with in the armed services. I very much hope to have an answer on the results of that review by Easter.

Mr. Waller : That is a helpful reply. I welcome my hon. Friend's sustained efforts to reconcile the two codes of rugby--at the local level, co-operation, not conflict, is generally the rule. Can my hon. Friend report any progress in his efforts to ensure that the stringent regulations governing safety at sports grounds do not unduly hamper rugby league clubs, given that the crowds at such games tend to be very disciplined and well behaved?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. Although all sports grounds, whatever sports are played on them, need to be safe, most of the regulations that have to be observed came about as a result of the fact that soccer grounds generally have much larger and ooccasionally much more obstreperous crowds than do rugby league grounds, where people are well behaved and average crowds tend to be much smaller. So the rugby league grounds are paying the price of that. I am trying to find new ways to avoid financially disadvantaging rugby league as a result of what happens at soccer grounds.

National Lottery

5. Mr. Tyler : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what criteria he would expect to be used in deciding the location of the national lottery operation.

Mr. Brooke : The location of the national lottery operation is a matter for the applicants for the main licence

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to operate the lottery to consider in making their applications to the director general. I cannot comment on the criteria that they might use in making their decision.

Mr. Tyler : Does the Secretary of State agree that the national lottery will be a success only if, as well as distributing its funds to good causes, national economic and employment objectives are met? Does he agree with the view of the Minister at the Department of Employment, who said this week that there are sound labour market reasons for locating the headquarters of the lottery in Cornwall? Does he accept the view of all the people of Cornwall, of all parties, backed by the county council which took the initiative, that this should be a case of Cornwall first?

Mr. Brooke : Some of my hon. Friends might think that the hon. Gentleman was leading with his chin by asking that question, as his party and his colleagues voted against the Bill on Second and Third Readings. Having said that, I recognise that he has joined my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) to press Cornwall's cause.

I have issued directions to the director general that, consistent with his duties under section 4 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, location must be taken into account in assessing any bids. I dare say that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would have sound labour reasons for the lottery being located in a number of different places in the kingdom.

Mr. Waterson : Will not many new jobs be created by the establishment of the national lottery headquarters? When making recommendations about the relevant criteria, will my right hon. Friend be able to suggest that they entirely exclude the constituencies of Members such as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who asked the question and is a member of a party which was against the idea? Also, will he consider including Eastbourne in the list of potential sites?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the contribution that the national lottery will make to the economy. To be fair to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), he avoided voting on the matter on Second and Third Readings. His is yet another of those cases to which I have referred of running with the hare and then apologising to the hounds when they catch up.

Ms Eagle : Will the Secretary of State consider carefully Merseyside's claims to be the home for the national lottery, in recognition of the high unemployment rates in the region and especially as the House had long and important debates about the effect that the lottery will have on employment in the football pools industry?

Mr. Brooke : The case that the hon. Lady raises was mentioned frequently during our debates. The Act states that it is for the director general to decide on the site, but contractors who are bidding to run the lottery will no doubt take the considerations that she mentioned into account when formulating their bids.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Besides excluding the constituencies of hon. Members who have demonstrated their opposition to the national lottery, would not it be sensible to consider areas of the country where there is a reasonable chance of finding staff trained in information technology

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and which have good communication links with London? Can he think of any other criteria that I might suggest to help with Swindon's bid?

Mr. Brooke : I said in my original answer that it was for the bidders to make their decisions, but my hon. Friend is right about the scale of the opportunity. I have been criticised for making conservative forecasts of how successful the lottery will be and I am delighted that other people think that it will be still more successful.

Ms Mowlam : As the Secretary of State has made it clear that he will abdicate on the criteria for the location of the lottery and as he is clearly going to abdicate on the criteria under which the five funds that have been set up will allocate the money, will he at least assure the House that, when the announcements are made for the Millennium Commission in the near future, we will not get the sort of sleaze that we have had with other quangos and that the commission will not have a majority of Tory sympathisers?

Mr. Brooke : I found the language in the first part of the hon. Lady's question slightly curious, given the way in which the Act is drawn. It is all very well for the hon. Lady to say that I am abdicating my responsibility. The Act makes it perfectly clear where the responsibility lies and that is with the director general.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend accept that those who work for the national lottery will tend to be doing office jobs and that London is the part of the country where people have the greatest experience of office work? The logical place for the headquarters of the national lottery is therefore London.

Mr. Brooke : It is difficult for me to find another form of words to say that those matters are not my responsibility. The invitation to apply reflects the intent of the directions that I have issued to the director general, by drawing attention to the importance of location because of its effect on operating costs and therefore on the contributions to the national lottery distribution fund.

Departmental Efficiency

7. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he is taking to improve the efficiency of his Department.

Mr. Brooke : My Department has contracted out nearly all its new central services and installed a departmental-wide computer network. Those and other arrangements will support improvements in departmental efficiency.

Mr. Thurnham : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the steps that he has taken. Will he ensure that the national lottery is run efficiently and effectively? Does not the country expect the highest standards of efficiency from its public services?

Mr. Brooke : Section 4 of the National Lottery etc. Act 1993 makes clear the responsibilities that fall to the director general. I am confident that he will fulfil them in making the lottery a tremendous success. I share the view that my hon. Friend expressed in the second half of his question.

Mr. Callaghan : In terms of the efficiency of his Department, will the Secretary of State tell the House when

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he will reply to the two submissions from the Select Committee on National Heritage--one on the BBC and one on the invasion of privacy by the press? Those reports have been with him for some considerable time. When will he report to the House?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman has asked two fair questions. I hope to issue a White Paper on the press shortly, in response to the Select Committee's report. The Select Committee will recall that it asked me to delay any action on my side until it had a chance of reporting. As to the BBC, my duties flow out of a consultation paper that we issued last year. It has been helpful to have the Select Committee's observations on that as well. It might be a bit later before I reply to the report on the BBC.

Sir Thomas Arnold : Has not the time come for my right hon. Friend to exercise closer supervision over the activities of the Arts Council?

Mr. Brooke : The examination that Price Waterhouse conducted of the Arts Council last year, at my suggestion, made a number of suggestions on how the Department and the Arts Council might behave. One of the matters to which my hon. Friend may have been referring was increasing the sense of accountability of the Arts Council. The Arts Council has come forward with suggestions of ways in which that accountability might be made more public.

Film Industry

8. Ms Lynne : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when an announcement will be made on the Government's policy toward the British film industry.

Mr. Brooke : I shall make an announcement when conclusions have been reached on the various options that emerged from last year's consultation round with representatives of the industry. It is unlikely to be before Easter.

Ms Lynne : Would not accelerating tax relief on film production costs encourage more films to be produced in this country and thereby, in the long term, put more money into the Treasury coffers?

Mr. Brooke : That suggestion was made to us during the consultation period. The specific question is for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but we shall discuss with other Departments our overall response to the consultations.

Sir Anthony Durant : Will my right hon. Friend reassure the film industry that, in the disbursement of the lottery money, which I believe will be done by the Arts Council, its wishes will not be ignored?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend is right to raise that question. The guidance afforded by myself to the Arts Council includes reference to film and the need for the Arts Council not only to take film into account in its decisions about distribution but to decide how it will receive expert advice on those decisions.

Play Facilities

11. Mrs. Golding : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is the annual expenditure of his Department on children's play facilities.

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Mr. Sproat : The Sports Council, which we fund, provides a central support service on children's play. The 1993-94 budget for that work is £300,000. In addition, the Sports Council's Trust Company has this year given a grant of £25,000 to the National Voluntary Council for Children's Play.

Mrs. Golding : Is the Minister aware that the National Playing Fields Association estimates that for every £100 that his Department spends on adult leisure activities, only 3p is spent on children's play? Given that 20 per cent. of the population of this country is probably under the age of 16, he cannot agree that that is a fair distribution of money. What will he do about it?

Mr. Sproat : I was not aware of that statistic. It is interesting and I will look at it. I am currently looking at the way that the Sports Council, which has taken over the matter from the Play Board and the Play Unit, is handling children's play. The facts that the hon. Lady has put forward will be part of that consideration.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : In recognition of the important role of the Sports Council--and, indeed, other independent organisations such as the Foundation for Sport and the Arts--in funding children's play and sporting activities, will my hon. Friend repeat the advice that he recently gave the foundation? He said that it should take more cognisance of competitive sport in schools when allocating grants ; a by-product of that would be its ability to give greater priority to the important regional sports facility between Kidderminster and Stourport, in my constituency.

Mr. Sproat : I do not think it appropriate to comment on the specific example given by my hon. Friend, for which I know that he is working very hard. However, I think it extremely important for the Foundation for Sport and the Arts to take account of the need for young people to engage much more in team games and competitive sports.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Minister aware that every pit village contains at least one miners' welfare facility? There are children's play facilities, as well as football grounds and cricket pitches. It is now being suggested, however, that under the Coal Industry Bill, the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, which runs those facilities, will be either taken over by the Government or split into God knows how many parts. Will the Minister give an assurance that CISWO will remain intact, whatever happens to the Bill, so that all those amenities can be retained?

Mr. Sproat : I am acutely aware of the importance of the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Last week, I went through a list of all the sports facilities attached to all the collieries, and I agree that it is an impressive list.

The details of the Coal Industry Bill are a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, but I have been in touch with the Minister for Energy and have emphasised the importance of facilities such as playing fields and brass bands, which have been raised before. I take the matter very seriously and will do all that I can to ensure that those facilities suffer no disadvantage.

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Press Complaints Commission

15. Mr. Streeter : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what assessment he has made of the current operation of the Press Complaints Commission.

Mr. Brooke : We welcome the further improvements in press self- regulation announced by the Press Complaints Commission on 20 January.

Mr. Streeter : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is widespread public concern about the way in which the commission currently deals with its own affairs? Will he join me in urging it to consider appointing its own voluntary ombudsman?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the current concern about the way in which the Press Complaints Commission works, as now constituted. However, I welcome the appointment of one of its lay members, Professor Pinker, as privacy commissioner. It is up to the industry to ensure that Professor Pinker is given the powers and backing that he needs to be fully effective in performing his duties and capable of commanding the confidence of Parliament and the public.

Mr. Soley : Does the Secretary of State accept that the commission makes changes only as a result of pressure from hon. Members or outside events? Could it not make a significant step forward if it were more willing to initiate complaints itself, and to follow up cases such as the recent Germaine Greer case, in which it appears that journalists gained access to her home without her consent and then ran inaccurate stories? Should not the commission take the initiative in such instances, rather than waiting for people to complain and thus being set up as a sort of defence counsel for the press?

Mr. Brooke : I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman would be gracious enough to include me among the Members of Parliament to whom he referred. I think, however, that all hon. Members will welcome the movement and adjustment that the commission has achieved over the past year, although some may feel that it has not gone far enough. As for the specific case raised by the hon. Gentleman, such cases occur from time to time and I think that the commission will be judged according to how it deals with them.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would make sense for editors, publishers and proprietors to copy the BBC by publishing and making available to the public the standards by which it hopes that its staff and freelancers will abide?

Mr. Brooke : There is something in my hon. Friend's suggestion, but he will be aware that the Press Complaints Commission is itself responsible for producing a voluntary code that it devised for itself.

Tourist Sector (Deregulation)

16. Mr. Robert Banks : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage how many regulations affecting the hotel and catering industries in the tourist sector will be dispensed with during the current Session of Parliament.

Mr. Sproat : My Department will be formally consulting the tourism industry about the two tourism-related regulations for which it is directly responsible. In

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addition, each of the seven main areas of regulation identified during my Department's inquiries as being of the greatest concern to the tourism industry, is being examined by the Departments responsible with a view to reducing the burdens they impose. It is too early to say how many regulations will be dispensed with altogether, but I am confident that we shall achieve significant deregulatory gains for the hotel and catering sector and other tourism-related businesses.

Mr. Banks : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his vigorous attempts to reduce the regulations affecting the tourist industry. Does he agree that the performance of music by more than two players in pubs and restaurants should be encourged? Will he ensure that local authorities do not instigate punitive registration fees and that regulations are modified to make it easier for there to be live music on licensed premises?

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