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House of Commons

Monday 7 March 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Tourism --

1. Mr. Rooney : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage how the tourism industry is consulted by Government on issues concerning it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : Consultation on issues identified as affecting the tourism industry is undertaken through the British Tourist Authority, the English tourist board, regional tourist boards and a number of trade associations.

Mr. Rooney : I thank the Minister for his answer. What discussions has he had with the Secretary of State for Transport about the implications for tourism of the abolition of the BritRail pass and of ticketing, which are of serious concern to the tourist industry ?

Mr. Sproat : I have had consultations with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on that matter and he is convinced that no problems will arise.

Sir Peter Emery : Does my hon. Friend realise that there is uproar in the hotel trade about the possibility of television sets in hotels being surcharged ? Does he know

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that hoteliers in Sidmouth and Exmouth in my constituency are worried that, even if such a policy applies at first only to the bigger hotels, that will be a foot in the door and it will spread to motels and the whole tourist industry, and they are much against it ?

Mr. Sproat : Yes, I am aware of the worry felt by hoteliers at all levels. I emphasise that that worry arose not from Government policy but from the National Heritage Select Committee's proposals. It is not Government practice to reply to odd bits of suggestions ; our practice is to reply all at once. When we reply to what the Select Committee proposes, I hope that we shall put my right hon. Friend's mind at rest.

Mr. Gunnell : What consultations has the Minister had with British Coal or with those in the tourist industry who take an interest in the many facilities around the nation supported by British Coal, particularly the mining museums, which are an important tourist facility ? What national consultations have taken place ?

Mr. Sproat : I very much enjoyed my visit to Caphouse colliery mining museum, in which the hon. Gentleman plays a role. I agree with him that it is an extremely important element of the tourist industry, which the old British Coal Board supported with regard to sports facilities and brass bands, and ensuring that local community halls were made available for practising and the storage of musical instruments. I have been in touch with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs and am seeing within the next few days a delegation led by Councillor Les Marshall.

Mr. Simon Coombs : My hon. Friend will be well aware of the tremendous interest in the tourism industry in his efforts at deregulation. What progress has been made with the consultations that are taking place ?

Mr. Sproat : We have identified almost 90 regulations that impact damagingly on the tourist industry and we are going through those one by one. With the help of the Department of Employment, to which I pay great tribute, we have already published a document showing that the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 are not as damaging

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as we previously thought. I shall have a meeting this afternoon with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs to see how much further and how much more quickly we can take this important subject.

Children's Play --

2. Mr. Kilfoyle : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what consultations he has had on future national arrangements for children's play.

Mr. Sproat : We are looking at options for children's play as part of our review of the Sports Council's structure and functions. We shall consult widely before deciding on any new national support arrangements.

Mr. Kilfoyle : The Minister will be aware of recent publicity suggesting that children's sedentary life style is storing up a huge future incidence of heart disease in the population. Does he agree that a wide range of play activities is essential for the social and physical well- being of future generations and prepares them for more formal team sport activities at school and in other organisations ? Will he commit the Government to supplementing and complementing the excellent work already being done in play activities by local authorities ?

Mr. Sproat : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful remarks about the importance of fitness and team sports among school children. I agree with him whole-heartedly. As for supplementing the work done by local authorities, the Sports Council is spending some £300,000 on children's play. I am looking at the role that the Sports Council will or will not continue to have in supporting children's play around the country in succeeding years.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : In view of the Allied Dunbar, Health Education Authority survey on children's fitness, does my hon. Friend agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) that children's sport in schools is especially important ? What progress is my hon. Friend making with the Department for Education in his efforts to ensure that more competitive sport is played in schools ?

Mr. Sproat : The entire Government are convinced of the importance of sport in schools. We are engaged in a series of discussions with the Department for Education, which is responsible for education, and my Department, which is responsible for sport, to see how we can best advance the cause.

Listed Buildings --

3. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what proposals he has to visit Hampstead garden suburb to discuss the cost of maintaining listed buildings.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke) : I spent much of my youth visiting Hampstead garden suburb, and look forward to doing so again.

Mr. Marshall : On behalf of my constituents, may I say that we look forward to my right hon. Friend visiting the garden suburb, which is England's premier conservation area ? He will be aware that within the area there are two

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Lutyens-designed buildings, St. Jude's church and Hampstead Garden Suburb institute. Does he agree that the state, having listed those buildings which are non-commercial in character, should be willing to help with their upkeep, as they will be of benefit for the future ? Should not the national lottery be used for that purpose ?

Mr. Brooke : The spirit of Ebenezer Howard is clearly safe in the hands of my hon. Friend. As to the churches, English Heritage already funds the restoration of churches to the tune of about £10 million a year and of cathedrals to the tune of £4 million a year, so the churches could make an appropriate application. However, it would also be an appropriate application in the context of the national lottery.

Sports Ground Safety --

4. Mr. Austin-Walker : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what are the expected start and finishing dates for his Department's review of the scope for consolidating or simplifying the legislation on sports ground safety.

Mr. Sproat : The review will begin as soon as is practicable.

Mr. Austin-Walker : I share the concern about safety and recognise that, post-Hillsborough, all-seater stadiums appeared to be the correct approach. Is the Minister aware, however, of the tremendous financial burden that that places on some clubs and of the desire of fans for standing areas ? Does his recent visit to Risley with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) represent a step towards the possibility of providing safe standing areas at our football grounds ?

Mr. Sproat : Two points have been raised by the hon. Gentleman. He is right to say that the cost is extremely great. Indeed, over the 10 years between the response to the Taylor report in 1990 and the year 2000, the cost will be some £600 million for the top two English divisions alone --that does not include sports such as rugby league--so that is an extremely important point. As to my visit to Risley, I thank the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for arranging it. I am extremely grateful to him for that very interesting meeting. I shall look in detail at what I learnt at that meeting.

Television Licences --

5. Mr. Luff : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement about the operation of the concessionary television licence system.

Mr. Sproat : Responsibility for the administration of the television licensing system, including the concessionary licence system, rests with the BBC.

Mr. Luff : Notwithstanding that reply, I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand my gratitude to him for the time that I spent with him last week discussing the operation of the scheme at Severn house in Worcester. Having reflected on the facts that I shared with him at that meeting, does he agree that the situation facing the residents of Severn house is grossly unfair ?

Mr. Sproat : It is certainly the case that, with some 50 flats at Severn house, of which one is in private sector

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ownership, the other residents, apart from those with previous opportunities for having concessionary fees, are prevented from having such fees. I hope that something can be done. I will certainly do all that I can to ensure that natural justice prevails.

Mr. Winnick : How can it possibly be justified that, arising from Government legislation, pensioners who were in such accommodation before May 1988 get a concessionary licence fee, and rightly so, but if they moved in after May 1988 they must pay the full fee ? Surely, that is unjust. It causes antagonism between residents and neighbours and is entirely due to the legislation that the Government introduced at the time. Had my Bill become law, there would have been no television licence fees for pensioners.

Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on what I have sought to acknowledge to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) is a difficult situation. Wherever one makes a cut-off point, someone is always just below or just above it, and suffers. What I am trying to do, however, is to ensure that, notwithstanding the fact that the BBC will have to administer the system, natural justice prevails in the case of Severn house.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Will my hon. Friend put it forcefully to the BBC that where a warden is taken away from warden-controlled accommodation, but continues that function part time, and the concessionary licence fee is withdrawn as a result, that is a real injustice for those residents ? Will he do something about that matter ?

Mr. Sproat : I undertake to look closely at the hypothetical, or practical, case that my hon. Friend quoted.

Ms Mowlam : If the Minister is undertaking to look at that case, why not include, as part of his review of the BBC's royal charter which is under way, the whole question of television licences ? It is a national problem which is unjust, unequal and unacceptable. If he is so keen to get justice, why not include the licence fee in the review and let us see some action ?

Mr. Sproat : We are certainly happy to consider all relevant matters in the review. If all pensioners were to be given concessionary licences, however, that would cost the BBC some £500 million a year. If the cost of the concession were covered by the normal licence paid by the rest of society, that licence would cost £120 a year. The hon. Lady will see the problems involved, but we are happy to consider all the issues, so that we come up with the fairest possible solution.

Mr. Ian Bruce : If one is looking for a fair system, should one not consider the whole arrangement whereby the BBC is able to charge everyone in the country for a licence whether or not people watch the BBC ?

Mr. Sproat : Those are all matters which will come up under the review.

Tourism --

6. Mr. Etherington : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage whether he has concluded his review of the regional tourist boards in England.

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Mr. Sproat : The regional tourist boards in England are membership organisations. They are not statutory bodies and it would not, therefore, fall to my Department to conduct a review.

Mr. Etherington : What guidance has the Minister given the English tourist board with regard to the split in funding between that body and the various regional tourist boards ?

Mr. Sproat : The split means that £4.3 million goes to the ETB, £4.3 million to the regional tourist boards and £2.25 million to the rather oddly called corporate promotion fund. That split was agreed with the regional tourist boards. I hope that we can move forward next year according to that split and see how it works.

Sir Donald Thompson : Will my hon. Friend bring to the attention of the regional tourist boards the recent letter that was published in The Times Literary Supplement , which was signed by 64 of our great national literary figures ? They pointed out the disadvantages to tourism of hideous wind farms in areas of national significance.

Mr. Sproat : Yes, I read with interest that letter, which made a strong point. I will draw it to the attention of the relevant Departments.

Mr. Flynn : Will the Government arrange for the money that is spent in Cornwall by the ETB to be transferred to Wales, as the Minister's Department transferred a question that I had tabled on the Cornish language --which was selected as Question 4--to the Secretary of State for Wales ? Can he confirm that his Department believes that Cornwall is part of Wales ?

Mr. Sproat : No, no and no.

Calcutt Report --

7. Sir David Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he proposes to meet the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission to discuss the Calcutt report.

Mr. Brooke : I am looking forward to meeting the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission after I publish the White Paper in response to the National Heritage Select Committee, which I hope to do shortly.

Sir David Knox : When my right hon. Friend publishes his response, will he make it clear that if self-regulation of the press is to continue-- that is desirable--it will have to be much more effective in the future than it has been in the past ?

Mr. Brooke : I have commented on the fragility of self-regulation in the context of certain recent cases. I believe that the whole House would endorse my hon. Friend's view.

Mr. Soley : Will the right hon. Gentleman also raise with the chairman of the PCC the question of reporting trials ? Will he make the point that there is a strong case for the press to report prosecution and defence cases impartially and with balance, bearing in mind the number of wrongful convictions that have involved press coverage ? On the question of trials alone, there is a strong case for reporting with balance, because individual liberty is threatened.

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Mr. Brooke : I must distinguish, in the context of that question, between a conversation with the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission after I publish the report and what might be in the report itself. I am disinclined further to delay the White Paper by enlarging its agenda.

Mr. Nicholls : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Calcutt proposals, although welcome, would not have prevented the sort of photographs that the Daily Star published, of PC Robertson dying in the street while open-heart surgery was performed on him ? That picture, which was in glorious technicolor, appeared because the shooting did not take place on private ground. Will my right hon. Friend learn from that incident and see whether Calcutt can be persuaded to make proposals that would take care of such situations in future--which right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House surely regard as a complete outrage ?

Mr. Brooke : The Government made their response to Sir David Calcutt's second report on 14 January 1993. It is my Department's responsibility to produce a White Paper in response to the National Heritage Select Committee's report. It is not for Sir David to bring forward further proposals of his own.

Voluntary Arts --

9. Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what support he is giving to the voluntary arts ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sproat : I fully recognise the great range and quality of voluntary arts activity in this country and the vital contribution that it makes to our cultural life. Government funding of the arts is channelled through the Arts Council, and I note that it is providing financial support for the Voluntary Arts Network, which was established in 1991 as a national umbrella body for amateur arts organisations.

Mr. Brandreth : Is my hon. Friend aware that public funding of sports participation runs at about twice the level of public funding for participation in the voluntary arts--£25 compared with £11 per head ? Does he agree with the network's aim of redressing that imbalance while encouraging greater participation in the voluntary arts ?

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. A document recently produced by the Voluntary Arts Network, "Strengthening Foundations", headed the section on sport

"A useful but not exact analogy".

It is a useful analogy, and we will consider it. I take this opportunity to salute the excellent work done by Sir Richard Luce, Mr. Peter Stark and my hon. Friend in promoting volunteer arts.

Mr. Enright : Does the Minister agree that investment in the voluntary arts brings a far better return than investment in commercial arts, such as the £200,000 that the Department lost to Unicorn Heritage plc, not to mention the huge amount of taxation that was given back to some of the company's investors ?

Mr. Sproat : It is extremely important to support both the voluntary and the professional arts. Unicorn Heritage plc was treated no differently from any other company finding itself in the same circumstances.

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Sir Anthony Durant : Will my hon. Friend comment on work on the Albert memorial ? Will some money be spent on that ?

Mr. Sproat : Yes, money will be spent--but that matter arises in a later question.

Madam Speaker : That is quite right.

Birmingham Symphony Orchestra --

10. Dr. Lynne Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what was the Arts Council grant to the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra for each of the last five years ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke : I apologise for the detail contained in my answer. That is due entirely to the way in which the question was phrased. The information requested is as follows : in 1989-90, £928,400 ; in 1990- 91, £983,800 ; in 1991-92, £1,062,500 ; in 1992-93, £1,126,250 and in 1993-94, £1,149,000. Decisions on allocation of grants are a matter for the Arts Council.

Dr. Jones : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra is an internationally renowned national asset ? It plays to packed audiences even though its concert ticket prices are the highest in the land. Will the right hon. Gentleman act to remove the threat to the orchestra's high standards posed by the standstill and real- terms cut in its Arts Council grant ? Given that the Department has an increased budget, why does not the right hon. Gentleman pass on an increase to the Arts Council, so that the orchestra's grant can be maintained and increased in line with reasonable costs ?

Mr. Brooke : I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the City of Birmingham symphony orchestra. My Department did not, in terms of indicative funding, have an increase in funding for the coming year, save that arising from the bringing forward of certain expenditure on the British library that will not be incurred in the following year. The decisions are essentially for the Arts Council. It is not for me to intervene with the Arts Council to change its decisions.

Mr. Fisher : I join the Minister in paying tribute to the CBSO, but will he join me in praising Birmingham city council for its very good support for the orchestra, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) said, has an international reputation ? Does the Minister not understand that it is an absurdity, and wrong, that in these difficult times Birmingham city council can increase the grant to the CBSO--and has offered to do so--but that is not matched by the Arts Council ? If he is serious about wanting a partnership between the Arts Council and local authorities, when local authorities come up with the goods why does not he persuade the Arts Council to do so ? Should he not be putting his mind to that matter if he is to be taken seriously in terms of supporting the CBSO ? If he does not, there is a real danger that Mr. Simon Rattle will leave the orchestra, which would be a loss to the whole country.

Mr. Brooke : I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Birmingham city council and to its support for the orchestra. The considerable regenerative effects that the arts can have has been demonstrated elsewhere in the kingdom. The hon. Gentleman must not ask me to take

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decisions for the Arts Council. He knows perfectly well what he would say if I took one that he did not like. The arm's-length principle remains extremely important.

Film Industry --

11. Mr. Ainger : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what funds his Department has made available to the British film industry in each of the last five years.

Mr. Brooke : I repeat the health warning that I gave earlier in my answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones). Government expenditure on film was £15.6 million in 1989-90 ; £16.7 million in 1990-91 ; £19.6 million in 1991-92 ; and £22 million in 1992- 93. Provision for film expenditure in the current financial year is set at £24.4 million.

Mr. Ainger : I am sure that the Secretary of State would wish to join me in congratulating the six English, Welsh and Irish actors who have been nominated for an academy award this year and in welcoming the nomination of "Hedd Wyn", which was produced in Wales, as the best foreign language film. Does he accept that that success is in spite of, not because of, Government policy and that there has been a significant reduction in investment in film since 1984--from £270 million to £189 million in 1992 ? Will he now persuade, cajole or do what he can to get his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to improve massively the capital allowance that is given to the film industry ?

Mr. Brooke : As a man whose blood is half Welsh--appearances to the contrary notwithstanding--I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating "Hedd Wyn" on its achievement. I am conscious of the state of the film industry in the past 10 years. That is why I set up the review and listened to the views of the film industry. I hope that we will be able to respond to it in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Corbett : Although we all rejoice in the brilliance and style of recent films such as "Shadowlands" and "The Remains of the Day", the Secretary of State will be aware that British investment in British films, and the jobs and profits that that can bring to the industry in this country, could be much more. I urge him, now that we have had these consultations, which we welcome, to put quickly on the table what he proposes to do to help the British film industry, to build on the success that it is trying to achieve, and to do even better in the future.

Mr. Brooke : I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the success of the films that he mentioned. I join him in that. The review that we have been conducting is necessarily one in which other Departments are involved, as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) implied. Therefore, others, besides myself, must participate in our conclusions.

Tourism --

12. Mr. Waterson : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received regarding a tourism tax ; and if he will make a statement.

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Mr. Sproat : I have received representations on this subject, expressing a number of different viewpoints, from hon. Members, from local authorities and from tourism trade organisations and individual operators.

Mr. Waterson : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree, however, that a tourism tax would be unfair, unworkable and damaging to tourism ? All those factors would no doubt qualify it for inclusion in the election manifestos of the Opposition parties.

Mr. Sproat : Probably.

Mr. Tony Banks : Before rejecting the whole concept of the tourism tax, will the Minister look at examples abroad and see how they work ? It seems that, as a marginal tax, the tourism tax will hardly act as a disincentive to tourists.

Mr. Sproat : No, I do not agree. We are already finding some difficulty in retaining the competitive edge of British tourism ; I do not wish to add anything more to dull that competitive edge, and a tax might well do that.

Swimming Pools --

13. Ms Hoey : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he last visited a public swimming pool ; and if he will make a statement.

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