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House of Commons

Monday 23 May 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Arts Funding --

1. Ms Lynne : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received regarding arts funding in the north- west.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke) : I received a number of letters when the Arts Council made its allocations for 1994-95 to regional arts boards.

Ms Lynne : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Halle orchestra in Manchester is facing financial difficulties ? Is not it ironic that, just when the Arts Council is encouraging that orchestra to be more artistically ambitious, its funding should be cut ? Does he think that more money could be made available, in recognition not only of the orchestra's excellent music but of its services to children with special educational needs ?

Mr. Brooke : The Arts Council's decision in relation to the Halle was a matter for the council ; but I am conscious that the council has conducted an internal review of regional orchestras and that the whole council has considered the matter.

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Mr. Dickens : Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, throughout the north-west, we have not only excellent orchestras but excellent music societies, opera societies, choirs, brass bands and many talented artists ? Can those people expect to get some money from the national lottery ?

Mr. Brooke : I join my hon. Friend's tributes to the musical qualities of the north-west. As for the national lottery, it will be up to organisations to bid, and it will then be for the Arts Council, if bids come to it, to decide whether they are within its terms of reference and acceptable.

Mr. Barry Jones : Does the Secretary of State know that the Under- Secretary made a good impression when he recently attended a performance by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra ? Bearing in mind the excellence and world standing of that great orchestra--I should declare my life membership of the Philharmonic Society--may I persuade the right hon. Gentleman to allocate about £500,000 to enable the orchestra to get out of a rather sticky financial situation ? The right hon. Gentleman should also remember that next year it must perform in the Liverpool Anglican cathedral.

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary always makes a good impression. As for the allocation of £500,000, would that I were so rich! I am delighted with what has happened in respect of the Philharmonic hall. I am conscious that the orchestra will be moving into the cathedral during the closure of the hall, and I hope that that time goes well.

Sports Clubs --

2. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage how many (a) under 16-year-old and (b) under 18-year-old (i) boys and (ii) girls are estimated to attend sports clubs for coaching and team games ; at what cost to public funds ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : The information is not held centrally. However, the Sports Council has

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commissioned a national survey of young people's involvement in sport which will ask about their membership of sports clubs.

Mr. Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that all money going into sports clubs for young people is to be welcomed--and that there should be more of it ? We must also support Ron Dearing's initiative of including physical education on the school curriculum, because that is how young people learn to handle themselves physically for the rest of their lives.

Above all, however, does my hon. Friend agree that we must have team games on the school curriculum, because that is how young people will learn to handle themselves-- [Interruption.] --as I know because, as a schoolmaster, I took a school team every Saturday for 23 years ; the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) should remember that. That is how young people learn civilised behaviour for the rest of their lives, and it is therefore crucial.

Mr. Sproat : I thank my hon. Friend very much. I certainly pay tribute to the money that the Sports Council gives youth sport, which runs at about £4 million a year. I strongly agree, too, that, good though the sports clubs' work may be, and important though it is, it is absolutely essential that it should not be a substitute for proper sport in schools. That is what we want to work at.

Independent Television --

3. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy on independent television ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke : Our aim is to increase diversity and choice for audiences and to encourage British broadcasters to compete in providing services in this country and elsewhere.

Mr. Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC ought to be privatised forthwith to save pensioners their licence fee ? Is he aware that the BBC is known by the British people as an annexe to Walworth road-- in other words, that lot over there ?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend shows some ingenuity in asking a question about independent television and then putting a supplementary about transferring the BBC to the private sector. I am not sure that his views about the BBC are widely held in the House.

Mr. Mackinlay : In his contacts with the holders of the London commercial television franchise, will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to remind them of their obligations to those millions of viewers outside the area covered by the former GLC ? The franchise serves those viewers, but its news and current affairs programmes do not adequately reflect or take into account that fact. The people on the outer rim are not given fair coverage by London News Network and its related organisations.

Mr. Brooke : It is for the Independent Television Commission rather than for me to remind franchisees of their obligations. One of the obligations that the ITC places on them is that 80 per cent. of regional programming should be produced in the area. I shall certainly see to it that the ITC's attention is drawn to the hon. Gentleman's question.

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Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. Friend carry out a review of employment practices in the television companies to see how many of them give £75 and a honeymoon week to heterosexual couples, let alone to gay and lesbian couples ?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend's supplementary also approaches the original question from the flank. It may help the House if I say that the BBC said today that it was taking very seriously the concern expressed on the subject of the equivalent of marriage allowances and gifts to single- sex couples. The corporation said that it was bringing forward a planned review of its special leave arrangements generally--and marriage gifts specifically--as part of its overall activity to modernise the benefits and conditions of service of its staff, and that, pending the outcome of that review, the award of one-off marriage payments would be suspended.

Mr. Maclennan : In promoting choice and variety for viewers, will the Secretary of State look favourably on the possibility of establishing Channel 5, and not allow arguments about digital to become confused with that question ?

Mr. Brooke : Issues relating to digital are part of the equation that has to be analysed, but we are examining with our technical advisers our capacity to go forward on both fronts at the same time.

Mr. Trimble : Does the Minister have any policy on the financial probity of television programme makers ? There is reason to believe that more than a five-figure sum disappeared from the accounts of a Channel 4 programme ; but, rather than assist the police in bringing the guilty journalist to court, Channel 4 covered up the issue so as not to expose the inaccurate content of the programme, which I have raised in an Adjournment debate. Does the Minister have a view on such matters ?

Mr. Brooke : The individual broadcasting companies or independent producers acting on their behalf would obviously be answerable for the manner in which funds are spent. The hon. Gentleman's question is a little too detailed in terms of the question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the excellent progress that has been made by satellite and cable television and by all the independent television companies demonstrates to the BBC that it should look to become an independent television company without the benefit of a monopolistic licence fee ? When does my right hon. Friend expect to abolish the licence fee ?

Mr. Brooke : The direct answer to my hon. Friend's leading question is that we shall fairly shortly publish a White Paper on the future of the BBC. On the issue of other services in which the BBC might engage, my hon. Friend will be aware of the corporation's announcement last week about its future partnership with Pearson's.

Arts Sponsorship --

5. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what steps he is taking to encourage the private sponsorship of the arts.

Mr. Brooke : Support by business makes a major contribution to the arts economy. The Government's own

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business sponsorship incentive scheme has done much to encourage that welcome development, bringing in more than £73 million in new money to the arts since its inception in 1984. In recognition of the success of the BSIS and the importance of business sponsorship, the scheme's budget has been increased to £4.8 million for this and the next two years.

Mr. Marshall : Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Allied Lyons on its £3 million sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company ? Can he confirm that sponsorship by private companies is in addition to, rather than in place of, Government support ?

Mr. Brooke : Of course I salute Allied Lyons on the support that it is rendering to the RSC, just as I salute British Telecom on its support for orchestras, KPMG on its support for opera and all the other sponsors throughout the country on their support for the arts.

Mr. Enright : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the preponderance of that investment is in the capital, London, and in Edinburgh ? There is a dearth of funds in the provinces, which will lead to difficulties in bidding for lottery and millennium funds. Will he look in particular at the superb, world-class Breton Hall sculpture park, which is very deserving of support ?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman knows that members of my family were born on the land where that sculpture park is now located, so I have a natural sympathy towards it and will always be anxious that it should thrive. However, the hon. Gentleman is not correct in his statement that business sponsorship is concentrated on the capital. Some 80 per cent. of the awards made by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, under BSIS, was to companies operating outside the capital.

Arts Council --

6. Mr. Jessel : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy for the Arts Council ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Brooke : The Arts Council of England is the main channel for central Government funding of the arts. Under its new chairman and council and with very substantial public resources, it is responsible for providing a strategic policy framework for the arts ; for managing grant in aid ; and for the monitoring and appraisal of arts organisations. The council carries out those functions at arm's length from the Government.

Mr. Jessel : Having made excellent appointments in Lord Gowrie and Miss Allen to head the Arts Council, will my right hon. Friend always strongly uphold the arm's-length principle to ensure that it is the Arts Council which decides which grants go where and that Ministers cannot be pressurised by endless arguments about the artistic merits of different artists and performers ?

Mr. Brooke : I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend about upholding that principle. One of the minor disappointments of the recent arts debate was that we did not obtain a gloss on the Opposition's attitude to that principle, arising as it did out of plans that fell off the back of a lorry a little before the debate took place.

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Mr. Fisher : If the right hon. Gentleman reads the record he will see a clear statement of our position on the Arts Council and the arm's- length principle.

Does the right hon. Gentleman support the Arts Council's cutting of its disability arts unit ? Does his Department have a policy on the rights of disabled people, either as artists or audiences, that he can explain to the large lobby of disabled people outside the House today, who are rightly furious about the Government's shabby and dishonourable treatment of disabled people on Friday ?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman referred to the arts debate, during which he was kind enough to call me a patrician--the first time I had ever been so called by an old Etonian. I want to take this first opportunity to return the compliment.

On the hon. Gentleman's question about the Arts Council's disability unit, as he well knows, the council has rearranged its affairs so that those services continue to be performed, but in a different part of the council's organisation.

Mr. Oppenheim : Will my right hon. Friend join the chairman of the Arts Council in warmly commending the smash-hit British film "Four Weddings and a Funeral" ? Next time highly paid actors and film makers come to him saying that they need taxpayers' funds to make and distribute successful films, will he point out to them that the message of that success is that, if they get their snouts out of the trough and make films that people want to see, they will be able to achieve success without dipping their hands into the pockets of people who are very much less well off than they are ?

Mr. Brooke : Inclement weather on Saturday afternoon drove me into the cinema, and I saw the film to which my hon. Friend has just alluded. I join him in congratulating its makers and actors on a remarkable film, but that does not of itself provide a reason for ending the dialogue between the Government and the British film industry on how the industry's success can be fully renewed.

7. Mr. Sheldon : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will publish the minutes of meetings with the chairman of the Arts Council.

Mr. Brooke : I meet the chairman of the Arts Council on an irregular basis, as the need arises. The nature of those meetings is not such that publication of the minutes would be appropriate.

Mr. Sheldon : Is the Secretary of State aware that that question was tabled to try to elucidate just what goes on in the meetings between him and the chairman of the Arts Council ? Do they talk about projects ? Do they talk about the importance of the arts ? Or do they just talk money ? Can we have a bit of light shed on those very important meetings ?

Mr. Brooke : I am sorry that, having been tabled for that purpose, the question has not elicited information that would sustain the questions that the right hon. Gentleman subsequently asked, but I repeat that the nature of the meetings is irregular. We have a widespread agenda and it would be inappropriate for us to publish the conversations that we have in the context of specific arts institutions. The new code of practice under the open government initiative

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commits us to making available facts and analysis underlying policy decisions. It does not require the publication of minutes of meetings.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with the new chairman of the Arts Council his attitude towards the previous regime's policy of organising a beauty contest for the London orchestras ? Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to tell the new chairman of the total opposition of the House to that proposal ? Has he had the reassuring news from the new chairman that he proposes to drop any suggestion in future of reducing the funding to the London orchestras and thus the number of orchestras that remain in existence ?

Mr. Brooke : The issue to which my hon. Friend refers arose under the previous chairman of the Arts Council, but a line was drawn under that project. I do not think that there is any doubt that the Arts Council is fully apprised of the attitude of the House towards the exercise in which it engaged last year.

Women in Sport Conference --

8. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what part the Government played in the Women in Sport conference on 7 May.

10. Mrs. Golding : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what part his Department played in the Women in Sport conference on 7 May.

Mr. Sproat : The Sports Council, which is funded by my Department, organised the international conference on Women, Sport and the Challenge of Change, which took place from 5 to 8 May. I was delighted to note the leading parts played in the conference by two of our recent appointees to the Council, Dr. Sarah Springman and Julia Bracewell.

Mr. Wareing : But can the Minister explain why no Minister from his Department was present at that conference, as it was attended by all the relevant sporting organisations and by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who is the shadow Minister for sport ? Does not the lack of a ministerial presence at that conference illustrate the complete lack of commitment to the role played by women in sport in this country ?

Mr. Sproat : No, it certainly does not. I have expressed my support for such a role on previous occasions, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the England women's rugger and cricket teams on recent triumphs on the world stage. [Interruption.] Fifteen-a-side. The key answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that my noble Friend Baroness Trumpington was booked to appear on the Thursday but had to speak on Sunday trading in the House of Lords. Julia Bracewell--whom I have already mentioned--made a powerful speech as a member of the Sports Council, with which we agree.

Mrs. Golding : To make up for his failure to attend the conference, would the Minister be prepared to convene a meeting of

representatives of television, radio and the press to find a way of promoting women in the media, and to help to encourage them to participate in sport ?

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Mr. Sproat : I will certainly undertake to speak to Dr. Sarah Springman and Julia Bracewell to see whether they, as two women members of the Sports Council, have any further ideas following the Brighton declaration--which I have read ; I should be surprised if other many hon. Members had done so. I will do what I can.

Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware that, in Scotland, we certainly do not notice women failing to compete in sport effectively and well ? In fact, we are rather proud of the way in which they compete. Women are very good at gliding, the sport in which I indulge ; indeed, we have had women champions in United Kingdom gliding teams.

Mr. Sproat : I was not aware of the gliding component among women in Scotland, but I know that my hon. Friend is playing an honourable part in the D-day commemorations by gliding over the south of England. Moreover, Julia Bracewell, whom I mentioned earlier, actually comes from Scotland.

Mr. Pendry : Is the Minister aware that he missed a very important conference ? It was the first ever international conference on women in sport, and it happened in this country. There were 280 delegates from 82 countries, including Sports Ministers from many of those countries.

Many of those present were bemused--and some of us were ashamed--that no British Minister was present. Will not the Minister at least support the Opposition by endorsing the declaration made at the conference that there should be an increase in women's involvement in sport at all levels ?

Mr. Sproat : If more women wish to involve themselves in sport I shall be very glad for them to do so, but it is up to them. I read the declaration : it was political correctness in excelsis, but it nevertheless said some useful things.

Tourism --

9. Mr. Nigel Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what estimates have been made of the number of tourists visiting the United Kingdom from abroad in 1994-95.

Mr. Sproat : The British Tourist Authority estimates that in 1995 around 21.7 million visitors from abroad will come to the United Kingdom. This represents an increase of 6 per cent. on the estimated figure for 1994. The figure for 1994 is around 20.4 million, which represents an increase of 7 per cent. on the provisional figure for 1993 of 19.1 million.

Mr. Evans : I am grateful for that reply. It is clearly important for us to attract as many visitors from abroad as possible, and a record figure has been achieved--almost 22 million. Is not it also important, however, to attract as many of those visitors as possible to the regions ? Let me cite the region I know best, which is the north-west. If people have the opportunity to visit my constituency, they will see natural, beautiful countryside ; within 20 miles of the Ribble valley is Blackpool, where they can see the Blackpool tower--which is celebrating its centenary--and the tallest, fastest roller-coaster in the world.

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Mr. Sproat : I agree that we want as many visitors as possible to come to this country and to get out into the many beautiful areas that it contains. According to the latest figures that we have, the total amount spent by all visitors to my hon. Friend's part of the world was some £978 million, which is a very large figure. The number of visitors to the area has risen by some 13 per cent. over the past 10 years, and some 175,000 people are employed in tourism--so we certainly take the matter extremely seriously.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Minister aware that there were tourists outside the House of Commons today looking at disabled people who were trying to get in ? Those people were refused admission through the main entrance and up the stairs, and were told to go round the side. They crawled on their hands and knees to the carriage gates, and then the gates

Madam Speaker : Order. This is nothing whatever to do with the Minister. The question relates to tourists visiting the United Kingdom from abroad. I know exactly what the hon. Gentleman is referring to, and it is nothing to do with the Minister.

Mr. Sproat rose

Madam Speaker : Will the Minister answer the first part of the question, which concerns United Kingdom visitors coming to the House of Commons ?

Mr. Sproat : I do not know how many of the visitors to whom the hon. Gentleman referred came from abroad, but I assure him that they were given a warm welcome from this country.

Mr. Mans : Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite the antics of Lancashire county council and the European Commission in their attempts to denigrate Blackpool, the Fylde coast, and Blackpool in particular, is still the premier tourist resort in Europe ? Will he do all that he can to counter the efforts of the county council and the Commission to suggest that the beaches are not clean ? The beaches have never been cleaner. Furthermore, will my hon. Friend take an early opportunity to have a go on the new ride at Blackpool ?

Mr. Sproat : I gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Blackpool. I think that I am right in remembering that turnover from tourism in Blackpool amounts to some £445 million a year and that there are more bed spaces in Blackpool than in the whole of Portugal.

Mr. Alan W. Williams : We should remember that Britain has much to offer visitors from the European Community--history, buildings and beautiful countryside. Therefore, is not it desperately sad that Britain's image in Europe is one of half-hearted membership ? Would not we have far more visitors from Europe if the Government adopted a more positive and constructive approach to the European Community ?

Mr. Sproat : We do adopt a constructive approach to the Community. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to hear that, for the first time, the number of visitors from France, a member of the European Union, has equalled the number of American visitors, although the French do not spend as much money.

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National Lottery --

11. Mr. Deva : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he expects the national lottery to start.

Mr. Brooke : That will depend on the plans of the operator who is selected by the Director General of Oflot to run the national lottery. It is possible that the first lottery draw will be held at the end of 1994 or early in 1995.

Mr. Deva : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the high standard of bidders for the national lottery bodes well for its future and that it is recognised that there is great potential for success for the good causes that the lottery is designed to benefit ?

Mr. Brooke : I have not had access to the bids, but I have no doubt that, quantitatively, distinguished organisations entered the bidding as 375 boxes of information were placed in support of eight bids. The director general has had a lot to consider.

Ms Mowlam : Does the Secretary of State agree that public confidence in the national lottery is being seriously impaired by the appointment of Tory "placepeople" to the quangos responsible for implementing and allocating the money ? An example of that is the recent appointment of the Conservative party treasurer to head the Charities Board ? When will the right hon. Gentleman start putting the interests of the nation before those of the Conservative party ?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Lady talks out of both sides of her mouth on the subject of the lottery, and I have to say that it is not a pretty sight. The information that, through early-day motions or other briefings, she has allowed to percolate through to the nation has frequently been inaccurate, and she is not doing the lottery any good.

Mr. Tracey : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the national lottery is likely to start much earlier and to be a much greater success if an operator with true experience is selected, rather than gimmickry ?

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