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House of Commons

Monday 11 July 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Outdoor Activity Centres --

1. Mr. Jamieson : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will make a statement regarding the setting up of an accreditation and inspection scheme for outdoor activity centres.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat) : The Activity Centre Advisory Committee has now employed consultants to draw up and pilot guidelines for individual activities ; those and future inspection arrangements will be considered further by the ACAC at its next meeting in September.

Mr. Jamieson : Is the Minister aware that this summer hundreds of thousands of children will go to outdoor activity centres and undertake potentially hazardous activities ? Although I welcome the voluntary accreditation scheme and the limited inspection announced earlier this year as a partial solution, does the Minister share my concern that, because of the voluntary nature of the scheme, cowboy centres, working well below safety levels, will continue to put children's lives at risk ?

Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and of course we are all concerned about that. We look forward to the ACAC's recommendations on that and other points in September.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : The Minister will be aware that the Scout Association meets the standards set down by the British Canoe Union--and, indeed, standards higher than those--not only for canoeing but for other adventure activities that the association offers to young people. While giving careful consideration to standards, will my hon. Friend make absolutely sure that we do not strangle adventure activities for young people with red tape ?

Mr. Sproat : We shall maintain a wise balance.

Mr. Win Griffiths : Does the Minister realise that he would be applying some common sense that everyone involved in schools and the youth movement would applaud if, ahead of any report from the advisory committee, he announced that a statutory scheme would be introduced ? That would give schools and clubs the confidence to believe that outdoor activity centres validated by such a scheme would be up to standard and safe.

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Mr. Sproat : I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. The ACAC is looking at the possibilities of a voluntary accreditation scheme.

Sports Clubs (Isle of Wight) --

2. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if he will list the clubs and facilities on the Isle of Wight which have received grants from the Sports Council since 1987.

Mr. Sproat : The Sports Council has awarded grants and loans totalling £260,557 to 23 clubs, facilities and organisations on the Isle of Wight since 1987-88. I will arrange for a list of recipients to be placed in the Official Report .

Mr. Field : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Isle of Wight, the first unitary authority in England, provides an ideal opportunity to enhance all the sporting facilities throughout the island for the benefit of young and old alike ? Will he take this opportunity to join me in congratulating the Foundation for Sport and the Arts on its extraordinary generosity to sports clubs on the island and to sportsmen and sportswomen ?

Mr. Sproat : Yes, I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, which has given more than £500,000 to the island. That is extremely welcome. I also agree with my hon. Friend's other remarks.

Mr. Barnes : Future grants for the Isle of Wight will come from the new Sports Council. On Friday, the Minister said that the six independent members of that council would be appointed by the Government, but would be independent of them. How will he work that trick ?

Mr. Sproat : It is not a trick ; it is a simple, straightforward matter. The independent members of the council will be independent of the Government in any tactical decisions that they may make. They will also, and importantly, be independent of other vested sports interests which legitimately put their views--for instance, the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the British Olympic Association. That is the sense of the term "independent" in that context.

The following is the information :

Sports Council grants and loans awarded to clubs,                                 

facilities and organisations on the Isle of Wight                                 

for financial years 1987-88 to 1994-95                                            

                                           |Capital     |Revenue                  

Organisation                               |£           |£                        



Isle of Wight Cricket Association          |1,000                                 

East Cowes Victoria Athletic Club          |5,000                                 

Body Tech                                  |-           |200                      

Isle of Wight Sports Centre                |-           |355                      

Isle of Wight Cricket Association          |-           |2,500                    



Isle of Wight Sport and Recreation Council |-           |199                      

Isle of Wight Youth and Community Service  |-           |100                      






West Wight Swimming Pool Trust Ltd.        |<1>10,000                             

Medina borough council                     |-           |18,000                   

Isle of Wight Sports Council               |-           |3,000                    



Cowes Sports Football Club                 |<1>10,000                             

Freshwater Bay Golf Club                   |<1>4,000                              

Medina borough council                     |-           |2,167                    

Hampshire and Isle of Wight LTA            |-           |1,700                    



Isle of Wight county council               |-           |1,686                    

Hampshire and Isle of Wight LTA            |-           |5,500                    

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Football                                              

   Association                             |-           |4,150                    



Isle of Wight county council               |-           |6,000                    

Isle of Wight County Cricket Association   |-           |3,000                    



Ryde Sports Club                           |100,000                               

Isle of Wight Table Tennis Centre          |75,000                                

Isle of Wight county council               |-           |5,000                    

Isle of Wight County Cricket Association   |-           |2,000                    



Capital total                              |=           |205,000                  


Revenue total                                                                     

55,557                                     |

Grand total                                |=           |260,557                  


Deregulation --

3. Mrs. Browning : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what is his policy on deregulation ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Sproat : My Department takes a keen interest in the impact of regulation, from whatever source, on the business sectors in which we have a policy interest. We seek to deregulate when it can be wisely done.

Mrs. Browning : May I urge my hon. Friend to hasten any measures in the pipeline and to receive with an open mind representations made by those associated with tourism, which is extremely important in my constituency of Tiverton in Devon ? Those associated with tourism and particularly small businesses feel that the burden of regulations still lies heavily on their shoulders.

Mr. Sproat : Yes. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the great persistence with which she follows the interests of the tourist elements in her constituency. My Department identified 91 regulations which impact damagingly on the tourist industry. We are pursuing those with each of the relevant Departments.

Ms Mowlam : Although the Minister is not responsible for the regulation of newspaper pricing, he has regulatory responsibility for the standards of news and opinion throughout the United Kingdom. Given his Department's lead role in the Government's cross-media review, what will he have left to review if Murdoch's News Corporation succeeds in pushing some of the quality national and regional newspapers out of the market ?

Mr. Sproat : We shall continue to review those and all the other newspapers and aspects of the media that are left.

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Mr. Waterson : Is my hon. Friend aware of the depth of feeling of hoteliers in my constituency about excessive regulation ? Will he take the opportunity to discuss those matters with the Eastbourne Hotels Association during his forthcoming and much expected visit to Eastbourne ?

Mr. Sproat : Yes, I look forward to my trip to Eastbourne. Much of the evidence that has helped us so much in our investigation has come from the hoteliers of Eastbourne and I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with them.

Sports Council --

4. Mr. Dowd : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what consultations he has had with other Departments about the restructuring of the Sports Council.

Mr. Sproat : I have consulted those Departments on whose interests the review of the Sports Council touches. As the hon. Member will know, the Government announced their proposals for the future of the Sports Council on 8 July.

Mr. Dowd : Further to the statement on 8 July, what did the Minister mean by the intention for the new Sports Council to withdraw from mass and formal participation and leisure activities ? Will he explain the flagrant contradiction in the role of sport as outlined by the Secretary of State for Health in the White Paper, "The Health of the Nation" ?

Mr. Sproat : There is no contradistinction between what the two Departments say. I want to ensure that the Sports Council concentrates on sport. It has only some £49 million a year to spend on this, as opposed to the £1.25 billion that local authorities have. I want local authorities to concentrate on recreation and leisure and the Sports Council to concentrate on performance and excellence.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : I warmly welcome the Minister's proposals on the Sports Council, particularly giving the United Kingdom Sports Council a strategic role for a lead sport, but does he agree that local authorities and regional sports councils have a particularly important role to play in providing sports facilities for younger people ?

Mr. Sproat : I agree with my hon. Friend. He will have noticed that I am asking the ministerial nominees in future to attach themselves more closely to the Sports Council in the regions, and I look forward to receiving much more direct advice from the ministerial nominees in future.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : May I welcome in general the announcement made by the Minister last Friday, when I was unavoidably absent ? I particularly welcome the fact that professional sport is to be properly represented on the Sports Council, recognising that the distinction between amateur and professional is increasingly regarded as outdated. But where will responsibility for fighting the battle against drugs in sport rest ? What importance does the Minister's Department attach to the continuation of the remarkably good work that has been done in the past in that respect by the existing Sports Council ?

Mr. Sproat : I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his kind welcome in general and for his comment on professional sport in particular. It is extremely important that members of regional sports councils and of the Great

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Britain Sports Council, such as Mr. Trevor Brooking, will be there not just as outstanding individuals but as representatives of professional sport.

As far as drugs are concerned, that is one of the first things that the new United Kingdom Sports Council will be looking at. We attach great importance to it. Our attitude to drugs must be seen to be the same throughout the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Pendry : Further to the original question, is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State said only last year that it was his aim to put the extension of individual access to heritage, culture and sport firmly at the top of his agenda ? How can the Minister square that objective with a withdrawal from the promotion of mass participation in sport ? To achieve his boss's objective, will he agree to a longer period of consultation than the 70-odd that days he is allowing, after which he might see what the right hon. Gentleman is getting at and agree with him ?

Mr. Sproat : No. The initial consultation that I proposed on Friday will be until 30 September ; thereafter, we shall consider all the points made within that period. As for mass participation, of course we want to see as many people who wish to play sport and games playing them, but some aspects of that are better done by local authorities and some are better promoted by the Sports Council. We seek to achieve a sensible balance.

Sport (Business Sponsorship) --

5. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what was the value of business sponsorship of sport in the latest period for which information is available.

Mr. Sproat : The total value of commercial sponsorship of sport in the United Kingdom in 1993 was estimated to be approximately £250 million.

Mr. Colvin : I am sure that the House would agree that the introduction of the Sportsmatch sponsorship scheme for sport will be welcome, even if it is only half as successful as the business sponsor incentive scheme for the arts. Additional funding can be made available for improvements and safety features at sports grounds through the Football Trust. What plans do Her Majesty's Government have for extending the scope of the trust to include non-league football, rugby union, rugby league and cricket ?

Mr. Sproat : With regard to Sportsmatch, I very much agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, Sportsmatch has been responsible for pumping some £10 million extra into grass roots sports since it was set up in November 1992. As for widening the Football Trust's activities, clearly it is extremely important that we should try to spread the money and ensure that safety at sports grounds, which could apply to games such as rugby league, for instance, is as good as it is at football grounds. We are currently looking at ways in which to do just that.

Mr. Flynn : What is the Minister's reaction to the plea from the Heritage Select Committee that advertising for tobacco should be banned ? Does he not think it damaging for young children to see business sponsorship of tobacco displayed all over the uniforms and kits of sportsmen ? Would it not be better to allow business sponsorship of

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Members of Parliament to be displayed on our suits when we speak here so that the country can know who is filling the pockets of Members and so that the mother of Parliaments does not an the international reputation as the whore of Parliaments ?

Mr. Sproat : On the first point, I know roughly what the Select Committee said. I shall be studying the report over the coming few weeks and I shall be making an official response in due course.

Mr. Jessel : When my hon. Friend studies the Select Committee report, will he pay particular attention to the point that sports sponsorship by tobacco companies tends to encourage young, impressionable and gullible people to identify healthy and glamorous activities such as sport and the hero figures in it with a habit that is likely to be lethal to some 8 or 9 per cent. of them, on present trends ?

Mr. Sproat : As I said in reply to the last supplementary question, these matters are well rehearsed in the Select Committee's report, and I look forward to examining them in detail. My hon. Friend will be aware that the current voluntary agreement provides that there shall be no sponsorship by tobacco companies of events that are attended by a majority of persons under the age of 18.

Channel 4 --

6. Ms Glenda Jackson : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received regarding the future funding of Channel 4 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke) : I have received letters from the chairman of Channel 4, the chairman of the ITV Association, two of the chairmen of ITV companies, more than 50 letters from hon. Members on behalf of independent programme production companies, and some letters directly from independent programme producers. On 21 June, I met the chairman and chief executive of Channel 4 and listened to their views. I shall consider all those views and those of other organisations with an interest.

Ms Jackson : I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but he did not mention a statement on the future funding of Channel 4. Will he assure the House and the country that the path of privatisation will not be pursued in that area and that the element of public service broadcasting which is integral to Channel 4 will be of overriding importance and will be protected, whatever form of future funding is eventually reached ?

Mr. Brooke : The Government considered the issue of the privatisation of Channel 4 in 1989, but decided against it, and we have seen no reason to change our mind since. The White Paper that the Government issued last Wednesday was an index of the Government's support for public sector broadcasting.

Mr. Ashby : Does my right hon. Friend consider--or perhaps recall-- that most Conservative Members believe Channel 4 to be a most excellent channel, whose independence must be maintained ? One of the problems that the channel faces is that it has a funding agreement which is out of date and does not take into account the success that it has subsequently achieved. Will my right

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hon. Friend give assurances that that will be looked at carefully because we want a well-funded, independent Channel 4 to continue ?

Mr. Brooke : My hon. Friend is almost as eloquent as Sir Michael Bishop and Michael Grade were when they came to see me on 21 June--and that is a high compliment. I said in response to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) that I would consider the views that I had heard, and those of other organisations with an interest. That I will do.

Arts (Disabled People) --

7. Ms Lynne : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what discussions he has had recently with organisations for the disabled about support for the arts.

Mr. Sproat : My Department is in regular contact with organisations representing the interests of disabled people in the arts sector ; among them, I have just announced increased funding of £43,000 to the ADAPT trust for this year. The Arts Council and the regional arts boards together spend more than £1.5 million on arts and disability each year.

Ms Lynne : Is the Minister aware that the Arts Council disability unit is due to be scrapped ? Following the demise of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, this is another slap in the face for disabled people. The unit cost £50,000 to run. Will he consider making representations to the Arts Council, or providing extra resources for the council, to force it into keeping the unit going ?

Mr. Sproat : That is, of course, a decision for the Arts Council, but I think that the hon. Lady has got it wrong. The Arts Council used to have a special unit which did nothing but look at the needs of disabled persons, of women and of ethnic minorities. It decided to scrap the unit and to share the responsibility for safeguarding those interests right across the council's work. That was the Arts Council's decision, but it seemed sensible to me.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that words come cheap, and that the important point is that the Government have more than trebled provision for the disabled in real terms ? We can take the credit for that, because we have done what the Labour party failed to do.

Mr. Sproat : Yes. As so often, my hon. Friend is exactly right.

Radio 4 --

8. Mrs. Angela Knight : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received during his review of the BBC charter regarding maintaining Radio 4 on the long-wave network.

Mr. Brooke : More than 1,700 since October 1992, but most of them were not linked to the BBC's future after 1996.

Mrs. Knight : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the variability of the Radio 4 FM frequency and how easily it can be interrupted ? If I open my fridge door at home, reception ceases altogether. With that in mind, does he agree that more listeners would be better served if the usual Radio 4 programmes were broadcast on long wave and extended sports programmes on the FM frequency ?

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Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me outline notice of the subject that she wished to raise and I am sorry that she has difficulties receiving Radio 4 on FM, not least because of her fridge door. FM reception depends largely on having a line of sight from the receiving aerial to the transmitter. Rooftop antennae are recommended wherever possible, but I recognise that many listeners prefer to use portable receivers, even though reception is generally poorer on such equipment.

The BBC continues to build new FM transmitters to improve reception of its services. The building programme is subject to available resources and competing engineering priorities. However, the shortage of frequencies and the geography of the local terrain do not make it easy to read all areas easily. Although my hon. Friend criticises the BBC for scheduling extended sports coverage and, in particular, "Test Match Special" on Radio 4 long wave, it is for the BBC to decide what to broadcast on the frequencies available to it.

Mr. Grocott : Will the Secretary of State confirm that he quite enjoys answering questions of that kind about the regulatory framework for the BBC because it is a proper, democratic regulation about which we can ask questions in Parliament ? Does he look forward, as I do, to the day when the quality and variety of programming on satellite and cable will be similarly subject to a sensible, if arm's-length, regulatory framework by the democratic process to ensure proper quality of programmes ?

Mr. Brooke : The simplest answer is that I always enjoy answering questions from the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the subject that he raises is currently under review.

Mr. Cormack : Is it not a fair bet that the contents of the fridge belonging to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) would frequently be better than the contents of radio programmes ?

Mr. Brooke : I am diffident about saying this, but I am not wholly familiar with the contents of my hon. Friend's fridge.

Mr. Corbett : Is the Secretary of State aware that the seemingly random tinkering with programmes between Radio 4 FM and long wave and Radio 5 Live confuses listeners and has lessened live coverage of what goes on in this place ? Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the chairman and governors of the BBC of the corporation's duty to broadcast a day-by-day impartial account of events here ? Does he agree that the fact that newspaper reporting of Parliament has drastically lessened makes as-it- happens coverage all the more important ?

Mr. Brooke : As we indicated in the White Paper last week, we believe that the BBC should provide published objectives for each of its radio services and that the character of its services should not be changed without giving audiences an opportunity to comment on the proposals. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about the potential confusion that can arise.

British Broadcasting Corporation --

9. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he expects to publish his White Paper on the future of the BBC.

Mr. Brooke : I published a White Paper on 6 July.

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Mr. Coombs : I thank my right hon. Friend for his pre-emptive strike on Wednesday against my question. I warmly welcome the White Paper, as I believe that most people have done since it was published. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the BBC will have an increasingly difficult position to maintain as a broadcasting corporation in an increasingly narrow casting world ? What does he see as his Department's role in encouraging and helping the BBC to maintain its pre-eminent position in world television and radio ?

Mr. Brooke : The White Paper was certainly a response to the world in which the BBC will find itself, domestically as well as internationally. The best contribution that any Government can make to the BBC is to reinforce its self-confidence, and that is what we did last Wednesday.

Mr. Sheldon : I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what he did last Wednesday. Will he pay tribute to Maramaduke Hussey and Lord Barnett, who, over a long period, resisted the attempts by the then Prime Minister to disband the real and essential work of the BBC and who, by playing the role of Sheherazade as they did, kept the conversation and discussion going until such time as the right hon. Gentleman was able to produce the results that he did last Wednesday ?

Mr. Brooke : Some of what the right hon. Gentleman said probably belongs more to the historians than either to him or to me. I pay tribute to the present chairman and the former deputy chairman for the manner in which they managed the changes that have occurred in the BBC. While, perfectly properly, compliments have been paid to the director-general in the aftermath of the White Paper, I think that similar compliments might be paid to the govenors.

Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme --

11. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what are the latest figures from the business sponsorship incentive scheme.

Mr. Sproat : The business sponsorship incentive scheme is continuing to be remarkably successful in encouraging businesses to sponsor the arts. Since its inception in October 1984, the scheme has attracted almost £74 million in new money for the arts.

Mr. Bruce : I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent answer. Can the principles that are being applied for Sportsmatch to get finances also be used for heritage projects ? I have in mind the preservation of steam railways, such as that at Swanage, or tall ships, such as the 70 that will come out of Weymouth on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Many charities spend a great deal of money keeping those in working order for, in particular, young and disabled people.

Mr. Sproat : My hon. Friend is right. He could play his part in encouraging the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts to set up more offices around the country so as to encourage more businesses to participate. I am pleased that ABSA recently opened a new office in Birmingham. It also opened a new office in Halifax in June 1992, which has led to the amount of business sponsorship for the arts since then rising by no less than 68 per cent.

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Mr. Pike : The Minister will be aware that preserving industrial heritage is extremely expensive, so what he has just said is welcome. Will he make it his task to encourage business to support that sort of heritage, because many of the museums will go out of business if they cannot find sufficient resources to survive ?

Mr. Sproat : The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I know that he will welcome the fact that the Department played some part in ensuring that an additional £300,000 was allocated to the Yorkshire mining museum the other day, which will help to keep that important part of Britain's industrial heritage in being.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement and the fact that his Department will find £4.8 million this year for that scheme, which is cash-limited. Will he give sympathetic consideration to the problems of the Cirencester festival, about which I have corresponded with my hon. Friend, which does have business sponsorship, but, because the scheme is cash-limited, is not eligible for money from it this year ?

Mr. Sproat : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. We do everything possible to keep raising the funding, which currently stands at £4.8 million. As he knows, we increased it by 10 per cent. last time. If he cares to write to me, I will certainly look again at the details of the scheme that he mentioned.

Opera Companies --

12. Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what were the total number of opera performances and the total attendances for companies supported by the Arts Council in 1983-84 and 1993 -94.

Mr. Brooke : In 1983-84, the total number of performances and the total attendances for the major opera companies supported by the Arts Council were 611 and 875,853 respectively. In 1993-94, those figures rose to 690 performances and 904,069 attendances.

Mr. Gunnell : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, despite the loss of opera companies over the past decade, those increases in figures show the strength of our resident opera companies ? Are not the restrictions on Arts Council funding a threat to their quality ? Will he ensure that if the Government go ahead in getting rid of some of the authorities that support opera companies, the Department will put a scheme in place to ensure that funds are available ?

Mr. Brooke : My answer referred to major companies. There has been a burgeoning of opera in the middle scale, with 50 companies now in existence. Together with small-scale organisations such as Pimlico Opera, those opera companies are reaching new audiences in a large number of venues that are unable to host larger-scale productions. The comparable funding for the other companies from the Arts Council--I am including Scotland and Wales--was £16.5 million in 1983-84 and more than £38 million in 1994-95. Therefore, although funding decisions are for the Arts Council, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that there has been a steady increase in public funding.

Mr. Rowe : Is not it an extraordinary tribute to the astonishing increase in the quality of orchestral music and

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operatic singers music that so many people are now interested in opera ? Given that solid base, will my right hon. Friend ensure that producers of publicly supported operas will use as much ingenuity in staging economical productions as they do when seeking subsidies ?

Mr. Brooke : My experience of companies funded by the Arts Council is that they concentrate on doing that which my hon. Friend suggested across the whole range of arts, and that the practice is not confined to opera.

Sport (Business Sponsorship) --

13. Mr. Lord : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what representations he has received regarding the Sportsmatch scheme to promote business sponsorship of sport.

Mr. Sproat : I receive a number of letters from hon. Members and others regarding individual applications for Sportsmatch awards, but have not received any other representations recently.

Mr. Lord : Recently, I had the honour to perform the turf-cutting ceremony for new squash courts in the village of Debenham in Suffolk. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the scheme, which is bringing enthusiasm to businesses and sports in all areas but particularly to rural areas such as my constituency, which badly need sports facilities. Will my hon. Friend give the scheme maximum publicity ?

Mr. Sproat : I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. It is a splendid scheme, and it has been responsible for putting an extra £10 million into grass roots sports. It does so at minimum overheads of 10 per cent., which is something that other organisations might consider. I will certainly do as my hon. Friend suggests.

National Lottery --

14. Mr. O'Hara : To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage when he now expects the first tickets for the national lottery to be sold.

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