Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: I am stung to my feet. I may have said, "O brave new world, that has such people in it", rather than "has such people in't", but the Secretary of State is being a little pedantic.

Mr. Smith: It is important to get these things right; the hon. Gentleman did not.

Last Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats launched an important debate about the relationship between Government and Parliament, which lies at the heart of some of the things that I think the Opposition are trying to get at. Not one Tory Back Bencher was in the House to listen. This morning, we had an important debate on concessionary television licences for pensioners, which was brilliantly handled by the new Minister in my Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson). Not one Tory was in the House. Those were matters of substance but they were clearly not interested.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): It is all right to say that we had a debate this morning on a question of substance, but what have the Government decided? Are they going to give pensioners concessionary licences, yes or no?

Mr. Smith: No. Had the hon. Gentleman been here to listen, he would have heard the arguments.

The Tories cannot stand the Government's success on matters of substance across the board. All they can come up with is an obsession with the froth of whether there are six or seven journalists working at No. 10 Downing street. They are not interested in our investment in the national health service; the money that we have provided for education; how we are genuinely tackling crime across the country; how we are integrating transport; the help for pensioners with their winter heating bills; the reduction of VAT on people's fuel bills; the new deal that is taking hundreds of thousands of young people off the dole and putting them into work; signing up to the social chapter; the introduction of the national minimum wage; the use of

29 Jul 1998 : Column 391

capital receipts to allow local authorities to start building houses again; devolution for Scotland and Wales; a mayor and elected assembly for London; investment for the first time on a proper basis in science; the banning of trade in landmines; the banning of ownership of handguns; building on the work of the previous Government in the search for peace in Northern Ireland. Those are matters of substance but they are not interested in them.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Like the comprehensive spending review, the Secretary of State did not include tourism in his list. Why is the British Tourist Authority's chairman rushing down to see us in Dorset about the Secretary of State dismantling support for tourism? What are the Government going to do? This is one of our largest industries and important to my constituents. Will he give us a substantial answer?

Mr. Smith: I shall come to tourism because it is referred to specifically by the Select Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in tourism, perhaps he noticed the press release on the comprehensive spending review issued on Friday by the British Hospitality Association. Its chairman welcomed our announcement that we are increasing funding for tourism. That is precisely what we are doing. He said:

That is the industry's response to last Friday's announcements. I shall deal with that in more detail later.

I have described real, solid achievements by the Government. They have nothing to do with style, glamour, trivia or any of the things that the Opposition go on about. They are real and they matter to people. It was breathtaking chutzpah for the hon. Member for East Surrey to accuse us of endorsing the idea of cool Britannia. He said that it had precious little meaning to people in the real world. Perhaps he would care to look at the press release issued by the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) on 6 November 1996, when she was Secretary of State for National Heritage. It was headed:

On 5 February 1997, the right hon. Lady issued a press release saying that we must ensure that more overseas and British tourists made "Cool Britannia" their first choice. On 5 March 1997, she issued a press release headed:

    "Cool Britannia rules the way."

On 9 March 1997, she claimed:

    "'Cool Britannia' is now an internationally recognised phenomenon."

Best of all, she used the phrase twice in her press release of 4 December 1996, describing

    "London's place as the coolest city on the planet"

and adding that

    "'cool Britannia' rules."

I have them all here--the hon. Member for East Surrey can have a look at them if he wants to, but certainly he cannot criticise us for leaping on some "Cool Britannia" bandwagon.

29 Jul 1998 : Column 392

Turning to my own Department and related matters of substance, we inherited a situation in which all the areas for which the Department is responsible had faced neglect and cuts for many years; the arts in particular had suffered for years from cuts or standstill funding. The enormous opportunity offered by the lottery had been mishandled. School playing fields were being sold as local authorities throughout the country were forced to sell them. Some of our main national museums were having to introduce entrance charges and important arts organisations were staring closure in the face. The film industry was, as Bob Hoskins described it, like flowers

Mr. Robathan: The right hon. Gentleman said that local authorities were forced to sell off playing fields, but nothing could be further from the truth. At that time, I was parliamentary private secretary to the then Minister of Sport, who worked extremely hard--as I know his successor has done--to prevent local authorities from selling off playing fields. We looked into the possibility of having a register, but the truth is that we did not have a right to order local authorities not to sell off the playing fields. Nevertheless, we tried very hard to stop them so doing.

Mr. Smith: First, I am tempted to observe that the hon. Gentleman was not very successful if that was what he was trying to achieve. Secondly, he did nothing at all to ensure the withdrawal of the circular from the then Department of the Environment which insisted that local authorities throughout the country should look at the asset value of playing fields. That is the sort of thing that he ought to have done.

Even within the self-agreed spending constraints that we have rightly imposed on ourselves for the first two years of the Labour Government, we have within the field of culture, media and sport been able to make a real difference. We introduced substantial reform of the national lottery, with our White Paper which was published a year ago and is now enshrined in the National Lottery Act 1998. New sets of directions are in place for the lottery distributors. We have established the new opportunities fund to make lottery funding available for projects related to health, education and the environment. We have established the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, or NESTA. We have ensured that lottery distributors place new emphasis on small-scale community grants and on making sure that more money goes to support people and activities, rather than to bricks and mortar. All that has been put in place in the last year.

Mr. Bermingham: My right hon. Friend knows of my interest in the lottery. Will he undertake to continue to press the lottery distribution bodies to accelerate the rate at which money is distributed? Currently, much of it sits gaining interest when there is so much to be done on the types of project that he has just described.

Mr. Smith: I will certainly do that. However, one of the issues that has to be addressed is the speed with which those organisations that have been awarded grants manage to get their projects off the ground and take up their grant.

Our other achievements include the introduction of fiscal incentives in British film making; those are to be applicable for the next five years, rather than for three

29 Jul 1998 : Column 393

years, which was the period in the measure that we introduced within weeks of coming into office. We have sorted out the Channel 4 funding issue with a requirement that Channel 4 puts more emphasis on original programme making and film making. We brokered the agreement that saved the Old Vic theatre in London for serious theatre.

We have developed the new audiences fund to make money available to theatres and orchestras around the country to bring in new audiences to enjoy our greatest arts. We have developed the schools youth music trust to make available an additional £10 million a year for instrumental tuition for young people. There has been a savage decline in that over the past 15 years, which was presided over by the Conservative party. We are taking action on that.

We are developing new technology in the public library service. We have made available £50 million for the digitisation of content and £20 million for the training of librarians. We have set up the Wolfson Challenge fund to assist with the development of infrastructure.

We have stopped the unnecessary sale of school playing fields, which was achieved by co-ordination between my Department, the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. We have established the UK Sports Institute. We took an idea that was completely unformed and off track under the previous Government and made it a reality. The institute will open in 2000, as everyone intends. We are providing backing for the 2006 world cup bid, transforming it from a gleam in the eye to a genuine possibility, which we are intent on pursuing in the coming years.

We have saved Newstead abbey, which faced the threat of being undermined by coal mining. There is the prospect of a solution to the problems of presentation at Stonehenge, which is our greatest ancient monument. We are very close to reaching agreement between all the local communities, English Heritage, the National Trust, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the landscape of Stonehenge can be restored. That will be a major achievement, which has required painstaking, difficult and patient negotiation and government of substance, not glamour or trivia.

We have introduced a common grading scheme for hotels. There has been agreement between the English tourist board, the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club. We are ensuring that the tourism and hospitality industries take advantage of the new deal so that they can train more young people and solve their labour shortages. We have established the tourism forum, which regularly draws together all representatives of the major tourism organisations to consider tourism issues seriously.

Those are all measures that we have introduced in the 14 months since we came into office, and that is a pretty good record for any Government.

Next Section

IndexHome Page