Previous SectionIndexHome Page


6.42 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have participated. As Opposition spokesman, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who were unfailingly polite and helpful. I wish them well in future.

On Friday morning, the Secretary of State made an announcement about his departmental budget. Characteristically, he did not make it on the Floor. He said that it was the biggest increase in cultural funding and talked of a sum of some £290 million, which he used again today. I am afraid that he is arithmetically challenged. On his birthday recently, he turned 47. God willing, in a year's time, he will turn 48. Using the methodology employed in his departmental totals, he will not turn 48 but 95. Analysis of his figures shows that that is what has happened.

The spin on the figure of £290 million is symptomatic of the media hype and distortion characteristic of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman disbelieves me, he can check with the Library. He could send his parliamentary private secretary to the Members' Lobby to check the letter board, where there is a detailed explanation of how the figure is so entirely wrong. It is not £290 million or even half that. In real terms, allowing for 2.5 per cent. inflation, the figure is £52 million. So much for his fantasy figure.

If one thing in the lifetime of this Government sums up everything that my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) talked about, it is tobacco sponsorship of sport. The Minister for Sport knows that angling is 85 per cent. supported by tobacco manufacturers, darts 95 per cent., and pool 75 per cent. It is the same for billiards, snooker, greyhound racing, show jumping and so on. All those sports are dependent

29 Jul 1998 : Column 421

on this form of sponsorship, yet, out of the blue, the Secretary of State for Health announced that the situation would change. No one was consulted and no sports governing body was forewarned.

In the following autumn, Bernie Ecclestone got an audience with the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing street. The great principle that we had heard about vanished overnight, and formula one got an exemption. The only thing lacking was lavender writing paper. The explanation given by the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about this fiasco and the betrayal of sporting bodies and interests was:


Early in the year, representatives of the sports facing decimation met the Prime Minister to discuss the exemption. They were told that help would be forthcoming. In May, the Minister for Sport said that there was an adequate possibility of adequate substitutes being found. It is disgraceful that, again, the decision was made without consultation, or any knowledge of the level of sponsorship or the impact on individual sports. However, an exemption was given for a rich and powerful person, who was able to go to No. 10 having given a large amount of money to the Labour party. That is the truth because the task force has never met. Sporting bodies up and down the country are horrified about their treatment by the Government.

The Government and the Labour party are controlled by a magic circle. We have heard about Derek Draper's 17 most powerful individuals, and the lobbyists and spin doctors with the ear, and influence, of politicians. They meet over endless quantities of champagne and canapes. In July, the magazine Tatler, which is widely read in Labour clubs, produced a list of the most sought-after guests in the best circles--the top party people.

On 7 July, the Daily Mail printed the list of people described as the top 50 "Hot Guests". I am sorry to say that the Secretary of State was not among them--he was only No. 68--but, lo and behold, even ahead of Sarah, Duchess of York was the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. We read that these:


It must be a great pleasure to the members of the Hartlepool Labour Association to know that, when they sent their man to the House of Commons, not only did he come to have such great influence, but he came to mix in the extraordinary world that has been brought to our attention so dramatically in the past few weeks. How proud they must be of his achievements. The article starts:


    "Gilt-edged invitations spill from the mantlepiece and their champagne glasses run over. Seen at the best gatherings and sometimes known to host their own, their presence guarantees a party to remember".

That is what the Labour party has come to: if one is rich and powerful, one gets favours from the Prime Minister, and influence is derived through a charmed magic circle of people who drink champagne and eat canapes together. I am sorry that the Minister for Sport is not a part of all that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Tony Banks): I do not get invited.

29 Jul 1998 : Column 422

Mr. Spring: The Minister will just have to try harder.

The one thing that has brought to light the whole spinning fiasco of the Government is the handling of the millennium dome--£758 million of public money has been allocated to the dome project, along with yet more spinning, more misinformation and more interference. On 22 February on "Breakfast with Frost", the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry spoke about the birth of a baby dome. I had been to the dome a matter of days previously and did not recall having seen anything like that. Nevertheless, the remark achieved the desired effect--the right hon. Gentleman got his headlines--but it was, of course, utter rubbish and no such thing as a baby dome existed.

Other announcements that have brought the whole dome project into disrepute include the original proposals for a recumbent, androgynous figure. The figure was to have a baby in a nappy, but there was something wrong with the nappy and a case of infanticide ensued. Gradually, the recumbent, androgynous figure turned into a figure that was sitting up. Now, finally, the British people are being treated to the sight in their newspapers of Siamese twins--a combination of chest and breasts, seated, with only one pair of legs. The point is that that is no way to deal with an important project in the life of our country; it has been spun out of control and has turned the project into an utter laughing stock.

Incidentally, we heard from the same right hon. Gentleman that the great millennial sport was to be something called surfball. However, we discovered that no such game existed--it was purely illustrative--and that, throughout, the right hon. Gentleman had been talking complete and utter surfballs himself.

The Labour Government inherited what the International Monetary Fund called the finest economy anywhere in western Europe, but even Der Spiegel this week talks about the culture of cronyism, the atmosphere that surrounds the Government, the sense of decay and the setting in of recession. When the British people come to judge the Government, as they surely will, the issues of spin over substance and the appalling way in which major national projects and the economy have been treated will come home to roost. The part played by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and those like him will be central in making the people turn on the Government for leading them up the garden path.

6.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Tony Banks): I have little time in which to respond to some of the points that have been raised. I have to say that the Opposition's contribution to the debate has not been a triumph of style over substance; as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there has been no style and no substance. It is amazing that the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) should come along here, and moan and whinge about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, when it seems that his main complaint is that he does not get invited to all the parties to which my right hon. Friend receives invitations.

I did note that, when the hon. Gentleman mentioned the amount of champagne that apparently gets drunk at those parties, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) squeaked into life. When champagne is mentioned,

29 Jul 1998 : Column 423

his interest is aroused. A little while ago, he ambled in from his club like some gargantuan summer pudding; he stayed for 15 minutes, made a wholly irrelevant point and then wobbled off back to his club. That is the sort of attitude displayed by Conservative Members that we have to deal with.

The fact is that style is not a substitute for substance--of course one understands that point. However, style is important and the Labour Government are committed to a style of government that is open--a modern style of state in respect of constitutional change, and a greater democratic style through devolution. The idea that there is no substance behind the style of the Government is arrant nonsense, and the Opposition should understand that. After all, it was not the leader of the Labour party who went around wearing a baseball hat with his name on the front. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was trying to remind others who he was, or trying to remind himself. Do not talk to us about style.

As for the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), I thought at one point that he had taken leave of his senses and that Madam Speaker was contemplating using her powers under the Mental Health Acts to certify him. He spoke about purple ties and I do not know what he was going on about, but I should greatly prefer a purple tie worn by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the abortion that the hon. Gentleman is currently wearing around his neck. He was doing his impersonation of the boy standing on the burning deck, but let me tell him why the boy was standing there alone: everyone else had had the good sense to get off when they smelt burning. The hon. Gentleman still does not know when to get out of one of his own speeches.

The speeches with which I should have liked to deal in some depth were the thoughtful ones made by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), who both made some very good points. I join Opposition Members in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). Both worked hard and assiduously, and did a lot of excellent work. We all know that, at times, politics is a rough trade, and that we might share their experience in future.

The comments of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross about the arm's-length principle were extremely significant. He knows my personal feelings on that point--I feel that it is something that belongs to the past. We should be able to trust ourselves as politicians and as Ministers in terms of what we do because if we cannot, how can we expect others to trust us? The subject is worthy of being returned to and given careful consideration.

It is not that we want to intervene daily in the arts or in sport. The right hon. Gentleman understands that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to set out a broad strategy for arts, sport and culture in this country, while leaving the detailed working to those bodies that we have set up--the arts councils and the sports councils. In many ways, my right hon. Friend sees his relationship to those bodies as being like the Home Secretary's relationship to the police authorities: the Home Secretary

29 Jul 1998 : Column 424

sets out a broad strategy, but does not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the police. The House should return to that subject, because it belongs to the days of Keynes. He said, in effect, "When circumstances change, I change my mind--what do you do?" That is a perfectly reasonable approach for us to adopt.

On the question of the tourist boards, let me tell the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross that the chairmen of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland tourist boards attend the British Tourist Authority board meetings. The BTA co-operates closely with them and that will continue. A consultation period is currently under way, and we shall listen carefully to representations and take them into account. However, it is a fact that we have to look at the adequacy of the existing structures for supporting the tourism industry and it is right that we should do so.

I have to tell the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) that it was she who coined the phrase "Cool Britannia". I wish that she had not done it, because nothing appears so silly as politicians using phrases that they think are cool in an attempt to seem in touch with popular culture. Of course we want to be popular, but not by trying to hijack other people's language.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), whom we supported in setting up the lottery. The right hon. Lady was right to say that it has brought enormous benefits to sport, arts and culture. We warmly supported the lottery when we were in opposition, so we need no lessons about how it benefits people.

There are many other points that I should like to make. On Blackpool--[Interruption.] I simply do not have enough time because so many Opposition Members used it up. We shall go back to Blackpool. We are taking the Labour party conference around the country to another good seaside town--Bournemouth--but I assure the House that I will again be seen walking down the front at Blackpool with my kiss-me-quick hat and a little stick of Blackpool rock in my hand. It is a great town and we love going there. I can assure the House that the Labour party will always return to Blackpool, knowing that there is no fear of contradiction from anyone.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:--

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 355.


Next Section

IndexHome Page