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Commonwealth Games

6. Mr. John Grogan (Selby): If he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002. [77374]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): We want to see a highly successful Commonwealth games in 2002. I am pleased to say that £112 million of lottery money will help to build facilities that will not only house the games, but provide a lasting sporting legacy for the people of Manchester. I am pleased also that a detailed sports programme for the games has been agreed and that the programme for athletes with disabilities has been fully integrated. Manchester 2002 Ltd. will now be able to work up a detailed budget and pursue television sales and sponsorship.

Mr. Grogan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Manchester Commonwealth games will be an excellent showcase for Britain in the year of the Queen's golden jubilee and that their success will enhance our chances of attracting similar prestigious international events? Is he, therefore, seriously considering the case for central Government financial support for the costs of the opening and closing ceremonies and security?

Mr. Smith: There is already substantial support for building the facilities. It is early days yet in determining the revenue needs of the games, because much will depend on accurate estimates of the costs, both of running the games as a whole and of the opening and closing ceremonies. Much will also depend on the sale of television rights and the amount of private sector sponsorship that is sought. At this stage, it would not be right to pre-empt decisions on those issues.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): Is the Secretary of State aware that, at last week's meeting of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, we were informed that there might be a danger on the site that has been proposed for the Manchester games stadium, because deep mine workings are still in operation underneath that site? A fortnight ago, we visited the site and we were not informed of any difficulties. What will the Secretary of State do about that problem?

Mr. Smith: I am aware of the issue. A number of former mine workings are near the site of the facilities that are due to be built. All those have been identified, and the stadium and other facilities will be sited in areas that are unaffected.

Television Licence Concessions

7. Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester): If the BBC funding review panel will review the basis on which concessions are given for television licences. [77375]

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The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): Yes. The terms of reference for the review panel require it to

Ms Russell: Does my hon. Friend agree that the present system is unfair, riddled with anomalies and downright divisive? That is the view of most pensioners and older people in my constituency. Furthermore, is my hon. Friend aware of the miserly £1.25 rebate that blind people can obtain off their licence? Will those two concerns be passed on to the review panel?

Janet Anderson: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent job that she does in representing the views of her constituents. The Government accept that the current concessionary licence scheme is imperfect and unsatisfactory. I can confirm that the review will consider the concession for blind people, which the Government accept is currently of little help, but the way forward must be considered as part of a wider review of concessions.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Is not the hon. Member for City of Chester (Ms Russell) absolutely right? Is it not absurd that two pensioners in Frome, who live next to each other in identical flats--one in a sheltered scheme, one outside it--are asked to pay totally different amounts for their television licences? Should we not have a system that treats all pensioners equitably?

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman hits the nail firmly on the head. The unfairness of the current scheme is a problem. The Government accept that the concessionary licence scheme is imperfect and unsatisfactory, but we must be aware that any substantial extension of concessionary arrangements could be expensive. We shall consider in detail the outcome of the review.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Obviously, I welcome my hon. Friend's statement. However, will she consider ensuring that the people who benefit from a cheap licence will not suddenly face an increase when the anomalies are removed? Will she consider ensuring that all pensioners benefit from a £5 licence?

Janet Anderson: May I say, as I have said already, that we must be aware that any substantial extension of the concessionary scheme could be very expensive? We await the deliberations of the review, and we shall give detailed consideration to them. Let me repeat that we recognise the unfairness of the present scheme, which is undoubtedly imperfect and unsatisfactory.

Theatres (Funding)

8. Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): If he will make a statement on the future of funding for smaller theatres. [77376]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): In recognition of the important contribution that smaller theatres make to my Department's objectives of access, excellence and

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education, we are discussing with the Arts Council a review of regional producing theatres to be undertaken in the coming year.

Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. May I extend to him an invitation to visit Cambridge Arts Theatre, if he has not recently done so? He will find the theatre working hard towards accessibility, excellence and education through its work with local schools. What does he expect the quantum of funding to be for small regional theatres? When he comes to discuss accessibility, will he bear in mind the fact that accessibility to theatre may include support for touring companies from west end theatres in London that are able to visit regional theatres?

Mr. Smith: Yes, indeed. We have put in place £125 million of additional funding over the next three years for the performing and visual arts, through the Arts Council. I am pleased that a major proportion of that money has already been made available to the regional arts boards. Eastern Arts, for example, has received a 15.4 per cent. increase in funding for the coming year, and I expect a proportion of that money to support regional theatre. We have also put in place new audiences funding for the Arts Council, and some of that is already going into support of touring.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Is my right hon. Friend aware that my name is listed among the members of the Shadow Arts Council, despite the fact that I have never been asked to join such a group? Does that not raise doubts about the credibility of that organisation, especially as it refuses to accept that the Government are giving an extra £125 million to arts organisations over the next three years?

Mr. Smith: I do indeed understand my hon. Friend's surprise at her inclusion as a supposed sponsor of that organisation. It is shared by several others among those included on the letterhead list that the organisation issued. I very much welcome any group of people who wish to act as advocates for the cause of the arts in the United Kingdom, but I wish that that organisation would get its facts right before entering the public prints.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): Does the Secretary of State agree that small theatres up and down the country, including the Palace theatre in Newark, can perform valuable services to their local communities? Is he concerned that it is now Arts Council policy to let small theatres that it funds go to the wall, perhaps because they do not fit into some great managerial scheme? If not, how does he explain why so many theatres face closure or crisis when the Arts Council is apparently sitting on a £7 million fund that it could extend as a lifeline for core funding for those theatres instead of keeping it up its sleeve? That threatens their survival. Will he call on the Arts Council to release those funds to ensure the survival of regional small theatres?

Mr. Smith: Of course, the Arts Council has already made available in quite a number of cases substantial additional funding to regional theatres. The Bolton Octagon had a 7 per cent. increase; the Chester Gateway, 14 per cent.; Duke's, Lancaster, 29 per cent.; the Manchester

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Royal Exchange 8 per cent.; the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough 39 per cent. Substantial additional funding is going to many regional theatres. Having said that, there is concern that regional theatre in general has been suffering financially over many years, principally through decisions taken by the previous Government in cutting money for them. That is why I am asking the Arts Council to take a thorough look across the board at the state of regional theatre right the way across the country so that proper funding decisions can be taken.

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