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Liaison Committee Report

45. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): What representations she has received on the Government's response to the Liaison Committee's report, "Shifting the Balance". [130616]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I have received no representations as such from any hon. Member, although I am aware that in the House and outside a number have expressed views on it.

Mr. Mackinlay: Has my right hon. Friend heard the cruel and callous rumour, which is full of calumny, that the Government might try to kick into touch any consideration in Parliament of the Liaison Committee's report "Shifting the Balance"? Can she give the House an assurance that, despite the fact that there are varying views on the report's contents and recommendations, the Government intend to bring the matter to a head and allow hon. Members a free vote, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised last week, on "Shifting the Balance" in the not-too-distant future and certainly in time for the implementation of any decision flowing from that debate to be triggered if we are returned after the general election?

Mrs. Beckett: I anticipate that there is likely to be a debate on the matter, perhaps in the overspill. Of course it is a House matter, so the Government will certainly allow a free vote, although it is far from clear to me that Conservatives Members will be allowed a free vote, but I very much hope that they will be. I urge hon. Members

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to study the report with great care because it has profound implications for the rights and responsibilities of individual Members, which I fear many seem to be overlooking.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I assure the right hon. Lady that there will be a free vote for Conservative Members. Can she confirm that we will debate a substantive motion to allow the House to express a clear view? If a clear view is expressed, will the Government undertake to put all the necessary procedures in place so that the Select Committees can be set up under the new procedure without delay at the beginning of the new Parliament?

Mrs. Beckett: First, how the debate will be taken and under what circumstances remains to be settled. Secondly, it was my impression that the Liaison Committee was anxious to bring the procedures into being, should the House agree to them, before the new Parliament begins. As for the reference to delay, the Liaison Committee makes the point that the records show that new procedures are usually introduced at the beginning of a new Parliament. I think that that happened at the beginning of this Parliament and, considering the substantial change in personnel, the process was particularly speedy. Finally, what happens in a new Parliament is particularly pertinent to a method of selection involving a few Members, which is proposed by the Liaison Committee. However, it is far from clear to me how, without a separate information gathering network, it would make judgments on a new Parliament and new Members.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the role of the Back Bencher could not only be expanded, but produce positive results? Far from it being unusual for a Committee of the great and the good to decide the membership of a particular Committee, until very recently it was the habit of a small Committee of Members of all parties in the House to decide the membership of a number of important bodies. That was not only accepted, but it worked efficiently.

Mrs. Beckett: I am afraid that I do not accept that such a system would offer any expansion of the role of Back Benchers. Indeed, one of my anxieties is that the proposals might create a two-tier system for Back Benchers. In effect, there would be three classes of MP: members of the Government, members of Select Committees--who would select each other--and the rest. Of course I accept that there is a powerful case for expanding the role of Back Benchers and for taking a positive attitude to their work and that of Select Committees, which I in no way criticise--indeed, I applaud it--but that can happen under the system we have now.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): Whatever the minute detail for the terms of appointment might be, does not the right hon. Lady agree that there is a case for greater democratisation of the process of appointment to Select Committees or, for that matter, to the Chairmen's Panel?

Mrs. Beckett: I have no wish to intrude on private grief and the Select Committee appointments procedures

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operated by the Conservative party are not a matter for me, but it is open to Labour Members to self-nominate. Nominations have to be ratified by the parliamentary party and the procedures that we are to adopt, which will produce the list put forward by the Whips, are in many ways similar to those proposed by the Liaison Committee.

Armed Conflict (Parliamentary Motion)

46. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If she will make it her policy that a substantive motion be tabled in the House, at the earliest opportunity after the commitment of troops to armed conflict, allowing the House to express its view, and allowing hon. Members to table amendments. [130618]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): No. Although I well understand the wish of Members on both sides of the House for a decision-making procedure of the type that my hon. Friend describes and suggests, that has not been the practice of the House.

Mr. Dalyell: Does my hon. Friend recognise that my question purloins exactly the words of a recommendation of our careful colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee? Is it wise to simply say no to it? Do Ministers recognise that had they seen both the mess that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and I saw in Serbia and the

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Albanian ethnic cleansing in reverse in Kosovo and had the House of Commons been given the chance to excavate the difficulties of going into the Balkans, we might have had wiser policies from the Prime Minister and the United States?

Mr. Tipping: My hon. Friend and his colleagues have had the opportunity to go to Serbia and Kosovo. Governments of both complexions have often given Members ample and quick opportunities to raise those issues properly in the House.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about this prerogative issue and about sending our young men and women into battle without the matter being debated in the House? Would not it be of assistance to the Executive to have a clear endorsement from the House?

Mr. Tipping: There is no problem at all with the House and its Members having an opportunity and a platform to debate these issues. The Government can benefit from that discussion. What is at odds with that in tactical terms is that it clearly does not make sense for the House to pre-empt any military operation.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory reply to my question, I hope to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Madam Speaker: The point has been noted.

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Spending Review (Culture, Media and Sport)

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on funding for culture and sport. Last Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a spending review outcome that enables me to give the House details of the highest ever levels of public support for sport and the arts in England. Over the next three years, there will be a real terms increase in my Department's expenditure of 13.5 per cent. That has, of course, been made possible by my right hon. Friend's prudent management of the economy over the past three years. Because we have set the economy on a stable course, reduced public debt and got unemployment down, we are now able to make a sustained investment in our cultural and sporting future.

When we began the spending review, I set my top priority as the need to improve the provision of sport in our schools. Sporting opportunities for young people--both in school and after school--have been in serious decline for the past 15 years. There was a 70 per cent. decline in competitive fixtures between state schools under the Tories--between the late 1980s and mid-1990s--and we are now reaping the results of that damage. The Tories tore the heart out of school sport, with after-school activity in particular disappearing from schools across the country. Today, I am able to take the first steps to repair that damage and to help to put English sport back on its feet.

We want to give all children the chance to play sport and to develop their sporting abilities. We want to bring back competitive inter-school leagues in football, rugby, cricket, netball, athletics, and other sports. Playing sport helps individual fulfilment. It assists in boosting academic success, in ensuring health, in reducing crime, and in teaching young people about winning and losing. Building a broad base of sporting opportunity for our young people is our only chance of putting our national sporting performance back on its feet.

In setting today's budget for sport I have listened carefully to the powerful arguments of Trevor Brooking and his team at Sport England, together with UK Sport and the Central Council of Physical Recreation. I have worked closely--and will continue to do so--with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. I am able to tell the House that the annual Exchequer funding for sport, which currently stands at just over £50 million, will double to £102 million by 2003-04, which is an increase of almost 100 per cent. over three years, to help to give our children a sporting chance.

With this new funding, we will be able to double our investment in the programme of school sports co-ordinators that has recently been launched by Sport England. Our aim will be to have at least 1,000 co-ordinators in place across the country, each of them working with a family of primary and secondary schools to support PE teachers, to bring qualified coaches into schools, to provide links to specialist colleges, sports clubs and national governing bodies, and to put in place competitive sports programmes within and between schools.

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In addition, we will be able to provide funds to enhance and modernise the work of many of the governing bodies of particular sports, and to develop further the excellent work of the sportsmatch scheme.

As we set out in our recent sports strategy "A Sporting Future for All", our approach is based both on the regeneration of sport in school and at the grass roots, and on support for our very best sportsmen and sportswomen. The settlement therefore also enables us to provide funds for the running of the United Kingdom Sports Institute. Over and above the figures I have already announced, we are able to provide new, additional funding of £10.5 million for the Commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002.

Earlier today we launched the Football Foundation, a new partnership between the Football Association, the premier league and Government. It will help to bring substantial resources from the broadcasting income of the game into the creation of decent and modern facilities, pitches, changing rooms and equipment at grass-roots level across the country, including in schools. That sits alongside the programme of investment under the capital modernisation fund that we have already announced, to develop space for sport and arts activity in primary schools.

The arts are part of the core script of Government. They enrich our lives in countless ways, and any Government who lose sight of the need to invest fully in the artistic life of the nation put at risk the nurturing of a civilised society. Our policy has throughout been based on three pillars: sustaining artistic and creative excellence, seeking to broaden access to that excellence to the greatest possible number of people, and realising the educational opportunities that can come from involvement in the arts. Those goals remain fundamental to our approach.

Between 1992 and 1997, by contrast, Government funding for the arts fell by 7 per cent. in real terms. For year after year, the last Government starved the arts of the funds that they desperately needed. Two years ago we were able to start putting that right, and I am pleased to announce today that we can do even better over the next three years. Arts funding this year stands at £238 million; in 2003-04, it will be £338 million. With this new settlement, arts funding will have increased by 60 per cent. in real terms in five years.

When Gerry Robinson, chairman of the Arts Council, called in his recent lecture for an increase of £100 million in arts spending, most commentators said there was no chance that that ambition would be fulfilled. Over the next three years, we will fulfil it.

I have asked the Arts Council to give priority to two particular programmes of work within the new allocation. The first is to try and resolve, once and for all, the endemic problems of regional producing theatres up and down the country. In far too many of our towns and cities, theatres are struggling financially. Some are dark for long periods. Artistic excellence is threatened. Following on from the Boyden report, this settlement will enable those problems to be addressed.

Of equal importance is the work that I have asked the Arts Council to lead in developing creative partnerships in particular areas of need, bringing together all the artistic and cultural organisations in an area to work with primary and secondary schools and provide new opportunities for young people to experience, and participate in, the very best of our cultural life. Our aim is to start the process in at least 12 of the most deprived areas in the country.

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The chance to experience the arts can transform a child's life. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) said in his powerful maiden speech last week, we need to invest in people's souls as well as their skills. This proposal enables us to start doing so.

In addition to the new investment that I am announcing in sport and the arts, the other areas of my Department's work will benefit. In 2003-04, funding for museums, galleries, libraries and archives will have risen by £61 million over this year's level. That will enable us to maintain our existing commitments to free access; to invest substantial sums in repair and improvement for the buildings housing our national museums; and to transform the present designated museums challenge fund into a new, enhanced fund of £10 million a year to help regional museums, galleries and collections.

I am pleased to announce that, from 2002-03, we will restore the public lending right payments to authors to their full real-terms value. In addition, we will increase funding in cash terms for film and for the royal parks by nearly 10 per cent.; for English Heritage by 8 per cent.; for the English Tourism Council by over 20 per cent.; and for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment by well over 100 per cent. We are providing funds in the next financial year to ensure that a memorial fountain can be created within the royal parks to commemorate the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

I invite the House to compare the present Government's record on funding for arts, culture and sport with that of the Conservative party. The Conservative Government cut funding for the arts in real terms in every year of the previous Parliament. Sport was cut by £5 million. Museums were encouraged to introduce charges. Now it is becoming clear that the Tories plan to cut cultural spending again. They are pledged to find cuts of £16 billion from the Government's spending plans by 2003.

People who care about sport, the arts and culture will want to know where the Tory axe will fall. Will they take back the money that we have announced today to put school sport back on its feet? Will regional theatres face funding cuts and an uncertain future? Will the money that we are providing to give children cultural and creative opportunities--and an enriched education--be lost? Will national museums and galleries be forced to reintroduce entry charges? Will the new fund that we are setting up to support regional and local museums be scrapped? Those are the questions that the Conservative party cannot dodge. We await clear and unequivocal answers from the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth).

Today's announcement brings to fruition the commitment that was made in our first spending review, first, to put right the long years of underfunding presided over by the Tories and, secondly, to build on the foundations that we have laid in order to widen the opportunities for everyone to enjoy culture and sport and to get more out of life. There are few more important tasks than that.


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