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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): There is a two-stage application process for the space for sport and arts scheme. In the first, which is already under way, local education authorities have received the prospectus and will return outline proposal forms by the end of the year. In the second, which will run from the end of January onwards, LEAs will be invited to work up projects which have been given in-principle approval and to submit detailed applications. We hope that the first grants will be made during the summer of next year.
Dr. Palmer: I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that schools will not have to match the funding? We should focus on the most needy schools, but they are precisely the schools with the most claims on their resources. If we want the programme to be effective, it needs to carried out without the requirement for match funding.
Mr. Smith: I can confirm that. The principal element of funding for the space for sport and arts for schools scheme comes directly from the Exchequer as part of the capital modernisation fund. Lottery money is being provided in addition. The running costs, once the projects are up and running, will be met by the Department for Education and Employment through the normal funding arrangements.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Given that sports facilities in schools are increasingly coming under pressure, and that the time for sport in the school curriculums is already under pressure, will the Secretary of State take into account the fact that it is very important for local sporting clubs to augment the sporting facilities that are available to schoolchildren? In that context, will he consider visiting the Bowdon hockey, cricket and squash club in my constituency? By working closely with local schools, it allows schoolchildren to benefit from professional coaching and to take advantage of other opportunities that they should have but which will be affected by the proposal of the Labour-controlled local authority of Trafford to allow house building on one of its most heavily used playing fields. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could take the opportunity of a visit to say whether he shares my view, which I hope he does, that that would be an act of vandalism which should be stopped by the Government.
Mr. Smith: The activities of individual sports clubs are a matter primarily for the clubs themselves and for sports governing bodies. We will shortly announce additional funding for the national governing bodies for sport to assist them with their work. However, in relation to school sport, we have taken measures drastically to reduce the number of school playing fields that are being sold off. We have also taken measures through the new opportunities fund, and through the green spaces initiative, to create playing fields and recreation space. There is also a proposal to spend £750 million on school
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Chris Smith): The New Millennium Experience Company has been awarded total grant of £628 million from the Millennium Commission for the millennium experience at Greenwich and its associated national programme of events and activities. No Exchequer funds have been spent on the dome.
Mr. Tredinnick: Is the right hon. Gentleman not ashamed that so much public sector money has been used to shore up that project? Is that not in stark contrast to private sector projects such as Alton Towers, Flamingo Land and CenterParcs, which have managed to make a profit and entertain people for far less money? Is it not astonishing that, after all this time, there is still no proper funfair at the dome to entertain children? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, if the dome is knocked down at the end of the year, the ball and chain will be on the front page of the next Labour party general election manifesto?
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that so far 5.2 million people have visited the Dome, of whom 4.15 million have been revenue-paying visitors. In the whole of last year 2.65 million people visited Alton Towers, the other most-visited "paying" attraction. The dome has already had nearly twice as many visitors as Alton Towers. Moreover, the latest surveys show that satisfaction rates among visitors to the dome are rising: enjoyment and satisfaction levels are now at 88 per cent.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my right hon. Friend knows, attractions in other parts of the country are also funded by the Millennium Commission, and have proved extremely successful. The national botanic garden of Wales, for instance, has exceeded all expectations by attracting as many visitors in its first six months as it expected to attract in the first year. Will my right hon. Friend kindly offer his congratulations?
Mr. Smith: I am happy to congratulate all those involved with the national botanic garden of Wales, which, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, I visited shortly before it opened. It is a splendid building--a very fine dome, created by Lord Foster--and it has indeed attracted far more visitors than the number originally envisaged in the business plan. The same applies to a number of other projects funded by the Millennium Commission, from the Eden project in
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Can the Secretary of State confirm what was said earlier by the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting--that he has not been told by David James, chairman of the New Millennium Experience Company, that if the dome were demolished, the Government would receive an extra £300 million? If he can give such confirmation, will he take urgent advice, and if he finds that that is true, will he consider allowing the dome to be demolished--or must it remain as a testament to new Labour's failure?
The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The numbers of North American and other long-haul visitors to the United Kingdom have increased by 1 per cent. and 4 per cent. respectively in the first eight months of this year compared to the corresponding period of 1999, although visits from Europe are--rather disappointingly--down by 5 per cent., and overall visits by 3 per cent.
Overall spend by overseas visitors is, however, up by 1 per cent. to £8.5 billion in the first eight months of this year compared to the equivalent period of 1999, and remains on course to be one of the highest levels on record.
Mr. Atkinson: Will the Minister confirm that last year the number of foreign visitors fell for the first time for nine years? Is she aware that the British Tourist Authority predicts a further decline this year? Does she agree that the British tourist industry needs all the help it can get, in the light of ever-increasing global competition? If so, what representations has she made to her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the fact that the cost of petrol at the pumps in Britain is now the highest in the European Union, whereas three and a half years ago, under the last Conservative Government, it was the lowest?
Janet Anderson: That, dare I say it, is a bit rich, coming from a member of the party that cut funding for the English tourist board from about £25 million to under £10 million--its level when we came to office.
We are doing our best to reverse the declining trend in overseas visitor numbers, but we must remember that this is now a global market, and we are competing with other countries throughout the world. What will encourage people to come here is a value-for-money, good-quality product. That is why, in conjunction with the industry, we produced the first-ever Government strategy for tourism, and established the first-ever ministerial summit.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): Is the Minister not being a little complacent in failing to recognise that in the last complete year there was a deficit in tourism of £8.3 billion and that the number of British visitors who went abroad was substantially higher than the number of foreign visitors coming to this country? Is it not time that the Minister recognised that among the factors contributing to that, apart from the high level of the pound, is the extremely high level of road fuel costs compared with that in other countries? Will the Minister draw to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the anecdotal evidence, which is supported by statistical evidence, that prices at the pumps of over 90p per litre, which are common in the highlands of Scotland, are deterring visitors, whose number has been cut by at least a third this year?
Janet Anderson: I am afraid that I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman. His point about Scotland does not fall within my remit, but he may like to refer to the figures that were published some months ago, when people in Scotland expressed concern. One of the reasons identified for that was the failure of the industry in Scotland to get to grips with the opportunities presented by information technology. I hope that it will now do that.
We have provided the British Tourist Authority with an extra £5 million in grant in aid for the three years from 1999-2000 to promote Britain overseas. With the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have set up a Britain abroad taskforce to see what we can do to improve Britain's image abroad, and we shall continue with that. All that is in stark contrast to the record of the Opposition, who consistently fail to take tourism seriously, although it contributes £64 billion a year to our economy.