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House of Commons

Monday 11 December 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Millennium Dome

1. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): On what date it was agreed that BT and Ford would sponsor two zones of the millennium dome in addition to the original 12. [141873]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The New Millennium Experience Company announced BT as sponsor of the talk zone on 24 February 1998 and the contractual documentation was signed on 18 January 1999 after the necessary detailed negotiation on terms. Ford was announced as sponsor of the journey zone on 5 March 1999. In that case, the necessary contractual documentation was completed and signed prior to the announcement on 15 February 1999.

Mr. Rendel: The dates that the Minister has given indicate that the New Millennium Experience Company must have known two years before it finally revised its budget in February this year, that there would be a shortfall of tens of millions of pounds in its sponsorship budget and that that money would have to come out of lottery funds. Why, therefore, did NMEC fail to change its budget and fail to ask for extra lottery money for two years? Why did the Government allow it to get away with that?

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman has omitted to point out that the problem was that visitor numbers to the dome did not reach the estimated figure. However, I can confirm that the £46 million sponsorship from Ford and BT for the two zones to which he referred was never included in NMEC's original budget.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): When does the Minister expect the Legacy document to be signed off?

Janet Anderson: Negotiations are continuing and, if all goes well, we hope that contracts will be exchanged in February.

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Regional Theatres

2. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): What measures he is taking to support regional theatres. [141874]

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Alan Howarth): We recognise that many theatres in the regions have faced serious problems. We agreed with the Arts Council that it would commission the study that led to the Boyden report. The Arts Council and the regional arts boards are in discussion with local government and the theatre community with a view to developing a national policy for theatre in England. We have provided a 60 per cent. real-terms increase in funding for the arts over five years, which is radically improving the position of regional theatre.

Ms Keeble: I thank my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that regional theatres, such as the excellent theatres in my Northampton constituency, are important in encouraging and building up live theatre throughout the country? What does my right hon. Friend intend to do to ensure that money identified in the next steps report goes to the English regional theatres? Given theatres' concern about financing, does he agree that it is important for them to know whether the Opposition would maintain the Government's commitment to regional theatre funding if they ever got into power?

Mr. Speaker: I remind the House that that last matter is not the Minister's responsibility.

Mr. Howarth: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the tenacity with which she has championed the Theatre Royal, the Derngate theatre and the Masque theatre company in her constituency, and I hope that she is pleased with the progress that they have made. The merger of the Theatre Royal and the Derngate theatre was assisted by £1 million of Arts Council for England capital lottery money and there has been a 22 per cent. increase in east midlands arts funding.

The Boyden review, and the Arts Council's consideration of it, led to the view that it was important to look at the whole theatre ecology and not simply take regional theatre in isolation. However, we have provided substantial additional funding, which the Arts Council will be able to use. As a result, it has committed itself to an increase of £12 million and, subsequently, £25 million, in funding for theatre. Therefore, the resources will be there to help on a wider front so long as we have a Labour Government, as my hon. Friend suggested. It is all too evident that the Opposition's plans would undermine the Arts Council's capacity to deliver--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps the Minister did not hear the statement that I made a few weeks ago. The policy of the Opposition is nothing to do with him.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey): We must be approaching the pantomime season, Mr. Speaker.

The crisis in regional theatres is serious and deepening. Is not that partly a result of the complexity of the funding process, which benefits many consultants but is precious little use to theatres? Is it not also caused by an emphasis on funding politically correct activities and on social

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engineering, which means that the funding of the fabric of theatres takes second place? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that the crisis is caused not least by the net cut in Arts Council funds of £64 million that has been made in the past three years, according to the Government's own figures?

Mr. Howarth: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman disparages Mr. Boyden by implication, as I think that he did a remarkable job. I am sorry also that he plainly does not consider it important for us to pursue our strategy to increase access and to encourage and enable a far wider range of citizens to enjoy the theatre. I do not know whether it is in order, Mr. Speaker, for me to note that the hon. Gentleman's protestations about the importance of adequate funding seem hollow in view of the shadow Chancellor's commitment to cut the Government's plans for public expenditure.

Tourism Industry

3. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): What assessment he has made of the impact of regulation on the viability of the tourism industry. [141875]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson): The Government are committed to reforming outdated, overlapping and overburdensome legislation. Our aims are clearer and better-targeted legislation and a climate that encourages thriving business while providing proper protection for workers, consumers and the environment. That includes the tourism industry.

Mr. Steen: The impact of regulation on the tourism industry is as nothing compared with the effect on it of the disintegration of our infrastructure. Is the Minister aware of the difficulties of getting to and from the west country? Last Friday, it took me five and a half hours to travel from Paddington to Totnes and, yesterday, it took me six and a half hours to travel from Totnes to London. Is the Minister also aware that plane services are unreliable and unpredictable, that the motorways are gridlocked, and that that is no way to encourage tourists--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call the Minister.

Janet Anderson: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suffering from amnesia. He may recall that it was the previous Government who established the current system for running our railways. Of course, the infrastructure is not a matter for my Department, but I remind him that one of the things that we have done for the tourism industry--in stark contrast with the Conservative party--is to establish an annual tourism ministerial summit. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] If Opposition Members listen, they might learn something. At the summit, we will take every opportunity, in support of the tourism industry, to press matters for which other Departments are responsible.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Although the proposed regulatory changes announced by the Government and their promise of further reviews are welcome, does the Minister recognise the extent to which tourism businesses are being strangled by new legislation introduced by her Government? New employment laws, such as the working

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time directive and the minimum wage, and new measures on part-time work, maternity leave and parental entitlement have all been heaped on the industry during the past two years. They have prompted the British Hospitality Association to comment that much legislation and guidance was badly drafted and incomprehensible. Hotel and restaurant managers are haunted by the fear of prosecution for inadvertent non-compliance. When can they expect more simplified and workable arrangements?

Janet Anderson: It would be interesting to know whether the Conservative party would do away with the measures to which the hon. Gentleman refers if it ever returned to government. We look forward to hearing about that.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that my Department welcomed the better regulation taskforce report, which concentrated specifically on hotels and restaurants. The report made a number of recommendations, which we have accepted. We are now undertaking reviews in Departments throughout Whitehall of much of the highlighted legislation.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's Regulatory Reform Bill, a new measure introduced to deal with regulatory powers, provides an opportunity to consider their priority of better regulation, rather than total deregulation? Does not the Government's priority of encouraging the tourism industry involve ensuring that its workers are given proper protection and conditions?

Janet Anderson: My hon. Friend is right. We should remember that, thanks to the Government, workers in the tourism industry now enjoy the right to a national minimum wage. My hon. Friend is also right about the Regulatory Reform Bill, which will deliver more than 20 reforms to cut and simplify existing regulations. There is no doubt that those measures will help the tourism industry and many other industries.

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): How will the regulation powers deal with seaside resorts? Having gone round most of the tourist resorts, I feel that nothing is happening. I have also been to the latest tourism forum, but there is much talk and little action. What action has the Minister taken in respect of tourism in seaside resorts?

Janet Anderson: The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have done a great deal to help seaside resorts, and I thank him for his continued constituency interest and his deep interest in tourism generally. We have done what we can to help through single regeneration budget money, assisted area status and so on, but he will also know that we await the report of the English Tourism Council's resorts taskforce, which is ably chaired by Peter Moore, the former managing director of CenterParcs. We expect the report early in the new year and look forward to reading the recommendations. I am sure that a number of sensible ones will be made, and we look forward to acting on them.

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