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House of Commons

Monday 21 January 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]



Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

English Heritage

1. Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): What recent meetings she has had with English Heritage about giving children free access to its sites. [26164]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The Government's statement on the historic environment, "A Force for Our Future", which I launched on 13 December last year, made clear our wish to encourage the widest possible access to the country's heritage. We proposed in the statement to consider at the earliest opportunity—and in consultation with the relevant key organisations, which include English Heritage—how the principle of free access for children, which has been such an enormous success in our national museums and galleries, might be extended to the historic environment.

Mr. Crausby: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. After the enormous success of free access to museums, does she agree that completely free admission for children to sites such as Stonehenge will not only have a similar effect on numbers, but, most importantly, encourage more visits with the family?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The issue links our twin objectives of opening access and promoting excellence. There are families throughout the country who have seen for the first time the treasures that we share as a nation, and it is our aim to extend that opportunity to our historic environment.

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Regional Theatre (Leicester)

2. Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South): What steps the Government are taking to support regional theatre in Leicester. [26165]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells): This is a matter for the Arts Council of England and the regional arts boards. The Arts Council last year announced an additional £25 million funding for theatre by 2003–04—an increase of 56 per cent. on current levels, taking the total budget for theatre to £70 million. Over the next two financial years, funding for the Haymarket theatre in Leicester will increase from £992,000 today to £1.36 million in 2003–04—an increase of 37 per cent.

Mr. Marshall: Perhaps my hon. Friend will realise that, with the events that have unfolded in Leicester in the past days, there are other questions that I should like to address to the Government, but I do not think that he is the relevant Minister to answer them. I thank him for his reply, but is he aware that the replacement theatre for the Haymarket, which is due to be built in the St. George's area of the city over the next five years, is to be the centrepiece of a cultural centre in Leicester? Will he give an indication as to the Arts Council's contribution towards the cost of that new theatre? Will he give an undertaking to impress upon the Arts Council the need to ensure funding beyond 2005, so that the cultural centre can be fully developed? Is he also aware of the county council's decision to reduce its annual grant to the theatre by £100,000 per annum—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That question is far too long.

Dr. Howells: I do not know what the Arts Council's projected contribution to the new theatre is likely to be, but I shall impress on it the many points that my hon. Friend made.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Will the Minister bear in mind that Leicester is not the only place in Leicestershire that has a theatre? The Concordia theatre in Hinckley has been hugely successful, and is supported by private subscriptions. Will he look favourably on its applications and have a word with the funding organisations? Will he confirm that the Secretary of State has had to call in or write to all the distribution agencies because they have failed to distribute billions of pounds of lottery money? He should deal with that urgently because we believe that we are losing out in the midlands.

Dr. Howells: I congratulate the theatre in the hon. Gentleman's constituency on surviving and flourishing through private subscription, of which I am in favour because it is an important way to fund the arts. I hope that the theatre continues to flourish. However, I am reliably informed that the premise of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question is not true. There has been no crisis meeting, but we need to monitor matters closely.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): While we are plugging our theatres, will the Minister acknowledge the valuable work of Loughborough town hall in promoting

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the excellent pantomime that I saw only a few weeks ago? People in Loughborough travel to the Haymarket in Leicester; there is a pantomime there at the moment. Does he agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who was unfortunately unable to finish his question, that Leicestershire county council should also make a contribution to theatres in the county? Will he join me in condemning it for cutting £100,000 of funding for the future?

Dr. Howells: It is important that the sort of gesture that the Government have made in providing £25 million of investment is echoed throughout the country. Investment in theatre must be good for many reasons. It not only continues one of the great creative traditions of this country but deals with many issues in troubled environments. Theatre does that in a way that nothing else can. We should support it at all levels.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Is not theatre in Leicester exactly the sort of good cause that should receive help from lottery funds? Will the Minister confirm that £3.5 billion of lottery funds is designed for good causes but not yet spent? Will he confirm that the figure is increasing by £30 million every week and that it exceeds the total of the Department's spending for the next three years? When will the Secretary of State sack some of those responsible for that bureaucratic bungling?

Dr. Howells: I do not believe that bureaucratic bungling has occurred. Any unspent money is an effect of the success of the lottery and the hugely imaginative way in which the money has been distributed. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will succeed where others have perhaps not succeeded so well in ensuring that the money is spent and that the underspend is halved by this time next year.

Commonwealth Games

3. Helen Jones (Warrington, North): If she will make a statement on the assistance the Government are giving to the preparations for Manchester's hosting of the Commonwealth games. [26166]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government announced on 2 July 2001 £30 million in support for the games, in addition to the £10.5 million they had already given towards the costs of the opening and closing ceremonies. Together with Sport England and Manchester city council's funding, that has removed the obstacles to Manchester's delivering a successful games. The strategy is now paying dividends. Planning and preparations are proceeding apace and a real and growing appetite for the games is developing across the country.

Almost 400,000 tickets have already been sold. The games volunteer programme has also been heavily oversubscribed in quality and quantity. We are on course for a good Commonwealth games. That is underlined by the appearance of new sponsors. The latest was Interbrew, which signed last week.

Helen Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he agrees that the success of the games is vital not only to Manchester but to the north-west region. Will he take steps to ensure that

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the whole region benefits from the presence of the Commonwealth games by encouraging people who come to Manchester to visit other parts of the north-west? What support will he give the tourism board and local authorities to publicise the attractions of the north-west and draw them to the attention of those visiting the Commonwealth games?

Mr. Caborn: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. A marketing group has already been set up and consists of the major agencies in the north-west—the development agency, the North-West tourist board and the games committee. I am sure that it will examine the issues that my hon. Friend raised. The Queen's jubilee baton relay will pass through Warrington and the whole north-west as it goes round the country. My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I shall refer to the group that has been established to consider such issues.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): I hope that private investors will invest in the Commonwealth games; they did when Manchester last bid for the games. However, why should I be encouraged by the examples of the dome, Wembley or Picketts Lock? Why should I believe that the Government would make less of a foul-up of the Commonwealth games than of those three projects?

Mr. Caborn: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the number of sponsors who are backing the Commonwealth games. If he speaks to some of them, he will find enthusiasm and confidence that the games will be successful and credible, and the biggest multi-sporting event this year.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): There is a growing sense of enthusiasm for the games in Manchester, illustrated by the fact that 10,000 people have now offered their services as volunteers to help to look after the athletes and make sure that the games run smoothly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in July and August in Manchester, we shall have not only a sparkling international event, but one that is rooted in the pride of local people?

Mr. Caborn: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The figure that he has just given to the House illustrates that the quality and the quantity of volunteers are there now. Even the British media are now getting behind the Commonwealth games; the latest reports have been very encouraging. The only thing that we have to do now is to get the official Opposition on the side of the games, and we shall have a full house. [Interruption.] I meant the whole of the official Opposition. Their Front-Bench Members are already behind the games, but some of their hon. Friends on the Back Benches have not been as supportive as they ought to be. I am sure that we shall see them all wearing the badge at the next question time, so that we can show our support for the Commonwealth games in Manchester, which will be a great success.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): The Minister will be aware that, as well as the proposed bid for the Commonwealth games, Scotland is considering bidding for the European championships in 2008. If that bid goes ahead, will his Department support it? What assistance, if any, has he offered in relation to it so far?

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Mr. Caborn: The UK Sports Council is discussing that issue. Like all such issues, it will come to the sports cabinet, where all the devolved Administrations and UK Sport get together. The next meeting is in four or five weeks' time.

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