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3 Feb 2003 : Column 5—continued

Lottery Grant Distribution

4. Bob Spink (Castle Point): What action she is taking to improve access to lottery grants for constituencies in the lower quartile of distribution. [94794]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government have asked lottery distributors to ensure that all parts of the country have access to funding, and they have recently introduced a number of schemes to target funding to areas of need.

Bob Spink : Given that lottery sales are continuing to fall—I understand that they fell by 5 per cent. last month—I think that that is a complacent answer. Ninety five per cent. of constituencies receive more in lottery grants than Castle Point, although that figure is improving since my re-election because I am fighting for a better share for my constituency. Simply to bring Castle Point up the level of the average constituency, however, the Minister would need to give Benfleet, Hadleigh and Canvey Island some £13,700,000. Will he now review the distribution rules, stop funding

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controversial and political groups and schemes that command very little public support, and use more common sense—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Caborn: I was going to try to be extremely helpful to the hon. Gentleman when I came to the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Indeed, I have asked my officials to write to him, so that he can come and have discussions with them, because the underlying problem in his constituency is that people there are not making the applications for lottery funding. The average number of awards to each constituency is about 150, but the figure for the hon. Gentleman's constituency is only 60. That is because only a very small number of applications has been made. That is a problem that we have in a number of constituencies, and part of our targeting relates to that. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are having discussions with the distributors, and we are putting on a roadshow to try to ensure that, where people need assistance in making applications to the lottery, it is forthcoming. I have asked my officials to write to the hon. Gentleman, to help him and his constituents to get more money from the lottery.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my right hon. Friend not accept, however, that many areas of the country are very dependent on such grants, particularly for the provision of play spaces and sports facilities for children? In an age of declining lottery revenues, might it perhaps become necessary for the Government to be more proactive, to ensure that all children have somewhere to play?

Mr. Caborn: I agree, but let us keep the thing in proportion. Ours is probably the most successful lottery in the world, and it has returned billions to good causes. We have conducted two reviews in the recent past, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will report to the House later this year on a further review. We have tried to ensure that targeting is both fair and transparent. I take on board what my hon. Friends have said, but I hope they will acknowledge that lottery distribution has been both fair in terms of capital and revenue, and fair to the poorer parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): Have not disadvantaged groups benefited particularly from community fund grants? Such grants are now harder to obtain because lottery sales are falling. That is due particularly to a growing belief that the lottery is no longer properly independent, but is being used to support the Government's spending programmes rather than the original good causes. If the community fund is to be swallowed by the new opportunities fund, is there not a real danger that local voluntary and charitable organisations will lose out once again?

Mr. Caborn: Not at all. Our review has been conducted in concert with wide consultation to ensure that lottery moneys are targeted on the place of need. That is what the British public broadly want. Research and opinion polls have established that they are satisfied

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with the targeting of the new opportunities fund. Had it not been for the NOF, indeed, the hon. Gentleman's constituency would not have received the largest single grant—amounting to just under £1 million—for a healthy living centre. I am sure he will acknowledge that the centre has been very successful.

Mr. Whittingdale: The new opportunities fund is already taking the biggest share of lottery proceeds, and it operates under the direct instruction of the Secretary of State. Can the Minister give a categorical assurance that if the community fund and the NOF are merged, the resulting body will not have to take its orders from the Government but will be able to operate on a properly independent basis?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. That is being dealt with in the current discussions. But it is a bit rich coming from the hon. Gentleman, who, along with his colleagues, has constantly attacked the community fund in the recent past.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that transparency and targeting will continue to accord broadly with what the British people want, as they have under the new opportunities fund. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to draw my Department's attention to any case that he believes has involved political bias, will he please raise it in specific rather than general terms?

West End Theatre

6. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What plans she has to promote West End theatre. [94796]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): There have been no recent meetings between Ministers and the Society of West End Theatre—or SWET, as it calls itself. We have received copies of letters sent by the society to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Mayor of London's office expressing its concern about the deteriorating physical state of the west end. I understand that the society has been told that if it has a specific request to the DCMS, or if we can assist in liaison with other Departments, we will help in any way we can; but to date no such request has been made.

Mr. Bryant : My hon. Friend will know that literally thousands of people travel to London every year from his constituency, from my constituency and, indeed, from the United States of America, primarily—sometimes solely—to visit the west end theatres. They see some wonderful shows, but because 37 of London's theatres are either Victorian or Edwardian, they must see them in terrible buildings whose seats were built for backsides of the Victorian rather than the modern era—indeed, rather than for Americans. [Hon. Members: "Or Soames!"] The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) clearly concurs with that.

Moreover, many of the bars are dingy and overpriced, and have not seen a lick of paint since Oscar Wilde was last there. Is it not time we bashed some heads together

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to make sure that more investment goes into those theatres, so that everyone can enjoy going to a west end show?

Dr. Howells: As long as only heads will be bashed together, I do not mind.

My hon. Friend is right. It has been calculated that the west end theatres are worth £1 billion to the United Kingdom economy: they are a very important asset. I am not sure about the size of seats—

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): All right. Steady.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Moving rapidly off seats, may I ask whether the Minister has done an assessment of what the implications of easier access for the disabled will be not just for theatres in the west end but for theatres and cinemas up and down the country?

Dr. Howells: I understand that it has been calculated that it will cost about £200 million to refurbish leading theatres in the west end, including making access much easier for disabled people, but a big survey is being done by the Society of London Theatre, which has promised to come back to us to talk to us about what the costs are likely to be and about the way we may be able to help to ensure that those costs can be met.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Does my hon. Friend not agree that the health of west end theatres, indeed all British theatres, depends on encouraging a new generation of dramatists? Will he therefore have speedy discussions with the Association of London Government, which I understand is threatening to withdraw funding from the Royal Court's young playwright scheme, as well as from other theatrical venues across the whole of London?

Dr. Howells: I will certainly pass on the message to the Minister for the Arts. I am sure my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Film Council is putting aside a very large amount of money in order that we can help in the development of film scripts. There is agreement that we need to do much more to support the development of scripts in theatres as part of that big project.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Is it any surprise that west end theatre is currently going through one of its worst financial downturns, what with the failing tube system, dramatically rising street crime, uncertainty about the implications of the Licensing Bill, central London becoming inaccessible because of roadworks and the preparations for congestion charging? How are theatregoers supposed to get to the theatre and home without hassle and in safety? Is it not time that the Government addressed the crucial issues for inner London—decaying transport infrastructure, rising crime and antisocial behaviour?

Dr. Howells: That was a wonderful piece of fiction. The situation is not as bad as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I know that he has a political point to make and that he has to talk down whatever success there is in the economy, but this year is likely to be the first year in British history in which more than 12 million people will

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pay to go to London theatres. That is a great achievement. He should not talk them down. He should celebrate that fact.

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