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House of Commons

Monday 15 September 2003

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Historic Royal Palaces

1. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): What recent advice she has given to Historic Royal Palaces regarding the imposition of charges to the public. [129551]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): My noble Friend Baroness Blackstone told the trustees of Historic Royal Palaces that they have the power to introduce charges for entry to the gardens at Hampton Court palace provided that the cost is reasonable, related to upkeep, and not at a level that effectively restricts public access.

Dr. Cable : Does the Minister have any constructive proposals to deal with a basic inequity, arising from a ruling of the European Court of Justice, that local people who use royal palaces—Hampton Court gardens in the case that we are considering—or other national monuments cannot be exempted from or given any sort of preference with regard to charges, which are designed to apply to tourists who visit those places perhaps once in a lifetime?

Mr. Caborn: I know that the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues will meet my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for media and heritage on Friday and I am sure that they will be able to hold a dialogue. I assure him that no final decision has been made about the subject. "Not to be announced" appears more times on the briefing sheet than I have previously seen since becoming a Minister. That is unfortunate, but I am sure that all will be revealed to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that what is under discussion will be helpful in dealing with not only the concern that he raised directly, but others.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Does the Minister know what happens in royal palaces in other countries? For example, visitors to Swedish royal palaces properly pay, but do local people have free access to the grounds? Can the Minister find out?

Mr. Caborn: Royal palaces in other countries probably experience the same problems with visitor

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numbers as those here. That is why they are revisiting the issue of charging. However, I do not have the information that the hon. Gentleman requests to hand.

Mind Sports

2. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Whether it is the Government's policy to seek to legislate to permit certain mind sports to be recognised as sports for the purpose of receiving national lottery funding. [129552]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government recognise the benefits of participation in chess and other mind games and continue to look at the case for amending the Physical Training and Recreation Act 1937. That could allow the sports councils to fund mind games. It would then be for the councils, including those of the devolved Administrations, to decide whether to recognise individual mind games as sports for funding purposes.

Dr. Harris : I am grateful for that response and the moral support that the Minister and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills have given to chess and bridge. However, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the unfairness, which means that British top-class and world-class players, especially juniors and disabled players, are sometimes unable to access the international competition that we should like them to experience because, consequent on the 1937 legislation, they cannot get lottery funding?

Mr. Caborn: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but chess is funded directly by the Exchequer to the tune of £50,000. Indeed, in 2003, the figure will be £60,000. It has also received just under £500,000 directly since the lottery's inception. Funding streams can therefore be accessed for chess and other mind games. I am aware of the world-class performance, but until the problem of the 1937 Act is resolved and chess is included in the definition of sport, it cannot have access to direct funding from the Sports Councils.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): I wish to support the line of questioning of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who is my bridge partner in the House of Commons team. However, my question does not constitute special pleading because although I do not believe that the House of Commons team will apply for any grants, we are considering a serious issue. In my constituency many people play contract bridge, but travel to events, booking halls and so on are restricted to those who are reasonably wealthy. Recent studies clearly show that Alzheimer's and such conditions can be ameliorated by engagement with mind sports. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to continue to use his best efforts to widen the canvas on which his brush is currently painting.

Mr. Caborn: Notwithstanding all those points, I suggest that my hon. Friend gets a partner from either Scotland or Wales who could put some pressure on the respective Sports Councils. I have raised the matter at the sports cabinet, which Sports Ministers of the devolved Administrations attend. I am bound to say

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that there is currently no appetite for change. Unless there is such appetite in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it will be difficult to proceed with changes to the 1937 Act.

Performing Arts

3. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central): If she will make a statement on the most recent funding settlement from the Arts Council for the performing arts in the regions. [129553]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): While the allocation of funding is a matter for Arts Council England, I am pleased that so many arts organisations in all regions of England are benefiting from the increased funding that we secured for the arts in the last spending review. This will see arts expenditure increase to £410 million by 2005–06, a 117 per cent. increase since 1997.

Mr. Illsley : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. She will be aware that theatre provision in my constituency has been inadequate since the closure of the Barnsley Civic theatre several years ago due to the necessity for structural repairs. Unfortunately, successive bids for lottery funding have failed, and the Arts Council obviously now has less money available to distribute to such causes. Will my right hon. Friend examine this situation to see whether any further assistance can be given to my local authority, so that it can provide a theatre in my constituency?

Estelle Morris: I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, in view of the fact that the theatre in his constituency has now been dark for some years and was unsuccessful in the last bidding round. It is not for me to say whether any help can be given, because it is important that the allocation of funds by Arts Council England is independent of the Government. I note, however, that Barnsley is one of the priority areas in Yorkshire for development by the Arts Council, which recently funded a development officer in the town to help with cultural regeneration. I am delighted that culture is forming such an important part of the economic regeneration there. I would also point out to my hon. Friend that it is possible to bid again, and I hope that careful contact with the Arts Council prior to the bid being put in will secure a better result next time. If that were the case, I would join him in being absolutely delighted.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Is it not the case that the Arts Council and other organisations expected additional money when the Millennium Commission was wound up? Notwithstanding that, is the right hon. Lady aware that the Arts Council has given a generous grant to the Garrick theatre in my constituency, which the Secretary of State opened when she visited Lichfield recently? Does this not just go to show that when bodies have decent organisation and make decent applications, money can sometimes be found?

Estelle Morris: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that many good quality bids have been funded. I was delighted, on my only other appearance at DCMS

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questions, to celebrate with him what has happened at the theatre in Lichfield, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened the following day. I would, however, question something that he said. I do not think that he meant to give the impression that the bid from Barnsley was no good. I am sure that in Yorkshire, as in the west midlands, Humberside and other regions, there are good quality bids. I am pleased to say that the bids coming in from cultural organisations for investment in regeneration are now of such quality that it is becoming difficult to make final decisions. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that we should always ensure that we have as much money as possible to fund good bids, as such projects form an essential part of the economic infrastructure of the country and provide for people to enjoy their leisure time.

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