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Swimming Pools

3. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): What plans he has to increase the number of 50 m swimming pools. [201759]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): There are currently 20 50 m swimming pools in England. Sport England lottery funding bids have been submitted to build four additional 50 m pools in Sunderland, Leeds, Liverpool and Portsmouth. Sport England is also working with the Greater London authority, the London Development Agency and the London 2012 Olympic bid on a new aquatics centre in Stratford, which will include at least one 50 m pool. If the 2012 bid is successful next year, the facility will be increased to two 50 m pools.

Mr. Randall: That was an interesting answer from the Minister. He will be delighted to know that we plan to get a 50 m pool in Uxbridge—at the moment, we have worked-out plans for a 25 m pool. Does he agree that a 50 m pool is better than a 25 m pool? Will he come to Uxbridge at my invitation and have a look at those plans?

Mr. Caborn: I would love to take up that invitation. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that a 50 m pool is far better than a 25 m pool. Yesterday I was delighted to read the headline of a Tory press release, which said "Conservatives launch new policy to boost sports provision for the young". They spent 18 years shutting all those facilities—at their height, about 40 a month were going—but as my mum might say, if a sinner repents they are welcome to come and join us.
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Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I welcome the move towards more 50 m swimming pools. As the Minister knows, Paris has more 50 m pools than the whole of this country. Will he give me his views on the London pools campaign, which is concerned about the increasing numbers of swimming pools that are closing down? We lose one a year, and there seem to be no proposals to deal with that apart from a new aquatic centre were we to win the Olympic bid. What are we going to do about swimming in the rest of London?

Mr. Caborn: Swimming has had more lottery money invested in it than any other sport. There are some 3,484 swimming pools in England, which make adequate provision, through the public and private sector, for those who want it.

The difficulty concerns 50 m pools. We have a 50 m pool in my city of Sheffield, but competitive use takes up a very small part of its time—it is invariably divided into three swimming pools for the community. There is always a dilemma as to whether a 50 m pool is used for elite swimming or what the community want to use it for, and Sheffield's pool is no exception.

I can clearly state that there is adequate provision for swimming, which is supported by many local authorities who are investing in free-of-charge facilities for their young people, as well as by increased private sector provision. However, a problem remains in relation to 50 m pools, and we are trying to deal with that.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Minister knows of my involvement in swimming as a sport, and I recognise that, as he says, there has been a big expansion in the number of pools provided. However, does he accept that there are big issues to do with the funding of swimming generally in the light of the very worrying suggestion that, because our swimmers did not get as many medals at the Olympics as had been expected, there might be a substantial reduction in funding not only for pools but for other sorts of elite swimming? Will he agree to meet me and representatives of the Amateur Swimming Association? Does he recognise that the recent great success at the short course world championships shows that competitive swimming in this country is in a very healthy state?

Mr. Caborn: I agree that competitive swimming in this country is in a healthy state. Since the lottery fund started, it has invested £297 million in swimming, which is the highest amount that has been given to any such recipient.

In Sydney, we probably did as badly in competitive swimming as at any time, but within two years, having brought in a new coach from Australia, our swimmers got the best results in international swimming in Tokyo. They then went to Athens, where they took two medals and got into 16 finals. That remarkable improvement on Sydney—by any standards—was down to the way in which lottery money was invested, coaching, and the responsible attitude of the governing body.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): I want to express thanks and appreciation to my right hon. Friend for the support that he gives local authorities in the
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development of swimming pools and for the time that he took to come and officially open the swimming pool in Normanton. Does he accept, however, that there are still pressing needs for swimming pools? The communities of Ossett and Horbury in my constituency are appealing for support in obtaining a pool to serve them. Will my right hon. Friend pledge any such support that he can?

Mr. Caborn: Obviously, we will consider any application that comes in. My hon. Friend and I had an exceptionally pleasant day at the pool, although we resisted jumping into it to do a little exhibition of synchronised swimming, as I think people wanted us to. That pool is now serving the community in terms of health, as well as other benefits. I will give my hon. Friend as much assistance as possible in any extension of that.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): In order to meet such demand, the Amateur Swimming Association trains, remarkably, 12,000 swimming coaches each year, but says that it faces significant difficulties with the cost of training, insurance and child protection measures. What assistance can the Minister offer it, particularly given that it is denied access to Learning and Skills Council funding because it comprises volunteers?

Mr. Caborn: That is a serious issue, not only for swimming but for sport in general. Indeed, it affects not only sport but volunteering. We are a more litigious society and have become incredibly risk averse. That has had an impact on sport, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is a serious matter. Together with my colleagues in the Home Office, we are considering how we can deal with that in sport. The Department has held a series of meetings with governing bodies and insurance companies.

I shall not say that there is an easy fix—there is not. A few months ago, Parliament considered a private Member's Bill on the subject. It needs addressing and I hope that we can reach some conclusion because if we do not, in my view, our young people will be exposed to more harm from some activities in inner cities than they would ever encounter through performing sport.

ITV Regional Companies

4. Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): If she will make a statement on the recent Ofcom report on public service broadcasting as it relates to ITV regional companies. [201760]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Ofcom has proposed that ITV 1's requirement to provide non-news regional programming for the English regions should be reduced from three hours to one and a half hours a week. Quotas for regional network production would be increased from the current 30 per cent. requirement to 50 per cent. As I said earlier, no reduction has been proposed in the current regional news obligation of five and a half hours a week for regional programming.
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Mr. Grogan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given Ofcom's statutory responsibility to maintain and strengthen public service broadcasting, it is a bit odd that, a full eight years before digital switch-over, it proposes to reduce by half regional companies' obligations to produce non-news programming? Is not there a genuine danger, especially given that Ofcom is negotiating with ITV nationally to reduce its licence payments, of the body's being perceived as a soft touch in its defence of ITV regional programming?

Tessa Jowell: I do not accept that. The key issue is safeguarding regional programming as part of the public service broadcasting offer that ITV makes. It is important that, in addition to regional news, the requirements for non-news programming deliver what people in the regions want. If my hon. Friend examines the Ofcom report and the extensive data on public consultation that it provides, he will realise that public satisfaction throughout England with the non-news programming is approximately 7 per cent. In the Granada region, the figure is 5 per cent. That clearly means that something needs to be improved. The message is that we need strong regional broadcasting as part of delivering a strong public service broadcasting offer. The ITV companies must respond to what their viewers want.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I heard what the Secretary of State said on the guarantees about the news programming. Does she accept that nowadays, BBC World, Sky News, CNN, Fox News and rolling world news mean that the public have a great choice, but that that does not apply to local news? That is why it is important that regional news is not only maintained but increased, if possible. Will she give a guarantee that, if at any stage a recommendation is made to reduce the hours for regional news, she will step in and ensure that they are protected?

Tessa Jowell: I would not want to pretend that I have powers of intervention on that aspect of regulation; I do not. However, I have made the position clear, and it is clear to Ofcom and ITV through the strength of feeling in the House and the many signatures on the early-day motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) tabled. There is also a message to the BBC, as we consider the review of its charter, to examine not only the important role of ITV regional news but that which an increased BBC presence in the regions could play.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that major ITV shareholders say one thing in public about their public service broadcasting remit but an entirely different thing to the City? If ITV does not want to fulfil the PSB commitment, has she considered including in the charter renewal a BBC 3 proposal for regional television? That would mean that each region would have 24-hour regional broadcasting, thus enhancing a huge cultural change in the regions.

Tessa Jowell: No detailed conclusions have yet been reached on that specific proposal. However, it is possible that, as more people move to digital by choice, and as spectrum is released, new channels could be created, and consideration should certainly be given to my hon. Friend's proposal at that time.
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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): May I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that detailed proposals for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to be published? Worryingly, Ofcom states that

namely that, from 2007, there will be no requirement for ITV companies to produce regional or local news. If the Minister does not take this matter seriously, would she consider devolving responsibility for broadcasting?

Tessa Jowell: No, I do not intend to recommend the devolution of matters relating to broadcasting, because I take them very seriously indeed. It is important that, as part of our UK identity, we have a national approach—a UK-wide approach—to broadcasting. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have noted Ofcom's specific recommendations on Gaelic and Welsh language broadcasting.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the producers of the many programmes from Tyne Tees Television and Yorkshire Television? They produce strong regional TV that finds favour not only with my constituents but with people in the rest of the north-east of England and Yorkshire. Will she urge representatives of Ofcom to come to the House to meet the constituency MPs from those areas to discuss the strong regional identity in that part of England, rather than trying to hide behind her and her office near Trafalgar square? They should come to the House and listen to constituency MPs' strong sentiments about these services.

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Yes, the chairman and chief executive of Ofcom could and should make themselves available to MPs in order to discuss these matters. I understand that the managing directors of each of the ITV regions have either met or are in the process of arranging meetings with every constituency Member of Parliament in order to discuss this issue, and I know that the chief executive of ITV has made a similar offer. It is important that these discussions should take place, because what is at stake is not the status quo in regional broadcasting but clear safeguards relating to high-quality investment in news. It is important to engage in a debate with ITV about the kind of programming that our constituents want and that reflects the areas that we represent and in which we live.

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