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House of Commons

Monday 21 March 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Sports Action Zones

1. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of sports action zones; and if she will make a statement. [222736]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): An initial evaluation relating to the establishment of the 12 zones was conducted by Sport England in 2001. Further evaluations were conducted in 2002–03 and 2003–04. A summary of the findings of the most recent evaluation will be published by Sport England this summer.

The work in all the zones shows, in varying ways, that   sport has made a major contribution to dealing with some of our problems in promoting health, the integration of ethnic minority groups, crime reduction and social exclusion. We expect the good practice to go into the mainstream work of developing the sports infrastructure.

Simon Hughes: Our hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) chairs with me our sports action   zone in Lambeth and Southwark, which is brilliantly led by Brian Dickens, and we have experienced huge success in that zone in our two boroughs. Will there be an opportunity in the near future, whoever is in government, to roll out the zone across the rest of our boroughs so that the benefits spread? The Minister gave a list of lessons learned, including access, participation, health and social inclusion. Will there also be an opportunity to share with the rest of the country the lessons that boroughs such as ours have learned?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and the hon. Gentleman on their work in the action zone. We are rolling out a further 18 zones and I hope that, as the hon. Gentleman says, the genuine good practice and innovation that stem from them will now fit into the actions of regional sports boards in developing
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their strategies. They involve health, social inclusion, education and the development of sustainable communities, and the zones can play an important role in that.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister should be aware that one of the lessons from the sports action zones is that a bottom-up, not a top-down approach works. When the approach in our area was top down for the first two years, with Sport England trying to run it, it did not work. When it was bottom up, with genuine neighbourhood support from community groups, the South Bank employers group and all the people who lived there and knew what they needed, it worked. Does the Minister agree that it is important that the funding continues and is not diluted in a London sports board, thus getting broken up and not necessarily used for inner-city areas such as mine?

Mr. Caborn: Well, I do not know about the last part of the question—[Interruption.] Bear with me. Sports boards are charged with targets of greater participation. I remind my hon. Friend that, when I came into the job, Sport England was passing down 98 different sports initiatives to the regions. There was no bottom-up process; it was a case of ticking boxes and getting the dosh without anybody measuring what was happening. That approach has changed significantly in the sports boards, which bring in health, social inclusion and business to ensure that they drive up participation and   also target the least well off in our society. I hope that, in the next few years, we will tackle the issues that my hon. Friend raised and use sports action zones in doing that.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Minister knows that I will always be happy to welcome   more money for sport anywhere in the country. I recognise, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) did, that there are good areas where the approach in the sports action zones has been bottom up. However, does the Minister recognise that, in some parts of the country, there are still complaints that the money is not getting to the sharp end and that too much is being spent on bureaucracy? Does he acknowledge that, in any further development of the sports action zone programme, the Government need to be especially careful to ensure that taxpayers' money going to sport reaches children in disadvantaged areas and is thus spent on sport, not administrators?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. The hon. Gentleman knows that Sport England's employees have reduced from 600 to a little more than 200. There is much going into the regions and the county sports partnerships. I   suggest that he has a quick word with his Front Benchers, because the plans for sport that they will present at the next election appear centralist by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, they would scrap everything except the Minister for Sport.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the city of Coventry was honoured by his visit last month to see the new Coventry arena? He is to be congratulated on seeing the project through from inception to realisation this
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year. Does he realise that it stands as a model for the country and shows how sporting facilities, zones and new arenas can contribute to the regeneration of a city and, indeed, a region?

Mr. Caborn: That is absolutely true. Anyone would think that there was an election in the air, but I could not possibly comment on that. The project to which my hon. Friend refers is extremely good for regeneration. It has taken a long time getting there, but I have had the privilege of going to see the development to date, and I   am sure that it will have a major and much-needed impact on Coventry's economy, in terms of how it can diversify using sport and other activities.

Tourism Deficit

2. Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): If she will make   a statement on the UK tourism deficit. [222737]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): The UK's tourism deficit was £17.3 billion in   2004. National tourism deficits in the developed world reflect various factors, including rising prosperity.   By way of illustration, Germany's deficit stood at £27.1 billion in 2003. Of more importance is   our   industry's impressive domestic and inbound performance, with a record £12.8 billion spent by 27.5 million overseas visitors last year. That illustrates a rising trend.

Mr. Sanders: Does the Minister agree that a way of dramatically reducing the tourism deficit would be to introduce an aviation tax, because Brits spend far more overseas than is spent by overseas visitors to the United Kingdom?

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman will know that tax is a matter for the Treasury. However, the industry has been working with my Department recently to address the structural weaknesses in tourism. We have now moved tourism into the regional development agencies, where it is seen as a major economic driver, especially in the south-west, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, as he comes from Torbay, where RDA money has already been invested. I hope that that trend will continue. This is about identifying skills and quality, developing EnglandNet, and having sound data on which to base decisions for the future. It is also about addressing structural weaknesses, and the industry and the Government are now working together in a strong partnership to do that.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend recognised the importance of the regions in   promoting tourism. Will he congratulate One NorthEast and the North East Tourism Advisory Board, of which I am a member, on the production of their recent strategy for the north-east? It is not just about promoting the wonderful attractions and beauty of the north-east of England, but about ensuring that tourism plays a key part in the revival of the economy there.
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Mr. Caborn: Very much so. I congratulate my hon. Friend on what has been done in that regard. There is no doubt that creating a new structure for tourism in the north-east has had a difficult start, but I am sure that a solution has now been found that is acceptable to all parties and that will drive tourism forward as part of the region's economy development strategy. I look forward to seeing further developments in the area.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): We could do with more visitors to south Wiltshire. Twenty-one years ago, I attended the birth of English Heritage, whose first priority was to be Stonehenge. Eight years ago, a Select Committee described the facilities at Stonehenge as a national disgrace, and eight years ago in July, the Prime Minister said that the Government would do their best to put that right. All that time has passed, but we have nothing to show for it. We know that the inspector's report on the tunnel is now with Ministers, but will the Minister give us an assurance that Stonehenge remains a priority for his Department as well as for the Government as a whole? What can I do to help the   Minister in this regard?

Mr. Caborn: It is not often that I get an offer like that. We are waiting for the report that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and it will go to the Department for Transport. I accept that this has gone on for far too long. All that I can say on behalf of my Department and of English Heritage is that this matter is a priority and    that we want to see things happen. So the sooner we get the report, and the sooner that decisions are made by the Department for Transport, the better.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Minister hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the very wrong perceptions that people overseas—particularly in north America—have of banks being robbed there and of crime in urban environments? In fact, Northern Ireland is one of the most attractive and peaceful parts not only of the United Kingdom but of western Europe, with the hills of Antrim, the lochs of County Down, and the   Sperrins. Could not the British Government do more to promote interest in and awareness of Northern Ireland, rather than seeing so many people being attracted to Ireland via Dublin?

Mr. Caborn: That question is timely, because later this week I shall be meeting Ministers and other representatives from the four devolved authorities, and I shall make sure that my hon. Friend's point is conveyed to them. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland is a beautiful place, and it is unfortunate that the worst events are sometimes disproportionately reported in the press, while the best things are left out. I shall convey my hon. Friend's sentiments to the people responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): As the Minister confirmed in an answer a few moments ago, the Government can accurately measure the tourism deficit and take steps to narrow the gap only if they have reliable statistics or sound data. Given that the Secretary of State, after the Hartwell meetings, made better statistics a priority—a fact later confirmed by the
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Government's policy document "Tomorrow's Tourism Today"—and that the Department of Trade and Industry's science review of DCMS last year said that only if DCMS implemented the tourism statistics improvement initiative's findings would the statistical base be accurate and reliable, why are the Government continuing their miserly approach and turning their back on the needs of the tourism industry by denying funding for TSII?

Mr. Caborn: That would be absolutely wrong. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because we held a conference a   few weeks ago in Birmingham, the industry has acknowledged very clearly to us that we are sitting down with it in the implementation group, which I chair. We are addressing, probably for the first time in a long time, the real structural weaknesses. Data are one of those, but not the only one. We are looking very seriously at those structural weaknesses and driving that agenda for change—not just in the industry, but through the development agencies, with which there is now a very strong partnership. Data are part of that and we are acting on the issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I said in an answer that we will produce those data in the not-too-distant future.

This is one of a number of issues that we are considering in terms of ensuring that the industry is fit for purpose and can achieve the objective, which is to increase its worth from £74 billion to £100 billion by 2010. That is achievable, it will mean a lot more jobs and those data are important to achieving it.

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