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The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn):
The talented athlete scholarship schemeTASSwhich was launched last August, provides funding for our talented young athletes in further and higher education and employment. More than 1,100 athletes participated in the first year of the scheme. The 2012 scholarship is one strand of TASS. It was launched this year and is designed to fast-track our most talented young people between the ages of 12 and 18 into the world class performance programme. There are currently 120 people on the 2012 scholarship. There is
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already strong evidence to show that TASS is starting to pay dividends. Indeed, our young people are winning medals in international competition.
Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving details of national achievements and the national picture. As he and other colleagues know, I have been pushing for Staffordshire, and especially Stoke-on-Trent, to benefit from being an Olympic training venue. How will TASS and other such schemes benefit athletes and potential athletes for the Olympics in my area?
Mr. Caborn: I shall be parochial. TASS for 18 to 25-year-olds applies in the west midlands. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked about Paralympians. The age for the higher level has moved to 35. Fifty-seven TASS bursaries and seven 2012 scholarships are available in the west midlands. In Stoke-on-Trent specifically, four TASS bursaries and two 2012 scholarships are available.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): Having called almost three years ago for London to make a bid for the 2012 Olympics, I thank the Minister for his work. Everyone else seems to have been mentioned, but not the Minister for Sport and Tourism.
The point of getting the Olympics in London is to inspire young people to participate in sport. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that we have the number of coaches that we need to train our young athletes and young sportsmen? Does he agree that, in the next five to seven years, we have a great opportunity to train more coaches and ensure that they have the right professional qualifications?
Mr. Caborn: Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman knows that we had a taskforce on coaching. When I came into the job four years ago, the position of coaching was deplorable. I am pleased that all the governing bodies have come together and that the coaching taskforce's recommendations have been implemented. We have five levels of coaching certificate, which Sports Coach UK is policing. We will provide 3,000 community coachesI believe that 300 or 400 are already in place. Coupled with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's announcement earlier this year about providing competition managers for each school sports partnership, we are building a sustainable sports infrastructure for this country. It will mean not only many more people playing much more sport but bringing through talent, not in an arbitrary but a managed way, so that potential can be realised, with our athletes standing on the podiums in 2012 in London.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell):
The Government are strongly committed to regional broadcasting. Through the Communications Act 2003 and the review of the BBC charter, we will continue to ensure that programmes are made about and in every part of the United Kingdom. We
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do not have a policy on regional accents, which are a matter for broadcasters, but regional production might be expected to support them indirectly.
David Taylor: The rich variety of British accents and dialects is one of our great cultural assets, which should be preserved and enhanced. Does the Under-Secretary agree that not enough is done to combat the slow socio-linguistic convergence towards effete estuarial English, leading to its dominance in the broadcast media and around the Cabinet table? Is not that the sort of class barrier that inclusive new Labour was set up to break down?
James Purnell: I am not sure whether my accent is estuarial, but my hon. Friend will be glad to know that there is to be more regional production after the charter review and the review of ITV's obligations come into force. It would be very odd indeed if having more programmes made in and about the regions did not support much greater coverage of regional accents. I am sure that my hon. Friend will support that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had no discussions with the chief executive of English Heritage on this subject.
Tony Baldry: Is the Minister aware that English Heritage wants to list a number of rather battered bunkers at the former United States Air Force base at Upper Heyford in my constituency? That is probably one of the largest brownfield sites in Oxfordshire, and such sites are much needed for redevelopment for housing, including affordable housing. The problem is that there are no cost consequences to English Heritage when it lists buildings such as those, and such proposals will destroy the viability of the Government's policy to build more affordable housing on brownfield sites in the south-east. Will the Minister be very kind and talk to his colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to try to get some joined-up government thinking on this issue?
Yes, of course I will. It is right that Ministers consider these cases carefully and look at all the interests involved, but the hon. Gentleman will also know that the Government intend to undertake a heritage protection review next year, precisely to consider the arrangements that we make for listing buildings and to ensure that those arrangements have the transparency and openness that is appropriate for the 21st century.
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Peter Viggers (Gosport) : The Electoral Commission informs me that it maintains contact with the Scottish Executive on a range of electoral issues, but that it has had no discussions on the specific subject of the operation of the different voting systems in Scotland.
John Robertson: I am somewhat disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's answer, because it is the same answer that I received two years ago, when we were told that no discussions were taking place. Scotland will soon have four different voting systems, and some people regard that as an experiment in terms of what will be done in the rest of the country. I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman looked at this matter. Will he talk to his colleagues about it, and ask them to examine the voting arrangements for the 2007 elections? Will they set up their review quickly, so that they can understand the problems that we in Scotland face?
Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission takes the view that systems of voting are a political matter that requires primary legislation of the House. They are therefore a matter for Members of the House rather than for the commission. The commission has not thought it appropriate to decide on the merits or otherwise of particular voting systems.
Peter Viggers : The commission informs me that, in its view, some local authorities devote insufficient resources to electoral services. It has therefore recommended ring-fenced central funding for core electoral services, and the development of national performance standards.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's reply. In the City of York, the number of registered electors is dropping like a stone, despite unprecedented numbers of new houses being built there. I know, too, that the problem is not confined to York. Will the hon. Gentleman talk to the Electoral Commission about whether further work needs to be done to examine the reasons that the number of registered electors is falling in so many places, and to determine what needs to be
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done in conjunction with the electoral registration officers to ensure that everyone who has the right to vote has the ability to do so?
Peter Viggers: I can certainly reassure the hon. Gentleman that work is in hand. Several of the commission's research projects have considered the subject of non-registration. In 2003, the commission published research on registration in Northern Ireland, and it is currently undertaking a project specifically to consider registration in Great Britain. The project will also investigate the reasons for non-registration, the impact of rolling registration, and the difference between local administrative practices and the effect that they have on registration rates. The research is due later this year.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Given that the electoral commissioners identified the widened core tasks of returning officers, including maintaining the rolling register and publicising and ensuring maximum take-up of registration, their recommendation that returning officers should in future be funded directly from the Consolidated Fund through the Electoral Commission bears careful consideration. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that that requires primary legislation, or would the current legislation, which already allows the Electoral Commission to fund training, also allow it to administer the basic costs of returning officers?
Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission takes the view that several issues need to be dealt with in forthcoming legislation, and looks forward to the Government's response to its representations. One point of significance is that the commission has recommended that the Government clarify the legal position of returning officers in relation to funding publicity to encourage registration and voting. Any outstanding uncertainties should be removed through explicit legislative provision.
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