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House of Commons

Monday 5 March 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I inform the House that the practice of reading supplementary questions will be stopped? I call upon Members not to read supplementary questions into the record. Their response should come from what the Minister says.

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sports Clubs (Children)

1. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): What plans she has to encourage sports clubs for children. [124561]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): As part of the national school sport strategy, we are supporting links between schools and clubs. We have exceeded our target to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds from school sport partnerships who are members of, or participate in, accredited sports clubs from 14 to 20 per cent. by 2006. The 2005-06 school sport survey shows that 27 per cent. of young people from school sport partnerships are now participating in clubs linked to schools.

Ms Keeble: I very much welcome that response, but does the Minister agree that to build on that excellent record and to provide a fitting legacy for the 2012 games it is important to develop amateur sports clubs that provide services for children? Will he therefore agree to support proposals to extend gift aid, or other financial support, to amateur community sports clubs, specifically for the work that they do for children’s sports?

Mr. Caborn: Our work to strengthen sports clubs includes community amateur sports clubs grants, and gift aid can generally be accessed by such clubs. I hope that more amateur sports clubs will apply for CASC grants and the 80 per cent. managing rate relief that goes with that, because currently only about 4,000 have done so out of a potential 40,000 to 50,000 clubs that are entitled to do so, and those 4,000 that have applied for it are now receiving some £15 million. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that there are other areas in which we could bring in fiscal incentives, to incentivise
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young people in particular. I have no doubt that my colleagues at the Treasury will be taking suggestions on that very seriously indeed.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): May I draw the Minister’s attention to the unanimous view of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that Sport England’s ability to support sports clubs will suffer if there is any further diversion of funds from the national lottery? Given the Chancellor’s new-found enthusiasm for supporting sport for young people, will the Minister press him to protect the national lottery from any further raids?

Mr. Caborn: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges—as, I have no doubt, do all members of the Select Committee—that Exchequer funding for sport has risen by 30 per cent. since the last spending review. That shows the commitment not only of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who gives great support to sport, but of the Government in general. I have no doubt that they will do nothing to undermine that continued investment in sport.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): As secretary of the all-party rugby union group, I receive regular briefings from the rugby world on the progress being made by the Government in putting money into sport and the community. If the Minister cannot give me the answer to the following question now, will he respond to me through the Department? How many new participants have been recruited by sports clubs that have received community club development funding since that programme began?

Mr. Caborn: I cannot give the exact figure. However, I can say that in the group that I referred to—five to 16-year-olds—there has been a 27 per cent. increase, and there is no doubt that the Government and the governing bodies have recently put considerable investment into strengthening the club structure, which was weak. We are now reaping some of the benefits of that investment in the numbers of those young people who participate and in the numbers of those who will get on to podiums in stadiums around the world in years to come.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The 350 children who are members of the Beavers swimming club in Wootton Bassett in my constituency are delighted that, after the Minister’s intervention—among other things—this time last month, the Liberal Democrat district council has decided to reverse its decision to close Lime Kiln leisure centre in Wootton Bassett, but the 250 children whom I met at Cricklade last Friday and whose sport centre is now closing, and those in Calne down the road whose sport centre is also closing, are asking me if the Minister will not bring special pressure to bear on the Liberal Democrats to keep their sport centres open, too.

Mr. Caborn: I do not know whether the magic wand will be used again, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me with specific details on that, and if there is a case to answer, we will make sure that those who can answer that case get the question posed to them.

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Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Fifty-seven per cent. of people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) are classified as obese. Does the Minister recognise the importance of working in partnership with the Department of Health, as well as local government, to increase participation in sport, especially for young people, because of its long-term impact on health in the country?

Mr. Caborn: Very much so. We have a very productive dialogue with my colleagues at the Department of Health and, indeed, at the Department for Education and Skills on that very subject, because we think it important that we start to factor physical activity into young people’s lives in particular. That is why we are committed to providing two hours of quality physical activity or sport for every child every week from the age of five to 16, and a further two to three hours beyond the school gate. That is important not just for the sake of sport itself, but for the sake of health, social inclusion and education, because it is clear that where that happens, academic attainment levels go up and truancy and exclusion levels go down. It is a win-win situation, and one of the most successful policies of this Government.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): One of the barriers for existing sports clubs seeking to do more for children is their rising cost base in other areas. A good practical example is Headcorn football club in Kent, whose licensing fee has risen from £25 every five years under the old system to a staggering £900 every five years under the new system—an increase of over 3,000 per cent. That money could otherwise be spent on youth development. Given that the Government are entirely responsible for creating that problem, what do they intend to do to sort it out?

Mr. Caborn: I do not know about the situation regarding that club, which I will look at, but all I can say is that if it has a licensing fee of £900, it must be making considerable profits from bar takings. We have heard about these situations before and I have answered such questions. The Central Council of Physical Recreation will distribute a paper to Back Benchers that unfortunately cites racquet clubs that use halls for banqueting purposes. If that is true, they are in competition with other private sector organisations in their area. It is a question of fairness. If the money is going directly into grass-roots sports, we will take that into account, but if it is a commercial organisation that is taking on the rest of the leisure industry, that is a different matter. I will consider the specific problem.

All-weather Sports Pitches

2. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What steps she is taking to increase the provision of all-weather sports pitches. [124562]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): Access to a wide range of good quality sports facilities, including all-weather sports pitches, is an essential part of enabling people to lead healthier lives and to participate in sport. That is why we have invested over
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£1 billion in more than 4,000 sports facilities. As part of that, there has been unprecedented investment in all-weather pitches, including £58 million from the lottery and £50 million from the Football Foundation, creating a new generation of such facilities across the country. There are now 1,535 public sector all-weather pitches in England, just under 70 per cent. of which have been built or refurbished since 1997.

Mary Creagh: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for opening the Denhale recreation centre in my constituency in November. We very much appreciated his being able to be with us. The district of Wakefield has five third-generation pitches, but none of them is in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend and his officials work with me to ensure that the people working so hard to provide out-of-hours sporting activity for young people—in football, rugby league and rugby union—can do so whatever the weather?

Mr. Caborn: Some £50 million of funding for more than 260 sports projects has been invested in Wakefield local authority. I understand that that is not necessarily coterminous with my hon. Friend’s constituency, but we will look into that.

It is important that all Members contact their local authorities about planning. One major issue is the lighting and noise associated with third-generation and artificial pitches, which means that we cannot open them for as long as they ought to be open. One or two nimbies are stopping us using sports facilities by imposing planning restrictions on the use of lights, for example. I hope that all Members will raise this issue with their local authority’s planning department and get their local paper to campaign for the maximum use of such weather-proofed facilities.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Macclesfield rugby union football club boasts an all-weather pitch, which is hugely useful and much used by young people. The club has a thriving mini rugby section, which plays every week. What additional help can the Minister give to clubs that go out of their way to provide facilities for young people, particularly in respect of the use of all-weather pitches?

Mr. Caborn: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and the club that he represents. We want more of those facilities, but every time we build an artificial pitch on a grass area that was used for sport, it is classed as the closure of a sports field. That is a weakness in the way we compile statistics in the Department. Yes, we need more floodlit, third-generation artificial pitches that can be used 24/7, if necessary. We want to maximise their availability for our young people, along with the quality coaching that we are providing alongside those pitches, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has yet to visit the fabulous athletics track at Ellesmere Port that was opened by Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2005. That is a wonderful, Olympic-standard facility, but, unfortunately, the school where it is located may be earmarked for closure in the near future. Will he liaise closely with the
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Department for Education and Skills and Cheshire county council to ensure that that valuable resource is properly protected?

Mr. Caborn: It would be remiss if we did not put on record our thanks to Tanni Grey-Thompson, who retired last week. She was a fantastic role model in disability sports in particular, but in sports in general. She also coached me for the marathon, but I shall not go into that story. She was obviously successful— [Laughter.]

It is great that hon. Members on both sides of the House are congratulating the Labour Government on what they have done for sports facilities. That is heart-warming. My hon. Friend knows that we have introduced tough planning regimes, so that any closure of any playing field has to be referred to Sport England, which has a tough remit to preserve and extend facilities. I have no doubt that we will look carefully at the case that my hon. Friend raises and will continue to increase the stock of good sports facilities up and down the country.

Regional Museums (England)

3. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): What assessment the Secretary of State has made of the effect of the renaissance in the regions programme on regional museums in England. [124563]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): The renaissance in the regions programme has revitalised museums across England, enhancing their role in education, access and social inclusion. Last year, 1.2 million school children participated in activities supported by renaissance hub museums.

Mrs. Hodgson: Is the Minister aware that under the renaissance programme, outreach activity has increased by more than 7,000 per cent. in the north-east alone? Will he assure me that the programme will continue to receive full funding, so that the fantastic educational resources provided by our museums will not be put in jeopardy?

Mr. Lammy: I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for championing the renaissance programme. She will know that we had a very good event in the House last week, in which we celebrated the contribution that museums in the north of England, in particular, are making. I know, because I was up there a few months ago, that the Tyne and Wear museums are making a fantastic contribution, particularly because they use members of the community to provide oral history, as well as having items on display. That has led to an increase in participation, especially among young people, more of whom are attending museums across the north-east. As the spending review is ongoing, it is too early to give an assessment on that, but renaissance in our museums is a key part of what the Department has been doing in the past few years.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): All that is very fine, but will the Minister acknowledge that the really important point that the hon. Member
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for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson) made was about funding? Will he also acknowledge that we cannot have flourishing provincial and regional museums unless the great national museums are also flourishing, but they are seriously underfunded at present?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed these matters in great detail in the past few months. I refer him to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council report, which does not say that our national museums are underfunded—on the contrary. I know that he is concerned about acquisitions, but, partly because of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, they hold up incredibly well in comparison with many of our European partners with their museums. It is right to say that free museum entry has brought an increase in the popularity of our national museums, and because of the investment in our regional museums we have seen an increase in access and participation there as well.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend congratulate the north-east museums service not only on raising the profile of museums in the area, but on raising to record levels the number of school visits to north-eastern museums, especially to Beamish museum in my constituency?

Mr. Lammy: Absolutely. Some 115,000 school children have visited museums in the north-east hub over the last period. When I spoke to the museums service, I was told that previously, due to underinvestment, it was unable to reach schools in the area, so the number of visits was less than half what it is now. There has been a huge explosion in the number of young people involved in our museums, which does not mean merely that they visit for a day, but that they are actually involved in understanding who they are and where they are from in their community, thereby tackling the problems of social cohesion and antisocial behaviour that preoccupy us all on both sides of the House. Our museums play a key role.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The renaissance programme is welcome, but of course the more people who go to our museums and the more television programmes that are made, the greater the profile of archaeology and the bigger the problem of storage, especially of archaeological finds. I would be grateful if the Minister assessed that problem in the coming months, as many museums and county archaeology services are completely at their wits’ end about what to do with all the finds that have to be dug up because of planning permissions and so on. It is becoming a serious financial burden on local authorities and independent regional museums.

Mr. Lammy: It is right that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges the huge success of the portable antiquities scheme, which has meant that many local finds go to our local museums, but it is probably also right to say that for most museums only between 10 and 20 per cent. of their collections are exhibited. A lot can never be exhibited because our museums play a key role in the academic study of artefacts and
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contribute to our knowledge base for those artefacts and their history. We are exploring with the MLA how we can increase touring, especially, in dialogue with our colleagues in Europe, to eastern Europe. I hope that that, in particular, will increase people’s access to all that wonderful treasure.

British Theatre

4. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the contribution of British theatre to (a) the economy and (b) cultural life in England. [124564]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): Arts Council England research estimates that the annual economic impact of UK theatre is £2.6 billion. Research from seven of England’s biggest publicly funded regional producing theatres shows attendances rising by almost 40 per cent. between 2000 and 2006.

Chris Bryant: The statistics are dry, but all the evidence shows that the British theatre is one of the main reasons overseas tourists visit this country. It is the cornerstone of our film and television industry, and the crowning glory of our cultural life, so is it not vital that we make sure that there is a proper subsidy for British theatre? How ferociously will my hon. Friend fight the Treasury to make sure that the next settlement is just as good as, if not better than, the last?

Mr. Lammy: It is largely because of that increase, as well as the history and inheritance of our regional theatres, which were on their knees, falling apart and not providing quality performances, that we are where we are now. In Sheffield, Nottingham, Brighton and Chichester—across the piece—theatres are making a huge contribution to the life and soul of their communities. As my hon. Friend knows, the spending review continues and we are discussing those issues across Government.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): British theatre is clearly a showcase for British arts and culture. When I went to see Alan Bennett’s production of “The History Boys” last year, it was selling to packed-out audiences in the theatre here. It then went to New York with the same British cast and was playing to packed-out audiences there, too. It is the same when American actors come to the British theatre here in that they act as magnets for people who would perhaps otherwise not go to the theatre. We certainly get bums on seats in British theatres because of them. Will the Minister ensure that the fair exchange of artistic people, actors and actresses from the US to Britain—and from Britain to the US—carries on? It is good business and very healthy for Britain and America.

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is right. In fact, “The History Boys” received six Tony awards, including best director and best play. We have seen from the recent success of Helen Mirren, who spent a lot of time working in subsidised theatre, just how important it is for actors and actresses in this country. We will, of course, continue to explore with the Arts Council those touring opportunities.

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