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Celtic Heritage

5. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): If she will take steps to promote awareness of common Celtic heritage in regions of the United Kingdom. [144648]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Shaun Woodward): My hon. Friend will be aware that although the Department for Culture, Media and Sport does not directly sponsor common Celtic heritage, many of our sponsored bodies do; for example, the BBC’s royal charter requires it to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities.

Andrew Mackinlay: I am slightly disappointed by the Minister’s reply. His Department needs to realise that Celtic heritage is not exclusive to Scotland, Ireland and Wales; England has a rich Celtic heritage, particularly in areas such as Northumberland and Cornwall. The English language dictionary has a high proportion of input from the Celtic language, and our own city, in these contemporary times, is full of Celtic people. The Department ought to do much more to reflect that in its work and endeavours, and not see it as a matter purely for the other countries, but a matter for England as well.

Mr. Woodward: Far be it from me to disappoint my hon. Friend, but he makes a good point. I am happy to write to the Arts Council and take it up on his behalf.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I commend the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) on his excellent question, and remind him that the language that evolved into Welsh was once spoken across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Thurrock, so does not he think it a little strange that the Foreign Office language-learning department can teach Members virtually every single language in the world, except for the language of heaven—Welsh? Does the Minister think that should be rectified?

Mr. Woodward: I take note of the hon. Gentleman’s lecture and will continue to reflect on his points, but I suggest that he also takes them up at Welsh questions.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): St. Fagans museum of Welsh Life promotes Celtic culture through a vast array of buildings, artefacts and furniture. Such museums play an important part in displaying Celtic heritage, not only in Wales, but across the UK. Does the Minister agree that it is important that our museums remain free to enter, so that Celtic culture can be appreciated wherever it is available, in whichever museums?

Mr. Woodward: My hon. Friend tempts me into a very important area. I could talk about renaissance in the regions, but as she raises the issue of free entry to
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museums—a matter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will deal with rather convincingly in a moment—I shall say simply that we continue to reject totally the policy of the Conservative party.

Ministerial Visits

6. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): How many English Heritage sites she has visited in her official capacity in the last 12 months. [144649]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Stonehenge in September 2006. Last week, she visited Torre abbey to see at first hand a project funded by English Heritage.

Andrew Rosindell: I thank the Minister for his response on behalf of the Secretary of State, but he may not know that I have asked that question in written form every year for the past few years, to which every answer was that she had not visited any. Do the Government appreciate this country’s heritage and history, or are they completely obsessed with sport and media?

Mr. Lammy: I do know that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question every year, and I have seen the answers, which were not as he has just stated on the record for Hansard. Heritage funding, including that for museums and galleries, is bigger than it has ever been, at £600 million. He ought to refresh himself about the facts before he makes such silly suggestions.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Have my hon. Friend or any of his Front-Bench colleagues recently visited Plymouth civic centre, for which English Heritage sought listed status? It has just been granted grade II listed status, which is disastrous because it is a sick building for those who work in it, is environmentally unfriendly, and is an eyesore. The grant of listed status will delay the redevelopment of Plymouth city centre, which could have incorporated some brand-new, exciting and architecturally better buildings. I urge my hon. Friend to reconsider that decision.

Mr. Lammy: I hear what my hon. Friend says and obviously I will speak to my officials about it. However, when a building is listed—which happens purely because it is deemed that it has architectural and historical merit—that does not mean that it is set in aspic. There can be changes to the building, but they have to be in accordance with what the local authority and English Heritage lay down. However, I will have a look at the matter.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Notwithstanding the Minister’s rather rough reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), will he acknowledge again—as he has to me both on the Floor of the House and in Westminster Hall—that English Heritage is suffering from something of a funding crisis? Can he give a guarantee that the
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new chairman will have greater freedom than his very illustrious predecessor, Sir Neil Cossons, to whom we should all pay tribute?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we should put on record our tribute to the work of Sir Neil Cossons, who has chaired English Heritage superbly. That goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We asked for a quinquennial review of English Heritage just under four years ago. The review found that English Heritage was in need of serious modernisation. Sir Neil Cossons and Simon Thurley have led that project superbly. We are now reaching a point where we are entering into discussions in the context of a spending review and we are grateful for the robust way in which the hon. Gentleman continues to lobby for heritage in this country.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Has the Minister visited Down house in Kent, where Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution? Is he aware that UNESCO has turned it down as a world heritage site and will he use his good offices to ask UNESCO to think again? Very soon, in 2009, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of Species”, so will he use his good offices to ensure that the site is recognised?

Mr. Lammy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue and for all the work that he does in the House to promote science. I have met the local authority in relation to Down house. The Government believe that it deserves world heritage status, but we will think in detail about the recommendations. We hope to work with the UNESCO committee over the course of the next year, particularly in relation to science. Only eight sites across the world have scientific world heritage status and we believe that perhaps we can do something to encourage the committee to look again at Darwin’s house.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): English Heritage is having a reception in Parliament this afternoon. Will the Minister attend and will he use the opportunity not only to congratulate Sir Neil Cossons and to welcome his successor, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, but to explain why he has left English Heritage with a funding shortfall of £19 million, why he has more than halved the funding for cathedral repairs, why he reduced the funding for the Heritage Lottery Fund by £161 million, and why he left English Heritage waiting months for a new chairman?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman could have done a little better than that given that I gave the answer a few moments ago. We had a quinquennial review of English Heritage and that was not the right time to take up funding, but English Heritage has been able to find funding out of its modernisation programme, and it has put that funding back in. That is against a backdrop of record investment in our arts, museums, galleries and heritage across the country. That is why visitor numbers to English Heritage sites are up, membership to English Heritage is up, and we are seeing a huge improvement in our built environment and heritage across the country. Of course I intend to
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go to the reception and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased at the appointment of Sandy Bruce-Lockhart to the chair.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): If my hon. Friend came to my constituency, he would see the tremendous work that is being done because English Heritage has provided up to £50,000 in grants to improve the façade of shops on my high street. That is not only making a visible difference to the streetscape of my constituency, but, more important, improving the economic well-being of the businesses in those shops. Will my hon. Friend examine whether that funding stream can be continued in the future?

Mr. Lammy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He will know, because his constituency is just above mine, that Tottenham too has received such funding to regenerate the townscape façade on the main high road route that in the end comes off the A1. The money has been incredibly well spent in some of the poorest parts of north London and we are grateful. English Heritage continues to consider how it can use money to best effect in deprived constituencies such as ours.

Museums/Galleries (Admission Charges)

7. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What assessment she has made of the effect of the removal of admission charges for museums and galleries on visitor numbers. [144650]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): The free admission policy has been enormously successful and popular with people up and down the country. Let me give the hon. Gentleman the figures. There has been an 87 per cent. increase in visits since December 2001 when this Government introduced universal free access to museums that formerly charged. That represents an extra 6 million visits a year, or 29 million more visits over the five years since entry charges were abolished. I am delighted to announce today that last year was the best year ever for our sponsored museums and galleries, with a record-breaking 39 million visits. The policy has support up and down the country. It is a policy that the Conservative party would put—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Sir Gerald Kaufman —[ Interruption. ] My apologies, Dr. Cable.

Dr. Cable: Too keen to get on to the loyalists, Mr. Speaker.

Although the Secretary of State is undoubtedly right to say that the policy has been successful in attracting new visitors, is it not the case that her Department’s surveys show that there has been an almost complete failure to attract low-income visitors? What is the Department doing to change that?

Tessa Jowell: It is not the case that there has been a failure to attract low-income visitors. One particular success has been the outreach work of several of the “renaissance in the regions”-funded museums, which have made a point of going out into local communities to attract visitors from such areas as deprived estates
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into those museums. There is an expectation that every museum will make efforts to attract people who have never visited before. The figures for the free entry programme demonstrate that that has been a great success. Almost half the visits to museums in both London and throughout the country were made by people who had not visited a museum in the previous 12 months.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is not the free admission to museums and galleries that has been provided by the Government one of the greatest acts of democratising access to the arts that any Government have ever achieved? If my right hon. Friend were to decide to put the Conservative party in a museum, as would be appropriate, considering the exhibition that it has made of itself, would not such admission be essential, because no one would pay to go to see it?

Tessa Jowell: My right hon. Friend is, as ever, entirely right, and such a move might well be a deterrent. The important point about the policy is that it is a practical way of giving expression to many of the big promises of politics—improving quality of life, giving people a better sense of their identity and a sense of place, and providing access to national treasures that belong to the people of this country. It is a policy of which we are proud, and we will maintain it with the unequivocal support of the people of this country.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): We recognise that free admissions have led, as the Secretary of State said, to a record increase in the number of visits to our national museums and galleries. That is why we are fully committed to the continuation of that policy. It was, of course, introduced by her predecessor, Lord Smith of Finsbury, who said last month that it was

that her raids on the lottery

He called them a “serious error of judgment” and a “tragedy”, and called on the Government to admit their mistake. Free admissions was his legacy, but is not her legacy for the arts the siphoning-off of hundreds of millions of pounds from the arts and heritage sectors to pay for her mistakes on the Olympics budget?

Tessa Jowell: If we are talking about errors of judgment, we should refer to the hon. Gentleman’s little foray into thinking aloud about what would happen if museums were allowed to charge again, and to the agonising spectacle of his U-turn, which took place all of six or nine hours afterwards. I am proud of the legacy of free entry to the museums of this country, and that is a commitment with which the Government will continue. The people of this country will realise that that popular policy is put at risk by the Opposition.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that free entry has been a major factor in the growing importance of Liverpool’s museums? Will she continue to give her full
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support to the museums’ trail-blazing projects, such as the new slavery museum and the new museum of Liverpool life?

Tessa Jowell: Yes, and that is an important and good example of the success in Liverpool of the policy of free entry. All the initiatives relating to the new slavery museum will be a central part of what Liverpool will offer, not just to the people of Liverpool or the people of the country, but to the people of the world when Liverpool is the European capital of culture next year. I commend my hon. Friend for the support that she has given to that initiative.

Tote Privatisation

8. Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): What progress is being made on privatisation of the Tote. [144651]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Government are currently at an advanced stage of the discussions on a possible sale of the Tote to a consortium of racing interests and the staff and management of the Tote. The Government hope soon to be able to announce their intentions on how to proceed.

Mr. Wallace: Mr. Speaker, I do not have a registered interest to declare, but I think that it would be courteous to inform you that I may in the future. The privatisation of the Tote has been a long and drawn-out process that goes back many years to 2001. Will the Minister tell us why it is being held up in the Treasury, what he will do about it, and how he will ensure that the Tote is given back to racing?

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we have said in two election manifestos that we will sell the Tote into racing. It is not the Treasury that has been the major problem, but Europe. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen. We were trying to sell the Tote at a fair price, but we were told very clearly that it had to be sold at a market price. We had a lot of wrangling with the European Commission and its competition directorate-general, but eventually we got an agreement and a market price. We had been in discussions with a consortium, but the consortium could not come up with the money in the first round. The Tote’s staff and management got involved, and I believe that in the coming period we will come before the House and say how we intend to proceed. It has been a long, drawn-out process, but I can say to the hon. Gentleman that we will put the Tote into racing; we will secure the 600 jobs in the north-west, and about 2,000 jobs around the country; and we will make sure that the Tote’s product is there for the punters, who believe that they have a safe bet with the Tote.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the Tote headquarters is in the constituency of Wigan. I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done in maintaining the independence of the Tote throughout the negotiations. Will he continue those negotiations to ensure that independence, so that the jobs are maintained in the constituency and the Tote
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has the opportunity of expanding so that more jobs can be taken on in the borough of Wigan?

Mr. Caborn: I give that assurance. One of the things that has been at the centre of these discussions is to ensure that in bringing the Tote into the marketplace owned by racing we secure the 600 jobs in Wigan. Those staff are absolutely first class, and I know that when the sale goes through the management have plans considerably to expand the influence of the Tote in the United Kingdom and internationally. I wish them luck in that. I hope that we will secure not only those 600 jobs but many more in the north-west as well.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): We are all fed up with waiting. On 14 March, in an answer to a parliamentary question, the Government said that they intend to proceed with this in due course. On 25 April, they said that they will announce shortly how they intend to proceed. On 3 May, they said that they hope to make a decision in the course of the next few weeks. On 17 May, they said that they remain in discussion. Today, the Minister says that things are at an advanced stage and it will happen very soon. Can he tell us when?

Mr. Caborn: I am also frustrated, but I do not have a magic wand. When one enters into negotiations, one has to negotiate with a whole series of parties. We have had difficulties with the European Union, as I have admitted, but the parties have come together now. There is an agreement with all the constituent parts of the parties involved in racing. I hope that in the very near future, when that consortium— [ Interruption . ] It is not in the Government’s hands but in those of the consortium. It has to raise some money in the marketplace, and as soon as it comes back with that we will make the announcement.

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