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Independent Cinemas

4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future of independent cinemas with particular reference to the Ritz in Thirsk. [172200]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Independent cinemas are an important part of our thriving cinema industry, offering a wide variety of film experiences to audiences throughout the UK. The UK Film Council has invested more than £6 million in independent cinemas through its funding schemes. That includes £730,000 to support investment in new equipment and facilities, including £4,800 in 2006 for the Ritz in Thirsk, which was just one of the 10 awards in Yorkshire totalling more than £134,000.

Miss McIntosh: Will the right hon. Lady join me in congratulating the Ritz on the sterling work that it does in Thirsk? It is manned by volunteers, who do sterling work through the regular evening performances. Will she reassure all of us who live in or near Thirsk and throughout Vale of York that independent cinemas such as the one in Thirsk will still operate in the digital age?

Margaret Hodge: Indeed; we all value the role that independent cinemas play. I have looked at the statistics and am particularly pleased that, after years of decline
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in the number of independent cinemas in the UK, there has been the beginnings of an increase in the last year. In part, that is due to the support that the UK Film Council has given, especially in ensuring that the equipment is in place to enable the use of digitised film. That is cheaper and easier, and will offer a better future for independent cinemas.

Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend indicated, going to the movies is an attractive leisure activity, not only for older people, who enjoy daytime viewings, but of course for young people as well. The importance of cinemas to town and city centres is that they provide an alternative to alcohol-fuelled entertainment. My city of Chester has lost all its city-centre cinemas. We are trying to get the Odeon reopened. Will she do more to persuade local authorities to adopt cultural strategies and pursue planning policies that protect cinemas rather than allow them to be in their death-knell, as so many are?

Margaret Hodge: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the vigorous campaign that she is pursuing in her constituency for her local cinema. Secondly, like her, I welcome the fact that box office earnings from cinemas have gone up 56 per cent. in the past nine years. Thirdly, the cultural infrastructure in our cities, towns and communities is hugely important because it makes them places where people want to live and work, and therefore makes them successful places.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): Given that two out of three of our independent cinemas still do not have a digital projector, and given the right hon. Lady’s warm words about them, does she have a strategy for digital switchover for the rest of our independent cinemas?

Margaret Hodge: I do not have a strategy, but the Film Council does. It is investing £11 million. About one in four of our cinemas have been converted. Of course, it must consider how it can take that further. It has just received a very generous funding settlement over the next spending review period and I have absolutely no doubt that it will bear the hon. Gentleman’s words and my love for cinema in mind as it decides how to distribute those moneys.

Cricket Clubs

6. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): If he will make a statement on assistance for cricket clubs affected by summer flooding. [172202]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Sport England wrote to the England and Wales Cricket Board in August to confirm that clubs affected by the floods were entitled to apply for funding from the National Sports Foundation. To date, two applications have been received. Sport England and the ECB are working together to resolve some outstanding issues surrounding those applications.

Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. As he says, to date two applications have been made to Sport England for funding for cricket clubs
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affected by the recent flooding. Will he inform the House precisely how much money has been paid to those clubs, or can he give an indication of when the money will be paid if it has not been paid so far?

Mr. Sutcliffe: It might help the hon. Gentleman to know that a meeting is taking place today between the chief executive of Sport England and the ECB. I expect all outstanding issues to be resolved and the money to be paid across.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the one club that was worst affected was Worcester cricket club? It lost a number of fixtures, had to relocate many fixtures and is seriously out of budget. Will he look particularly at that application?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, it is not me who will be looking at the applications; it will be Sport England through its meetings with the ECB. However, I understand the severity of the situation in Worcester. Obviously, we will do everything that we can to help.

Playing Fields

7. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What steps his Department is taking to maintain numbers of playing fields; and if he will make a statement. [172203]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): We have tough measures in place to protect community playing fields. Planning guidance to local authorities is clear: no playing field needed by the community should be removed. In addition, Sport England objects to all applications that would result in a loss of playing fields, unless there is a clear benefit to sport. Those protections are working well. The latest published data from Sport England show that 96 per cent. of all applications affecting playing fields represented a net gain or no loss to sport.

Tom Brake: I thank the Minister for his reply. Harrow—St. George’s field—Waltham college and Barnet are just three examples in London of playing fields that may be at risk because of the five-year consultation period. During that time, Sport England has to be a consultee, but if a developer sits on the land for five years after that, Sport England is not required to be consulted. What discussions has he had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on that matter? When does he expect that loophole to be plugged?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised his concerns a number of times with various Departments. The guidance—in planning policy guidance note 17—is clear, and it is important for us to conform with it; but if any loopholes exist, we must be sure to close them. I shall consider the issue, and I should be happy to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman in more detail later.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Not only is it sacrilege to sell off playing fields, but it is sacrilege for those that are held by schools not to be used at
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weekends or during summer holidays. Can the Minister ensure that schools, universities and other organisations, including local authorities, work harder together to ensure that football clubs and other sporting clubs, particularly those with youth sections, have access to the fields? Clitheroe Wolves, of which I am president, finds it very difficult to obtain access to playing fields on Saturdays, and it does a tremendous amount of work for the local community.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not blame the hon. Gentleman personally, but we will take no lessons from the Opposition about the sale of playing fields. It was the selling off of school playing fields when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power that created the problem in the first place. What we are doing is ensuring that participation increases along with investment in school sport, and that schools work with sports clubs. We are doing everything we can, including investing £4 billion over the last 10 years.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I hear what my hon. Friend says about the excellent policy of no sales, but surely we should also consider ways in which we can make more effective use of our playing fields. Will my hon. Friend have a word with Sport England about that? Where innovative schemes exist between the private sector and schools, for example, those are just the sort of initiatives that should be supported by appropriate funding.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I wholeheartedly agree that it is important for us to get all sectors working together to provide the best-quality playing fields and sporting venues for our sports people, at whatever level. I also agree that the relationship between the public and private sectors is vitally important.

Listed Buildings

8. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): What the criteria are for selecting which buildings are listed. [172204]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Buildings are listed on the basis of their special architectural and historic interest. Those criteria, together with the general principles of selection, are set out in planning policy guidance note 15.

Mrs. Hodgson: What is the Minister’s view on the process between applying for listed status and the granting or declining of that status?

Margaret Hodge: We have been consulting on the whole process for a couple of years in the heritage protection review, and we intend to produce a draft Bill for consideration by the House next spring. It will propose opening up and expanding consultation, combining the various schemes in a single system so that there are no longer separate schedule and listing schemes, and the passing down of responsibilities to English Heritage.

I should also be interested in opening a debate on the listing of newer 20th-century buildings, especially those built in the last 75 years or so. We could consider criteria relating to, for instance, whether a building is
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still fit for purpose, the cost of maintaining it, and the context in which we determine whether to list it, namely the existence or otherwise of buildings of the same kind around the country.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): May I draw the Minister’s attention to the magnificent Midland hotel in Morecambe, a listed building which has benefited from £4 million of Government funding and has been restored? May I invite her to visit Morecambe and view the project, and also to view another building—the Winter Gardens—which is in need of Government help?

Margaret Hodge: My hon. Friend has spoken to me a great deal about both buildings. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends to go and see the renovation of the hotel in the spring. I hope that her local authority, or others with an interest in the theatre about which she is concerned, will consider whether our new fund of £15 million a year for three years to help coastal resorts in particular could be used to support its renovation and rehabilitation.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Is the Minister satisfied that listed building controls and protections work satisfactorily in relation to the insides as well as the facades of buildings?

Margaret Hodge: If the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about that issue, I think we should discuss it in the context of the draft Bill that we are presenting next year. Members throughout the House have raised many listing issues with me on which—as we have the slot for the draft Bill, and legislation to follow it—we ought to have a serious discussion, hopefully non-partisan, with the aim of improving the system.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I am concerned about a building in my constituency, the Mechanics Institute, which contains the first workers’ library, built for the railway workers in Swindon. It is listed under the criteria that the Minister has announced, but is in danger of falling down through neglect. What powers has the Minister to step in when buildings are in such a state?

Margaret Hodge: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work to ensure that the institute—part of a tentative world heritage site—is properly looked after and preserved. Once a building is listed, it falls to the local authorities in the area to ensure that the heritage is protected. In this case, there have been three planning applications, all of which have been rejected. English Heritage and the local authority are anxious to engage in discussions with a private developer to secure the long-term future of this fine grade II* listed building.


9. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future of the Stonehenge world heritage site. [172205]

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The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Following the announcement in this House on 6 December that the Government will not continue with the A303 Stonehenge improvement scheme, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), and I will meet key stakeholders this evening to discuss the way forward for Stonehenge. Our aim is to find a new solution to improve the setting for Stonehenge, including new visitor facilities, with work being completed in time for the Olympics in 2012.

Robert Key: The Minister has my ensured support for her every effort in finding something to save from the wreckage of the Department for Transport’s Stonehenge fiasco. In seeking to build a new visitors’ centre within five years, will she please not go for a cheap and cheerful option? It must be a world-class, high-quality visitors’ centre appropriate to the greatest world heritage site in this country. We must now look forward and not weep over what happened last week.

Margaret Hodge: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and look forward to working with him to find a lasting solution to the problems affecting a wonderful world heritage site that is currently spoiled by the visitors’ facility and the surrounding road infrastructure. I hope that there will be co-operation across Government. He will know from his time with responsibility for the issue how difficult it is to get all the stakeholders together around the table absolutely determined to find a solution. The catalyst of the 2012 Olympics will, I hope, concentrate everybody’s minds.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Stonehenge is a first-rate heritage site with second-rate facilities supported by a third-rate tourism policy. Even the United Nation’s World Heritage Committee is complaining about the standards at Stonehenge. The Government now admit that they have nothing to show for 10 years of work after spending £23 million of taxpayers’ money. Does not this reflect the Government’s attitude towards tourism, with budgets cut and a failure to stand up to other Government Departments? It has been some time since the druids conducted their last human sacrifice at Stonehenge. Such is the anger at the Government that I suggest the Minister treats with caution any invitation to Stonehenge that she may receive for the next summer solstice.

Margaret Hodge: I have already visited Stonehenge; it is an issue of major concern that I want to resolve. I have had good discussions on the subject with the hon. Gentleman’s Back-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key). This Government have invested more in the past 10 years in supporting our heritage and tourism than the previous Government managed in 18 years. I have no doubt that with good will on all sides—including the local Conservative county council and the local district council—I am sure we will reach a conclusion.

Mr. Ellwood: We have been waiting 10 years.

Margaret Hodge: That is not an answer. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would have taken a similar decision had he been sitting on this side of the
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House. We could not afford to undertake the scheme that was on the table and we need to find a lasting, better and—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Topical Questions

T1. [172217] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): Among the responsibilities of my Department is ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy world-class cultural and sporting activity. To that end, in my recent speech to the Youth Sport Trust I announced a review by Sport England which aims to ensure that we have a world-class community sports system. We put in place funding to ensure that all children will have the chance to do five hours of sport a week. Now my Department is working closely with the Department for Children, Schools and Families on a new ambition to give all children a five-hour offer of culture in and out of the curriculum. Our ambitions will be set out in the children’s plan, published this week.

Bob Russell: In view of the serious problems affecting football in England, including the stewardship of the game’s affairs, questionable financial matters, parasitic agents, increasing foreign ownership of clubs and the huge influx of foreign players to the detriment of the national side, is it not time that the Government arranged for a royal commission to consider the long-term interests of English football?

James Purnell: I know that the hon. Gentleman has asked about that before, but I do not think that the solution to the issues arising in English football is for politicians to step in and run it. However, it is important—I suspect the hon. Gentleman and I agree on this—that we all look at our role in making sure that we get over our recent problem with qualification. That means that we must look at our role in school sport, which we are doing—we are going from very few people doing sport to all children being offered five hours. It also means that the Football Association must look at its role and make sure that it does not compromise in terms of the reforms of the FA, that it implements the Burns report recommendations in full, and also that we have as independent chair of the FA someone who has the credibility to do that job as we would all want it to be done.

T2. [172218] Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): Earlier this year, the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, undertook to increase BBC Scotland’s contribution to the national network to more than 8 per cent. However, its current share is very much lower that that, and this has had a consequent effect on commissions to independent TV companies, some of which are based in my constituency and are struggling to survive. I ask the Minister to impress upon the BBC that it must address this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure the survival of the industry in Scotland.

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