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Margaret Hodge: I have a great regard for my hon. Friend, but I do not agree that the best way to protect and promote good schemes is to leave them untouched. There is always room to see whether we can improve
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the effectiveness of the scheme or find efficiencies. The context in which we run schemes can change, and my hon. Friend will be aware, as I am, of the current fiscal constraints. We have to ensure that we get best value for every £1 we spend.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): As we are discussing archaeology, I remind the Minister that the scheme was started in 1996 by the Conservative Government. How can she describe as a good settlement a 25 per cent. cut in the MLA’s funding, a £3 million cut in its budget and the loss of five posts from a scheme that she herself has said is incredibly successful?

Margaret Hodge: The hon. Gentleman is being selective in his use of statistics. The MLA’s budget has not been cut: it has risen with inflation. However, we have chosen to prioritise within its budget the funding for the renaissance programme, which will ensure that we can conserve, and build on, the great advances that we have made in our regional museums. That is important for all sorts of reasons, not just because we want to conserve those very good collections. Regional museums can provide the first experience of museum visiting for those who cannot travel to the national museums. If children go to museums, they are much more likely to go as adults, so I do not apologise for making that a priority.

Within the remaining funding that is available to the MLA, we have to look for financial efficiencies, but I repeat that this particular scheme has not been cut. The cut of five posts is not justified in relation to the budget figures, although there may be management reasons for it—I do not know. I applaud the MLA, because all hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that it is a good scheme that should continue. However, it should still be reviewed, because that is the responsible thing to do.

National Museums (Children)

6. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): How many children visited national museums in 2006-07. [182027]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Some 8.4 million children under 16 visited national museums in 2006-07. That represents a 79 per cent. increase in child visits since the introduction of free admission for children in April 1999.

Kelvin Hopkins: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. She will know that the renaissance in the regions programme introduced by the Government has been of tremendous benefit to local museums. As a member of Friends of Luton Museums, I know that many more young children have been to our museums as a result of the increased funding. What more will she do to help even more children to go to national museums, especially children who live long distances away?

Margaret Hodge: I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend has done in his constituency. There are two museums in Luton: the Stockwood Discovery Centre, where we are investing £6 million, and the Wardown Park museum, which is about to receive an excellent touring exhibition on ancient Greece from the British Museum. [Hon. Members: “A Tory exhibition?”] A touring exhibition. It is due to open on 3 March.

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What we can do consists partly of what we have already done, which Opposition Members seem to think is not a good idea—ensuring that the renaissance in the regions programme is protected and expanded a little bit in the current comprehensive spending review period. The other thing that we can do involves a programme similar to the very successful sports offer in school, which we introduced, which gives children an entitlement to two hours of sport a week rising to five hours. We are working on introducing a cultural offer giving children two hours a week rising to five hours of experiencing and participating in culture. Part of that must involve going to museums. If people go to museums as children, they are far more likely to go as adults.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Yesterday, I had the privilege of representing the leader of my party in Liverpool at the deeply moving holocaust memorial event. It struck me how difficult it is to convey a sensitive subject such as wartime atrocities to all age ranges. Will the Minister of State join me in expressing admiration for how the Imperial War museum and the Royal Air Force museum, to take but two examples, manage to cover the whole spectrum, supplying information to children at one end and those undertaking the deepest academic research at the other?

Margaret Hodge: It is wonderful to find unity across the House. I concur completely with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. Work is done on that subject by a range of organisations, including our museums, as well as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which does an enormous amount of important work, particularly in schools, to bring to life for this generation the atrocities of past generations. It is hugely important work, and we need to continue it in future generations.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will have heard the comments of the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell), when I raised with him the problems that have occurred as a result of the wonderful success of the free entry programme. The programme has caused problems for museums such as the National Waterways museum in my constituency. He made a very positive statement in relation to the work of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Can the Minister of State give us a progress report and tell us when we will see some positive evidence of delivery to help my museum?

Margaret Hodge: I am aware of the problems relating to the National Waterways museum, and I know that my right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State met representatives from the museum early in his tenure to discuss them. The truth is that it will be extremely difficult for us, given the budget constraints, to introduce new museums into the national family eligible for free admission. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and any others he wants to bring along to discuss alternative funding sources to ensure the continuation of that valuable museum resource in his constituency.

Arts (North-East)

7. Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): If he will make a statement on Government support for the arts in the north-east. [182028]

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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Arts Council England is responsible for Government support for the arts. Its budget for the north-east is £ 13.5 million this year.

Dr. Kumar: May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment, and wish him well for many years to come? The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art is very popular, thanks to financial support from the Government and Middlesbrough council: the funding that has been provided has gone down very well. So far this year, 150,000 people have visited the art gallery. May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit the gallery and see for himself the great success that the Labour Government have created in Middlesbrough?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, both for his question and for his kind invitation. Indeed, I will take him up on it, and go to Middlesbrough at the earliest opportunity. In towns in both the north-east and the north-west, we see the crucial role that arts and culture can play in leading regeneration. I saw it myself in Liverpool on Saturday, where the new Museum of Liverpool is changing the shape of the Liverpool waterfront. He is absolutely right to say that arts and culture can be the centrepiece of successful regeneration programmes, and I look forward to seeing what is happening in his own area of Middlesbrough.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s comments, is he aware of the serious concerns expressed by many arts organisations, including the Compass theatre in Sheffield, that decisions by the Arts Council are dictated more by questions of social engineering than of artistic merit? Will he undertake an urgent review of the guidelines under which the Arts Council operates?

Andy Burnham: May I tell the Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that it is a long-standing principle that the Arts Council should operate at arm’s length from the Department and from Government generally? It would be quite inappropriate for me to breach that principle so soon into my job. In a former role, I made it clear that all public sector bodies should be subject to challenge and that money should be moved around the system to fund greater excellence. I support the Arts Council in what it is doing to ensure that that goal is achieved.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment? The last time the Lindisfarne Gospels visited the north-east at the Laing art gallery in Newcastle, record numbers of visitors came to see them. Would he agree to meet a delegation of people who are campaigning for a return visit of the gospels to the north-east, particularly in light of the exposé in The Journal in Newcastle of the concerted campaign by the metropolitan cultural snobs on the board of the British Library, who have worked hard to try to prevent them from visiting the region again?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful for that question, but I will not pass comment— [ Interruption. ] I hesitate to agree with my hon. Friend, as that would be a sure way to the exit door. However, I would, of course, be happy to meet him and a delegation from the north-east.

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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), has the Secretary of State in the short time in which he has been in post, had an opportunity to see the grant application form from the Arts Council, which asks people who have applied to funding to give the number of members of their management committee who are bisexual, gay, lesbian or heterosexual? Will the Secretary of State explain why on earth funding should be based on people’s sexual orientation, and is funding for the arts in the north-east really dependent on how many gays and lesbians happen to apply for it?

Andy Burnham: I am dismayed by the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I know that he is following the tone set by the Leader of the Opposition, who complained that the Arts Council was giving too many grants to “one-legged Lithuanian lesbians”. That is wrong on two counts: it is not just offensive but it breaches the Arts Council’s arm’s length principle. It is important to point out that the excellent McMaster report, published just a few weeks ago, says very clearly that we should move from measurement to judgment: we should reduce the targets for arts organisations, fund excellence, and give those organisations the freedom to put on the very best possible work for as many people as possible. I entirely endorse that principle, and I do not believe that politicians in the House should meddle in the Arts Council’s decisions.

Participation in Sport

8. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the level of participation in sport in the UK; and if he will make a statement. [182029]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): The 2006-07 school sport survey showed that 86 per cent. of pupils were doing at least two hours of high quality physical education and school sport a week, exceeding the 85 per cent. target.

Mr. Mackay: Hopefully the new Secretary of State believes that sports clubs will play a key role in increasing participation in sport across the country. If so, what does he make of the dreadful figures showing that so few people are members of sports clubs in our country compared with our European neighbours? Could those figures have something to do with this Government having not given sufficient lottery money to sports clubs and having deprived them of money that should have gone to them?

Andy Burnham: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that sports clubs play a hugely important role in encouraging young people and others to take up sport. My constituency has some of the best amateur rugby league clubs in the country, and the Government have supported them through initiatives such as the community club development fund, which has got money through governing bodies straight to the clubs. We have also introduced community amateur sports clubs tax relief, which helps amateur sports clubs. In this job, it will be my passion to increase, improve, help and support the network of sports clubs in this country, which give so much more back to communities than simply the opportunity to play sport.

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Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Stafford Town football club on receiving £670,000 from the lottery and the National Sports Foundation for its community work? Will he accept the suggestion made to me last week by sixth-formers at Wolgarston high school, Penkridge, who said that we should forge stronger links between community amateur sports clubs and schools, so that when young people’s interest in sport is sparked at school, they can continue it outside and after school?

Andy Burnham: I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I am one of those who was unfortunate enough to be at school in the 1980s under a previous Administration. I remember when competitive sport was taken away: I was aged 15 at the time, and cricket and football ended—it was a devastating blow. We need to get those links right, so that we get competitive sport back in schools. We need strong links with local clubs, so that players come through and go on to play for those clubs. That is exactly the right way to go.

Regional Theatre

9. Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): What the Government’s policy is on regional theatre in England; and if he will make a statement. [182030]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Policy on regional theatre is determined by the Arts Council England. It published its theatre policy document in November 2006, and it is available on its website. The document sets out its priorities for theatre from 2007 to 2011.

Mr. Swire: While I imagine that most hon. Members on both sides of the House subscribe to the principle of the arm’s-length funding of the arts, which the new Secretary of State has articulated, equally I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will be perplexed and bemused by some of the recent Arts Council decisions with regard to the regional funding of theatres, not least the Bush theatre in London and, more locally to me, the Northcote theatre in Exeter, which has just received £2 million in renovation grants from the Arts Council and was set to receive its budget grant. Now there has been a volte-face, which I welcome. With the new Secretary of State in his post and the outgoing chief executive of the Arts Council, Peter Hewitt, being replaced by Alan Davey from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, it is timely to have a fundamental review of the guidelines—my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Select Committee Chairman, just asked the Secretary of State for such a review—outlining what the Arts Council should be doing in the 21st century that does not compromise the principle of arm’s-length funding.

Margaret Hodge: The implication of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks is that the only thing that has gone wrong and on which he wants to intervene is the arm’s-length funding. If we were to interfere with that principle, it would kill off freedom of expression, inhibit artistic freedom and destroy much of the excellence in the arts of which we are so proud in Great Britain today. Beyond that, the Arts Council works to
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guidelines set by the Department, answerable to Parliament, in each spending review period. Within that framework, it should be left alone to make the best judgments. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, no final decisions have been made yet—they will be made later this week.

Topical Questions

T1. [182004] Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I take on this new role at a time of tremendous opportunity for culture, sport and media in this country, and I will work enthusiastically to ensure that we make the most of that opportunity. I pay tribute to my predecessor—and, indeed, to my predecessor’s predecessor—for setting the Department on a clear direction towards delivering world-class cultural and sporting activity. I intend to continue that work, and my primary focus will be where the Government’s should be: on the base of the talent pyramid, giving people new opportunities to develop artistic and sporting talents. The Government have made progress, but too much talent is still going unspotted. That is the challenge, in my dream job—to make sure that everyone else has the opportunity to realise their dreams.

Ms Butler: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I echo the good wishes of all Members of the House and congratulate him on his new appointment.

I am the Member of Parliament for the most diverse constituency in the UK. Will the Secretary of State say whether he supports the new McMaster review on excellence, and in particular, its recommendations on diversity?

Andy Burnham: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for her warm welcome. I am happy to endorse fully the conclusions of the McMaster report. People who have read it will have seen that it is the very opposite of elitist. It seeks to reclaim the word “excellence” from those who push an elitist view of the arts. It is not without its challenges. On diversity, McMaster says:

My hon. Friend is right to highlight diversity as an incredibly important issue for the arts in the years to come. There is more to do, but we have set out the right direction in this report, and we will follow it through.

T2. [182005] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The new Secretary of State has a lot of experience of comprehensive spending reviews. In the 2004 review, the Government set a target for the growth of the tourism and creative leisure industries. By 2007, no mention was made of tourism at all. Why was there that change in Government priorities?

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