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Delivery Agreements

4. Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): When he last met Arts Council England’s chief executive to discuss delivery agreement monitoring; and what the outcomes of that meeting were. [212569]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): The Secretary of State and I have regular meetings with the chair and the chief executive of the Arts Council. We will meet them at the beginning of July to discuss the new three-year funding agreement and arrangements for monitoring.

Ms Barlow: Brighton and Hove arts commission has benefited from Arts Council England and Millennium Commission funding over the past few years, which has made a huge difference. The making a difference programme itself has put on nearly 2,000 performances and 300 events. Will the Minister tell me how she believes such funding will benefit not only the cultural diversity of my city but the run-up to the cultural Olympiad in 2012?

Margaret Hodge: We are very proud of our record of investment in culture. Two out of three people nowadays go to a performance of some kind every year. All the figures show that, with a real-terms increase in spending, people’s participation and enjoyment of cultural experiences has more than doubled. Much of the work over the last decade or so—and, indeed, the work that we will be taking forward—has been to widen the pool of people who enjoy culture. Many who were perhaps disadvantaged in the past are now getting the benefit of that. In my visits to theatres, concerts, art exhibitions and dance performances, I am increasingly proud of the growing diversity of the audience and of the participation in those media.

Tote

6. Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): What progress he is making on future plans for the Tote. [212571]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The Government have now received advice on the strategic sale options to
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which I referred in my written statement to the House on 5 March this year. The Government are considering that advice and will announce as soon as possible how they intend to proceed.

Mr. Wallace: It is now some seven years since the Government gave their manifesto commitment to privatise the Tote for the benefit of racing. As a result of dithering and failures in policy, the work force and the management are now still unclear about the Tote’s future. Will the Minister please give a commitment to a final date when we will really know the future for the work force and the management so that we can ensure that the Tote continues as an independent successful model that benefits racing and Wigan?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I know that the hon. Gentleman, along with other Members, takes a close interest in the Tote’s future—not only its development, but what will happen to its staff. The Goldman Sachs report is now with us and we will take a decision on the way forward at the earliest opportunity.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): What recent meetings and discussions has the Minister had with representatives of the British Horseracing Authority? Will he reassure the House that once the sale of the Tote has been completed, racing will receive its fair share of the sale as soon as practicably possible?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I know that my hon. Friend, as co-chair of the all-party racing and bloodstock industries group, takes a keen interest in this issue. He will understand the complexity of the issues we face in trying to meet our manifesto commitment while also giving 50 per cent. back to racing. I have had recent meetings with the British Horseracing Authority, the Racehorse Owners Association, the Racecourse Association and others, and they all have a view on what should be done with the 50 per cent. amount after the sale. First things first, however, as we need to take a decision on the way forward, and when we have done that we can talk to the racing authorities about how to divvy up the profits.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): After seven years of dithering, incompetence and indecision, what confidence can the horse racing industry have in this Government to deliver any benefit to it from the sale of the Tote when Goldman Sachs is now reporting a £90 million black hole in the accounts and the price tag for the Tote has reduced by £100 million since last year alone?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not accept at all that there has been dithering. The issues are complex, involving state aid rules, the price of the Tote and how to give money back to racing. I believe that we have already shown in our discussions with the racing bodies that we are keen to move forward quickly and we will do so. We will honour the commitments that we have made.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Have we not already gone through plan A, plan B and plan C to get to the current plan D, and cannot we only surmise how many more alphabetic characters are to follow? Will not Brussels in any case veto any deal that
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redistributes any significant part of the proceeds to the racing industry; and in that light, should we not abandon the whole sorry saga?

Mr. Sutcliffe: We could do that, but it would be the wrong direction of travel. What we have to do is look at the options made available to us through the report that I mentioned. We will study it as quickly as we can and then take the appropriate decisions. In the interests of racing and of the staff who work at the Tote, I believe that we have to move forward. It is important to consider all the options, which I hope to do as quickly as possible.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Half the proceeds of the sale would be welcome to racing, if indeed the Minister can get that past Europe, but probably more important is the ongoing contribution that the Tote makes year on year to racing. If the Tote is sold on the open market, how will he guarantee that the money remains available to racing year after year after year?

Mr. Sutcliffe: That is the difficulty if we sell. We will also have to determine what the 50 per cent. should go to by working through what the definition of “racing” should be. Everybody in racing thinks that they should receive the 50 per cent. following the sale, but I have tried to get the racing industry to be more modern in its outlook, which is why we have tried to find a different way of dealing with the levy.

Whether it is with the pitch tenure positions or with the Tote, we are positively engaged with racing. All round the House, there are people who support racing and know that it is a great sport, but we have to try to move from a mentality of looking for handouts and towards the sport standing on its own two feet.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): There is a sense of déj vu: I understand that this question has been posed to the Government more than 40 times since 2001, when the manifesto commitment was made. The Minister must, at some point, make a decision—not only on the Tote, but, as he mentioned, about on-course bookmakers and the future of the levy. To add to that, we have the eagerly anticipated announcement, so to speak, on stakes and prizes. I plead with the Minister: may we please have some support for the £4 billion racing industry?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I will not take any lessons from the Conservative party on investment in racing. We have worked properly with racing to ensure that it modernises, which is why we have seen great developments and great strides forward. The issue involving the Tote is complex and governed by state aid rules. We want to ensure that we act in the best interests not only of racing and the people who work at the Tote, but of the taxpayer. On the other issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions, we will make announcements very soon.

Television Services (Sight-impaired People)

7. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): If he will take steps to encourage the incorporation of voice-over narration and talking menus for elderly and sight-impaired people in the digital switchover process. [212572]


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The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Blind or partially sighted people and those aged 75 or over are two of the groups eligible for the digital switchover help scheme. Voice-over narration, or audio description, is accessible through the equipment provided by the scheme. Recent trials of a talking electronic programme guide developed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People appear promising and will be kept under consideration by my Department in relation to the scheme.

Alun Michael: I am sure that the RNIB and others who are concerned about people with sight impairment will welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. I am sure that she appreciates that the digital switchover, which could open up access to so many services, might extend the digital divide unless this process is put in place expeditiously.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to ensure that voice-over narration and talking menus are made available without delay through the core receiver requirements and for the set-top boxes that are available through that support scheme, which she mentioned? Will she also ensure that they are in place and available in good time for switchover in south Wales and my constituency of Cardiff, South and Penarth—that is, the middle part of next year?

Margaret Hodge: First, I acknowledge the contribution that my right hon. Friend made to digital switchover during his time as a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. He is right to say that if we do not get this right it will increase the digital divide just when the opportunity of digital switchover ought to extend access to more programmes. We will ensure that audio description is integrated into the offer for all who need it. If we make progress as swift as technology allows on the electronic programming guide, clearly we will want to incorporate that, too, into the digital switchover programme.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Is the Minister aware that switchover in the borders later this year will affect hundreds of disabled and elderly people for whom it is essential that controls and menus are easy to use, if they are able to access digital TV at all? Will she assure the House that an individual’s need, not the cost, will be the deciding factor in which type of digital receiver is provided, because some disabled people find freeview easier to use than Sky?

Margaret Hodge: Indeed, we must ensure that individuals have access to the system that suits them best. We have been working to ensure that the equipment available is accessible not just to the general population but to those with the greatest need, who might find it difficult to use buttons on a handset or whatever. That concern has driven our negotiations with manufacturers over the nature of the equipment.

Swimming

8. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What the timetable and procedure will be for local authorities to apply for funding from the swimming challenge fund. [212573]


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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): We are working with the Amateur Swimming Association, the Local Government Association, Sport England and others to develop the arrangements for implementing the scheme. We will issue guidance to local authorities as early as possible, and, in any event, in plenty of time to allow them to prepare for setting budgets in the autumn. I will make a further statement, outlining progress, before the House rises for the summer recess.

Mr. Kidney: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. We dived into the swimming pool for Questions 1 and 2, and now we are on the surface for some swimming. Will he note that in Stafford the local council has just opened a brand-new, modern-design swimming pool, which has plenty of happy swimmers? The council is very interested in the scheme, but is anxious to know the criteria so that its plans for a new swimming pool can fit them. May I urge him to keep to the timetable that he has described, and to consult local government about design?

Andy Burnham: We have been very grateful for the help, co-operation and advice of the Local Government Association so far, and we will continue to have the closest possible dialogue with it in taking the scheme forward. As I said, the intention is to have a partnership with local government, not to impose anything on anybody. We want councils voluntarily to come up with the basic idea, and to help make swimming as free as possible. It is a fantastic statement to the public that brand-new facilities such as those described by my hon. Friend are available free. We will start with the over-60s and then hope to make progress on the under-16s. We will give details before the summer recess, which will allow his council to plan accordingly.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In many parts of the country, local authority swimming pools are already very busy, whereas swimming pools in private gyms are often underused. Has the Minister thought about encouraging the participation of the private sector in the initiative?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In the past few years, many private sector pools have opened, and making the best possible use of them is a matter for local decision making. As I said earlier, more local authority pools have opened than have closed, which is in itself a positive statement. In constructing the scheme, we want to provide the capital that is available to those local authorities that are prepared to do most. If the hon. Gentleman will accept the logic, the more that people use pools, the more that such local authorities deserve help with the maintenance and improvement of facilities. He makes a good point: some councils’ pools are run by private organisations on a contractual basis. I am prepared to be flexible to help all councils make the best possible use of the pools located in their areas.

Ticket Touts

9. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): If he will introduce legislative proposals to tackle ticket touts. [212574]


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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The Government do not intend to introduce new regulation to tackle ticket touting. Ticket touting is banned for football matches on public disorder grounds, and for the Olympic games in 2012 to meet International Olympic Committee bid conditions. The Government have consistently taken the view that the consumer interest comes first, and market-led measures to benefit consumers are a far better option than the burden of legislation.

Chris Bryant: I thought that the Minister would say that, and I must say that I profoundly and utterly disagree with him. The truth is that ticket touts are parasites who prey on the legitimate interests of fans and the sporting and cultural achievements of this country. As he says, ticket touting is illegal in relation to the Olympics and football. Why should it be legal in relation to Wimbledon or big arts events? Let us make it illegal.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I have sympathy with my hon. Friend. As he knows, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport failed to reach a consensus on the issue. He sits on the Committee—

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): No, he doesn’t.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Well, he did; anyway, he has been vociferous in his support for making ticket touting illegal. The consumer should come first. First, we want to work with the governing bodies to see what the primary market can do to stop ticket touting. Secondly, we want to work with the secondary market to see what safeguards can be put in place in future. A market-led approach is better than a legislative one.

Topical Questions

T1. [212533] Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Today, I shall place the interim report from the digital radio working group in the Libraries of both Houses. Millions of people are already enjoying the benefits of digital radio, and I believe that radio must have a digital future if it is to remain relevant.

I am pleased that the working group has set a possible framework for digital radio migration, but a number of issues must be resolved before a decision on the framework can be made, not least the impact of digital migration on consumers. I look forward to the group’s final report at the end of the year, and to considering what steps can be taken to build a strong digital future for radio.

Tom Brake: What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills about the consultation that that Department is conducting on informal learning, especially on the future of courses such as the exercise class that I attended at the Sutton College of Learning for Adults last Friday? Such provision is key to the delivery of the 1 per cent. increase in participation in physical activity
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that the Secretary of State wants to see. Can he promise some joined-up government and no cuts in exercise-related adult learning classes?

Andy Burnham: I have had one discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Both he and I recognise that the worlds of sport, music, the arts and culture have the potential to contribute enormously to informal learning provision for older people.

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s broad suggestion. The discussions are at the earliest stage and I do not want to imply that they are anywhere near finished, but I am thinking about how the DCMS world can make a contribution, and I will keep the hon. Gentleman up to date on progress.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) (Lab): The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) raised the issue of the Tote. May I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that there is a wider issue for the industry as a whole? In constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), literally hundreds of jobs are at stake. It is important for the final decision to be right for not just the short term but the long term. Will it take account of the fact that in metropolitan areas such as Wigan, investment of this kind has been a driver for change in the labour market over the past decade? We should like that change to be sustained through the ensuring of good access to the excellent jobs that the Tote currently provides.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner). Both have shown considerable interest in matters relating to the Tote, especially those involving the work force. The decision will affect 600 jobs, so it is important that we get it right, not only for the taxpayer but for people who work in the north-west. I shall be happy to meet both my hon. Friends later today to discuss the issue in more detail.

T2.[212534] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): In November 2004, the most exciting archaeological discovery for decades occurred: the discovery of the only Roman chariot-racing stadium in Britain. The setting of the Roman circus is now threatened with residential development. Will the relevant Minister come to Colchester with officials and representatives of English Heritage? This is a matter of national and international importance, and more than just a matter for a local authority to determine.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): I am always interested in issues of national importance. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to me with the details so that I can consider this matter properly. If it requires me to visit his constituency, of course I shall be happy to do so.

T3. [212535] Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State assure me that people in West Lancashire—including Skelmersdale, where there appears to be a problem—will be able to go on receiving television programmes after the analogue signal is switched off next year?


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