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House of Commons

Monday 19 January 2009

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Heritage Listing

1. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): What plans he has for the future of the heritage listing system. [248261]

6. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What plans his Department has to reform the heritage listing system. [248267]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): The draft Heritage Protection Bill contains reforms to the listing system. We remain committed to the Bill and hope to introduce it as soon as parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, we are working with English Heritage to ensure that the current listing system operates as effectively as possible.

Mr. Gray: In England and Scotland, there are 4 million members of heritage organisations such as the National Trust, which does a fine job at Lacock in my constituency. Those members were disappointed that the Heritage Protection Bill was not in the Queen’s Speech; they viewed that as a missed opportunity and hope for a great deal of work to come. The Secretary of State has said elsewhere that the momentum of reform will be maintained, even without the Bill, and the Minister hinted in her answer that the Bill may come back somehow or other in future. How does she intend to maintain that momentum without a Bill, and when will the Bill come back?

Barbara Follett: Like my whole Department, I share the disappointment of the heritage lobbies, but there are other priorities in these difficult and trying times, and the Bill has 300 clauses. However, having been through pre-legislative scrutiny, it remains in good readiness for passage as legislation. We are committed to the Bill.

To maintain momentum, we are working with English Heritage on a revised planning policy statement on the historic environment, and we want to consult on that before the Easter recess. We are also working with colleagues at the Departments for Communities and Local Government and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop a clear statement of the Government’s vision of the priorities for the historic environment. Finally, we are working closely with English Heritage as it invests in local authority heritage training,
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which, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, is much needed, and we are leading a wide consultation on priorities for future designation programmes.

John Howell: Given that now more sites are threatened than are being removed from risk and repairs, why does the Minister not consider that the heritage reform system is already heavily compromised?

Barbara Follett: The Heritage Reform Bill offers us a real chance. My Department and I will do everything that we can to ensure that we get it through and in the interim we will work to make sure that our heritage system remains as it is—that is, strong and thriving.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): As one of those people who is deemed far too stupid to be a Minister, may I ask what Ministers have done to bang the Cabinet table and get the Bill before the House? Although the Bill has 300 clauses, it is the least party politically contentious and the bulk of the work has been done, given the very good pre-legislative scrutiny. What has the Secretary of State said to the people who make the decisions about the parliamentary programme and timetable? What representations has he made? After he leaves the Chamber, will he go to see the Prime Minister to tell him that we want the Bill now? The Commons wills it!

Barbara Follett: Far be it from me ever to agree that my hon. Friend is in any way stupid—he is one of the most astute Members of the House. He is so astute that he must be able to see that a Bill with 300 clauses involves a time problem. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State fought hard for the Bill, both in Cabinet Committee L—anyone unfortunate enough to have been before that will know how difficult it is—and in Cabinet.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The Bill has 300 clauses because we have been waiting 30 years for a piece of heritage legislation—if we wait another year, it will no doubt have 310 clauses, and so on. Among the Bill’s proposals were plans to streamline the complicated and often deeply confusing rules surrounding the protection of the UK’s heritage buildings. Such streamlining would speed up regeneration. Will the Minister reassure the House that the first possible opportunity for the Bill will be taken? Perhaps that opportunity will be the autumn Queen’s Speech, the last of this Parliament—or, indeed, Labour’s first Queen’s Speech in the next Parliament in June 2010.

Barbara Follett: I assure my hon. Friend that we have already taken the opportunity of putting the Bill in for the fifth section of this Parliament— [Interruption.] This Session, I should say—thank you for the correction from a sedentary position. I do not have enormous hope that the Bill will get in, because this is a short Session and it is a long Bill. I agree that 30 years is a long time to wait. I find it interesting that a lot of things in my portfolio have waited a long time. I am an impatient woman, so I intend to get this through.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): We are all delighted that the Minister is going to be impatient. Does she not accept that the case that she is putting
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forward is a terribly thin one? This is the shortest parliamentary Session in recent years and we have the thinnest Queen’s Speech in recent years. By adding a fortnight on to the Session or one Bill to the Queen’s Speech, we could have had this legislation.

Barbara Follett: I have an enormous amount of respect for the hon. Gentleman and all the work that he has done on heritage issues. I know that he shares my impatience. I share some of his frustration, and that will inform my dealings with other Departments and with the Cabinet.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): There has been a long-standing campaign in my constituency for the inclusion of historic Arbroath abbey as a UNESCO world heritage site. That campaign has been thrown into doubt by reports that the Government are to change policy and no longer put forward sites in the UK to UNESCO for inclusion as world heritage sites. Can the Minister say if that is correct and, if so, why there has been this change of policy?

Barbara Follett: As the hon. Gentleman knows, our consultation on world heritage sites is out until 2 February. Once the results of that are known, we will either prepare a new tentative list or not. The site that he mentions has been on the list for a while, and I am sorry about the further delay.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I thank the Minister for confirming that the Secretary of State is a member of Cabinet Committee L, which clearly stands for “loser”, because heritage has lost £100 million from this Government in cuts and £1 million from the lottery. The Bill was supported by Conservative Members and would have passed through without any controversy. Can she bring it back, and can she confirm and guarantee, instead of just hope, that the planning policy statement will come out before the Easter recess?

Barbara Follett: I think that if the hon. Gentleman has a look, he will find that the “L” stands for “legislation”, not “loser”. I advise him to avoid schoolboy humour in this Chamber—it brings it down. I address that remark particularly to those on the Conservative Benches. I will do absolutely everything I can to ensure that we get that planning policy guidance through.

Primary School Curriculum

2. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What discussions his Department has had with the Department for Children, Schools and Families on the review of the primary school curriculum. [248262]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Sir Jim Rose is leading an independent review of the primary curriculum. The curriculum informs early learning and participation in activities of interest to my Department, such as sport and creativity, and therefore my Department has been kept informed of progress. The Government look forward to receiving Sir Jim’s final report and recommendations in the spring.

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Mr. Hollobone: The preliminary proposals from Jim Rose’s review are that physical education be taken out of the curriculum and subsumed into

Understanding physical health and well-being could be delivered without children moving a muscle. Does the Minister share my concerns about that prospect?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Indeed I do. We have made robust consultation proposals to Sir Jim and his review. It is important that we make sure that we invest in primary school sport, as we have done. We are proud that 90 per cent. of schools are offering two hours of sport and PE, and we have an aspiration for that to increase. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and I will ensure that we make the strongest representations.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Minister will know that some young children arrive in primary school with very under-developed social and oral skills and that the creative arts are a good way of developing those. Will he therefore take the opportunity to speak to his Cabinet colleague in the Department for Children, Schools and Families to encourage the inclusion of dance and drama alongside maths and English in the primary curriculum?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that we ensure that youngsters are offered opportunities in those subjects. Our Department is heavily involved in the consultation and review to ensure that those points are well made.

Community Sports Clubs

3. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What funding his Department is providing to community sports clubs in 2008-09. [248263]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Sport England invested £2.25 million directly into community sports clubs in the first half of this financial year. For the period 2009-13, national governing bodies have been awarded a total of £480 million, much of which will be invested in strengthening sports clubs.

Andrew Selous: Notwithstanding the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), many children at school are involved with sports. Given that we have 130,000 sports clubs up and down the UK, what action is the Department taking to ensure that people carry on being involved in sport after they leave school and, indeed, throughout their lives by linking up with community sports clubs?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. According to the most recent participation survey, Bedfordshire has seen one of the biggest increases in participation in sport anywhere in the country—it is well above the national average at 26 per cent. Congratulations to him and his colleagues if they have played a role in that. He is absolutely correct to place emphasis on the important links between schools and clubs. If young people get coaching at an early age in the sports that they like, they develop confidence that
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enables them to remain active in life, making the sometimes difficult transition from playing sport in the school environment, which is perhaps more supportive, to the club environment. As part of our commitment to five hours of sport for all young people, the Minister with responsibility for sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), and I are conscious of the need to make those links work by getting coaches into schools and helping young people to make the transition into local clubs.

Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the crippling increases in water rates being imposed on sports clubs in the north-west by United Utilities? They may well affect his constituency. In my constituency, the water rates for Darwen cricket club are to increase from £220 per annum to a staggering £3,000 per annum, and for Rossendale United football club, they will increase to £1,500. Is there anything my right hon. Friend can do to help?

Andy Burnham: I am aware of that important issue. As my hon. Friend says, it affects sports clubs in my constituency. I pay tribute to Brian Moore, the former England rugby union player, who has done very good work in drawing our attention to the issue. There are two points of action. First, the Sports Minister is seeking a meeting with Ofwat to see what can be done nationally to ensure that sports clubs’ needs are taken into account. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson) needs to be aware that United Utilities is one of two companies nationwide that adopted a policy of calculating rates based on the total area of land, and clubs may need help in explaining their bills to the company, and in challenging those bills. We are working with the Central Council of Physical Recreation and Sport England to give practical advice to sports clubs to help them to challenge their bills if they need to.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): What help can the Secretary of State give to ensure that the Government’s free-swimming policy is taken up by more local authorities, particularly councils that represent those who live on islands or at the seaside, where learning to swim is an essential life skill?

Andy Burnham: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. I have noticed the supportive statements he has made about the free-swimming policy being the means to get young people, older people and everyone else active, and I am grateful to him for that support. Obviously, it is a matter for local councils to adopt that policy and we have said that it will not be imposed on anybody. We are tremendously encouraged that 80 per cent. of councils have opted in to offer free swimming for the over-60s and that some 60 per cent. of councils will make swimming free for under-16s from April. It is a good policy, it goes with the grain of what local government was already doing, and it is for local voters to ask questions of their councils if they have chosen not to take up the Government’s help in this regard.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the members of Grove’s sports and social club, who have just acquired the ownership of that club from BP, having beaten a
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property speculator to the draw? Will he look at the needs of such clubs and ensure that there is a comprehensive package of information available about where they can go for the best advice and guidance on where to get money from, which will address such issues as water rates and other utility bills?

Andy Burnham: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I was pleased to visit his constituency recently to see Vauxhall Motors boxing club. Indeed, there is a good tradition in his constituency of local employers providing high-quality sporting opportunities. We were in the ring together, and I need to sharpen up my act to get my own back on my hon. Friend next time. He is right to say that we need to support sports clubs in every way possible. As I have said, the investment coming through from Sport England will be channelled through governing bodies, and we hope that it will get down to clubs. We need to work to encourage more to take up the CASC scheme—community amateur sports clubs—which we calculate has put £48 million into sports clubs. We need to work to help clubs to understand their water bills, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen was right to draw my attention to that issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) is right on every level: sports clubs are the building blocks of our sports infrastructure in this country. We need to help them in every way that we can.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Secretary of State talks about welcome additional money for community sport, but how can we be assured that it will be put to good use? After all, previous Government money was intended to increase sports participation among the groups that the Government identified as priorities—black and minority ethnic groups, women, the disabled and people on low income. Indeed, the Government set clear and precise targets for improvements in each of those groups. Can the Secretary of State explain why every single one of the targets that they set has been missed, and why in some cases their policies have led to reductions in participation?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman is right to challenge me and the sports Minister on these issues, and I hope that he will carry on doing so, as they are clearly incredibly important. However, the picture is more mixed than he acknowledged, or than the press release that he recently put out suggested. Overall, half a million more adults are playing sport, which is a really good sign of progress.

More people are taking up sport, but the hon. Gentleman is right that there is a worrying decline in participation among some groups. I see the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) nodding, and indeed there are particular issues to consider about participation in sport in London. I am happy to continue to be challenged by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on these matters, but I hope that he will acknowledge that the overall trend is up. That is a good thing, and in this Olympic period I am sure that he will join us in wanting to drive it up further among all groups in society.

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