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Andy Burnham: I am aware of the community radio service that the right hon. Gentleman mentions and I think it particularly focuses on younger people, which is
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very welcome. As part of the review that I just mentioned, the rules under which community radio operates are being considered, so we want to look at those things together. I think that he would acknowledge that community radio is still in many ways a fledgling industry—it is only a few years since the first station started—but it is developing and growing. We already have established radio stations that provide an excellent service to their community and we want to work pragmatically to ensure not only that community radio can continue to develop but, with one eye on the rest of the media industry, that it does not threaten the development of commercial services.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend look at the issue of grant finance? The grant finance introduced at the start of my community radio station, Stroud FM, was absolutely crucial, but there is an issue about how that grant finance can continue over time, because of course all the people running the station are volunteers. Does my right hon. Friend accept the importance of the grant regime and will he look at it to see whether there are ways in which we can expand it and make slightly different use of it?

Andy Burnham: I certainly endorse the importance of those points. The money that DCMS has made available has helped to develop community radio, although I acknowledge that the more community radio stations there are, the more thinly the money has to be spread, so I take on board the general point that my hon. Friend makes. We can look at the issue again, but in the long term community radio also needs the unlocking of sources of funding at local level. I promise my hon. Friend that I will look at both those things together. Having been involved at the very beginning, when the first White Paper came along suggesting community radio as a good development, I am very committed to it and I want to work with the community radio sector to develop services around the country.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): The Secretary of State is right in saying that community radio is a fledgling industry, but is he aware that the services provided by those stations are incredibly important and popular? As it is a new industry, will he remove the dead hand of government from the regulatory consultation he is going through and let those stations flourish and deliver to local people the kind of local service they are beginning to miss?

Andy Burnham: A moment ago, I was being asked for more of the dead hand of government to help the stations along their way, so the hon. Gentleman needs to acknowledge—as I think he did—that the sector is at a very early stage of development and we have to get the process right and think it through at every stage. The other point is that there is pressure on the commercial media industry at local level, as we were just discussing, so in relaxing any rules that affect community radio we have to be aware of the knock-on effect that that might have on commercial radio or even local newspapers if everybody is competing for a smaller ad spend locally, but I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I have visited lots of community radio stations and they do a skilful job locally, but we need to take things forward carefully.

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Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): Given that 40 per cent. of local radio stations—probably more now—are losing money, is it not time that the Government stopped dithering and came forward with clear proposals, not just on local programming, but on co-location, media ownership and digital switchover? We need legislation and proposals not in a few months’ time but now, so that local, community and commercial radio can survive, if not thrive.

Andy Burnham: I am not sure what I can say; I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. There could not be a more focused process than the “Digital Britain” process, overseen by Lord Carter. It was precisely because of that issue that the Prime Minister appointed Lord Carter to conduct that detailed piece of work, which looks at the content industry and at infrastructure—and I did not hear any calls for that from the Opposition at the time. We will have the final recommendations in the spring, or perhaps—

Mr. Vaizey: When?

Andy Burnham: I will not give a firm commitment, but it will be well before the summer recess. Unless the hon. Gentleman has alternative proposals to feed in, or unless he is clear about what needs to be done, he should say that we are right to conduct that process. We will bring forward our proposals shortly.

Free Swimming Schemes

4. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): What plans he has to assist local authorities to participate in his Department’s free swimming schemes. [259230]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): We have already made available £10 million of capital funding for pool modernisation for those local authorities that have chosen to participate in both elements of the Government’s free swimming programme, and by way of revenue funding. Those local authorities have also been encouraged to apply for a further share of the £50 million capital. We are putting in place a national network of county swimming co-ordinators, who will offer expert advice and support to all participating local authorities and pool operators. That will help them to identify and deliver on priorities, such as reaching out to deprived areas and vulnerable groups. There will also be a “learn to swim” package, which will enable participating local authorities to target free swimming lessons at particular groups.

Derek Wyatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that. In my constituency, 41 per cent. of the population are either over 60 or under 16. After making a freedom of information request, I found out that the local authority was not prepared to spend a mere £3,000 to allow free swimming. We have missed the boat this time; could he suggest a second way in, so that we could go back to the authorities and say that, for £3,000, they ought to come into the scheme?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work to try to promote the idea of free swimming. I am shocked and saddened that for the sake of £3,000 his local authority was not prepared to offer free swimming
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to the over-60s in his area. It is mostly Labour authorities that have successfully implemented free swimming. We will make sure that his local authority is considered in the next round.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The Minister will, I know, accept that all local authorities would love to provide free swimming for the over-60s and the under-16s, but the fact is that when a local authority is as badly funded as Wiltshire, it is extremely difficult to do so. Will he stand by his pledge to provide free swimming for everyone by 2012? Will he achieve that?

Mr. Sutcliffe: We have said that we wanted free swimming first for the over-60s, then for the under-16s. That idea came from local government—from areas such as Wigan and Durham, which introduced free swimming. At one time, only 40 local authorities—usually Labour authorities—provided free swimming. Now 290 local authorities—82 per cent. of them—provide free swimming for the over-60s. They are working with local partnerships, local primary care trusts and other organisations. I am sad to say that, on occasion, some local authorities—they are usually politically motivated—have not put forward plans, although it could have been to the benefit of everybody if they had done so.

Sport (Young People)

5. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What recent steps the Government have taken to encourage young people to participate in sport outside school activities. [259231]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): We will offer five hours of high-quality physical education and sport per week to every child who wants it. Nine out of 10 children now participate in two hours of PE and sport in school, but schools alone cannot deliver the full five hours, so through our PE and sport strategy for young people we are providing diverse sporting opportunities in a range of community settings. We are building links between clubs and schools, providing opportunities for young people to lead and volunteer in sport, and recruiting more coaches, to be deployed in school and community settings. That is being done through Sport Unlimited. We have also delivered exciting and non-traditional sports in a range of settings to over 80,000 children since September 2008.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but can he say what he is actually doing to encourage schools to open after hours, and particularly to get children from poorer families to participate in sport? The situation is not uniform up and down the country; some kids go without sports. I remind my hon. Friend that the Opposition did immense damage to sport in school when they were in power.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I commend my hon. Friend for his work in Coventry on promoting sport and its values. We are pleased with the number of people who are given the two-hour offer, and we want to try to get to hard-to-reach groups, which usually include girls and people with disabilities. We must work with sporting clubs and sport governing bodies to ensure that the offer is given
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to them. That is why we will target those hard-to-reach groups through the funding from Sport England. As I said, we are already improving the two-hour offer to five hours by working with the Youth Sport Trust, so that there are great sporting opportunities. I believe that the whole House would accept that that is a massive improvement on the situation that existed before, when competition in schools was virtually nil.

Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Given that 4 million men and only 2.8 million women regularly participate in sport, what more can be done to bridge that gap?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. That is an immense challenge, and we can meet it in many ways. We are focusing on particular policies through Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and UK Sport, but there must also be a culture change, with role models among women sports personalities being portrayed in schools or communities throughout the country, so that people can see how good they are. That will inspire young girls in particular. We know that there is a drop-off rate among girls, particularly at 16, and we want to ensure through our programmes that we challenge those statistics, and that women’s and girls’ sport is improved.

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fantastic job that he is doing on this matter. It is a far cry from what we inherited in 1997— [Interruption.]—when less than 20 per cent. of the kids in our schools were getting two hours of sport. We have increased that to 90 per cent., which means that there is 3 million hours a week more sport in our schools. As my hon. Friend the Minister says, we are going to build on that. We have stopped the rot of the previous Administration, and we are building for our schools and youngsters of the future.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I agree with my right hon. Friend. If it were not for his hard work as Sports Minister to undo the rot left by the Conservatives, we would not be in the position that we are in today. We now have a sound foundation of sporting infrastructure to build on, so that we can reach those difficult groups.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Following the self-congratulation, will the Minister acknowledge that having community sport for hard-to-reach and other young people requires at least some funding? Does he recall that, in 2000, the then Prime Minister made a wonderful announcement—the Government are good at announcements—of £750 million for school and community sport? That money was meant to be spent by 2003. Will he explain why, six years later, £75 million of it has still not been spent? With 3.6 million young people not meeting the recommended target for activity, were there not a lot of good uses for it?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s criticism. He should be congratulating the Government on the amount of money that has been spent on school sport and its infrastructure. He will know that we have 470 sports colleges, 450 school sport partnerships, 226 competition managers and the best infrastructure for sport in schools that there has ever been. We should not be criticised; we should be congratulated.

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Regional Theatres

6. Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): What progress his Department has made on audience development schemes for regional theatres. [259232]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): Audience development is a core objective of Arts Council England. That is why, earlier this month, it launched its “A Night Less Ordinary” scheme to give 618,000 free theatre tickets to people aged under 26 over the next two years. Arts Council England’s projected spend on theatres is £318 million during this spending review period, an increase of 8 per cent. on the previous period.

Rob Marris: I congratulate the Government on that excellent scheme, because a visit to the theatre can be life-changing. In my region, the west midlands, we are blessed with many outstanding theatres, including the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon. Unfortunately, the excellent Grand theatre in Wolverhampton does not seem to be participating in the free ticket scheme. Will my hon. Friend reconsider the participation of the Grand theatre?

Barbara Follett: The Grand theatre in Wolverhampton was not in the final choice that Arts Council England made from an extraordinarily strong field of candidates—so strong, in fact, that it issued more awards than it had originally planned. The Drum, the Repertory and the Hippodrome theatres, along with the RSC in Stratford, are involved in the scheme, and I hope that young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency can benefit from that opportunity.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Promoting regional theatres is also important for economic development and regeneration. Unfortunately, in Croydon, which suffers from such challenges, arts funding has declined in terms of council support for the Fairfield halls and the Warehouse theatre. Can the Minister give any advice on trying to tackle the decline in the arts and arts funding in the London borough of Croydon?

Barbara Follett: In fact, arts funding nationally has risen, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Croydon, and I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that in detail and see what can be done to help.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are to boost regional theatre audiences, we need more confidence in the regions? We have already got rid of the regional activity of libraries and museums, and we now seem to be running down the Arts Council. When will she support the Arts Council’s regional work more vigorously?

Barbara Follett: I assure my hon. Friend that, as I am a regional Minister, the regions and particularly arts activities in the regions are extremely close to my heart. They are not being run down; they are being reorganised and, I hope, strengthened.

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Broadcast Media (Disabled People)

7. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to extend the accessibility to disabled people of broadcast media. [259233]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): The Communications Act 2003 sets minimum targets for subtitling, signing and audio description on television and places a duty on Ofcom to ensure that those requirements are met. Ofcom will undertake a review of television access services this year, and we will await the conclusions of that review.

Paul Flynn: Does my right hon. Friend agree that modern technology has been an immense boon to millions of people who have disabilities, by extending their horizons and enriching their lives? Is it not good to see many people with disabilities presenting television programmes, and the facilities provided by audio description which allows television programmes to be fully comprehensible to the 2 million people in this country who are partially sighted or blind? The companies are obliged to put text on 80 per cent. of their programmes, but only 10 per cent. of them are audio described at the moment. Should we not double that before the digital changeover happens?

Andy Burnham: I agree entirely about the power that digital television brings. Last year, we changed the core receiver requirements under the digital switchover help scheme to give single-button access to audio description services, and we are looking at this all the time to see how we can go further. My hon. Friend and I attended a reception in the House with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which is campaigning to go further on audio description targets. As I said, Ofcom is looking at the issue, so I will have to wait for its review, but he may know that Sky announced last week that, from the beginning of this month, it will voluntarily double its target to 20 per cent. I should like other broadcasters to follow that lead and voluntarily and independently increase the amount of audio description, but we will follow through with Ofcom and come back to the issue later in the year.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Despite the deliberations of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on his blog, I should like to put on record my support for his comment today about audio description. Indeed, may I encourage the Secretary of State to convey the cross-party consensus in the House to Ofcom to ensure that the 3,000 people who are either blind or visually impaired in Shropshire, and, indeed, those throughout the country, benefit from audio description when the digital switchover takes place?

Andy Burnham: I certainly welcome what the hon. Gentleman says, and I think that he is right to raise the issue. There has been cross-party support for the early-day motion that has been tabled on the subject. Of course, that must be balanced against some of the very real pressures that the media industry is facing, and we have been discussing some of those issues today. We all want to go further, but in a sustainable way. That is the key issue that Ofcom is addressing, but the hon. Gentleman should have no doubt about my intention to keep a close eye on the issue and to make progress where we can.

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Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the initiative that he personally has taken in accelerating the work on audio description? The current window of opportunity in respect of digital switchover or analogue switch-off is enormously important for people with visual impairment. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to publicise that, and to persuade television companies that there is an audience out there who, as a result of this process, will be able to benefit from our maximising the number of programmes that have audio description, along the lines of the plea, to which I know he is sympathetic, made by the RNIB?

Andy Burnham: May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work on this issue? He has been a determined campaigner on these matters since I took on this job, and some of the progress we have made is in many ways down to his determination. He makes a very good point about these services being attractive more generally to television viewers, and I think Sky’s decision last week can be seen in that light. We would all like to go further, and my right hon. Friend is right to say that when nearly everyone is talking about a particular television programme, it is very excluding for certain sections of the community if they cannot join in that conversation in the pub or at work, or wherever. These are important matters, therefore, as they are about having a society in which everyone is involved and about enabling everyone to play a full part in the cultural life of the nation. That is something I want to do in my job and, as I said a few moments ago, we want to go further, but we will do so when we hear Ofcom’s advice.

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