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House of Commons

Monday 24 June 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Regional Theatres

1. Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): What steps the Government are taking to support theatre in the regions. [61216]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): Following an extensive review of the needs of regional theatre throughout England, the Arts Council of England is, from 1 April this year, investing an additional £12 million in supporting nearly 200 theatre organisations. This figure will rise to £25 million in 2003–04 and after, bringing the total grant-in-aid figure for theatre to £70 million a year.

Paul Farrelly: I thank the Minister for his reply. Perhaps he is aware that the New Victoria theatre in my constituency, a magnificent theatre-in-the-round, is one of the regional organisations to benefit from the largesse of the Arts Council and the Government, with an increase of 50 per cent. over the next three years. Can we expect that commitment to regional arts to continue into the future, silencing those miserable moaners who say that we are doing nothing for the arts outside London?

Dr. Howells: As my hon. Friend points out, the figures represent considerable increases in support for the arts, in particular for theatres. I assure him that the need to continue to support the arts, which is such an important part of investment in this country, will continue.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): In warmly welcoming the Minister's statement, may I ask whether the Arc, Stockton is included in the announcement? Arc was closed last autumn in a most unfortunate way. Will the Arts Council and my right hon. Friend's Department offer safety-net options for theatres that are closed in such an untimely way?

Dr. Howells: I understand that the theatre in question is receiving a considerable increase in funding and a good deal of financial help. I am certain that if the case is put to the Arts Council, it will receive sympathetic consideration.

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Euro 2008

2. Angus Robertson (Moray): What recent discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive regarding the Euro 2008 bid. [61217]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I discussed the bid with interested Scottish Ministers at the devolved Administrations sports cabinet on 18 June last week. My right hon. Friend had previously met the Scottish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport on 18 March to discuss how the Department for Culture, Media and Sport may best support the bid. Officials in my Department have been working closely since then with the Scottish Executive.

Angus Robertson: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure he will join me in welcoming the England football team home following their excellent performances in the World cup in Korea and Japan. Does he agree with me and the majority of people in Scotland that the hosting of a major football competition would have enormous benefits for sport and tourism in Scotland and throughout the rest of these islands? If so, can he assure the House that his Department will give its full and unqualified support for Scotland's joint bid with the Republic of Ireland for the European championships in 2008?

Mr. Caborn: My right hon. Friend confirmed our support to UEFA in April this year, giving a clear indication that the Government gave the guarantees expected by UEFA. We fully support that bid and Ministers have discussed it, but at the end of the day it is a decision for the devolved Administration.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): May I offer my more sincere condolences on England's premature exit from the World cup? Is it not the case that the World cup is a marvellous benefit for the host countries? I thank my right hon. Friend for all that he has done for the joint bid, which has been greatly enhanced by the way in which Ireland performed in the World cup. Does that not show that it was a wise decision for Scotland to go for a joint bid, rather than a sole bid?

Mr. Caborn: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We will support the joint bid, but as I said, it is a decision for the devolved Administration. The British Government have given a commitment to UEFA, but the decision rests with the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Has there been a single achievement or action of the Labour Government in the past five years that makes it likely that any part of the United Kingdom will attract a big international sporting event? Last year, Britain became the first developed country in the world to suffer the humiliation of having to renege on its commitment to host the world athletics championships. Last week, the Secretary of State showed her expertise on football by claiming to have kept in touch via text messages with what was happening in England's World cup match against Nigeria, on the day when everyone else in the country knew that we were playing

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Denmark. Is not the most helpful thing that Ministers could do to assist the Euro 2008 bid to keep their mouths firmly shut?

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman's comments about my right hon. Friend are uncharacteristic.

In the next two or three weeks, one of the largest sporting events in the world, involving 17 disciplines, will be taking place—the Commonwealth games. I think that it will be a huge success for the north-west and for the entire country. A little later this year, the Ryder cup will be taking place. It will be the first team event after the tragic events of 11 September in which we have been involved. We have been helping the organisers of the Ryder cup. Many events are taking place, and it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman keeps harking back to a decision that I believe was taken correctly. It has been acknowledged by international committees that we took the right decision. It has also been acknowledged that it was a courageous decision.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with the Scottish Executive about England's bid for the rugby World cup in 2007? We shall need Scotland's vote to win that bid.

Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend raised the issue with me in the Lobby last week. I have made contact and we are exploring how support can be given.

Ofcom Office (Scotland)

3. Pete Wishart (North Tayside): What recent discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive regarding the establishment of an Ofcom office in Scotland. [61219]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells): The Scottish Executive, along with other devolved Administrations, are aware of our proposals for ensuring that the interests of the different parts of the UK are represented within Ofcom, and we have exchanged correspondence on this issue. This includes the proposal that Ofcom should have an office in Scotland.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I am not surprised that he is being selective in his account of his recent dealings with the Scottish Executive. Will he confirm that the Scottish First Minister has written twice recently describing his concerns about the lack of representation on the Ofcom board? It seems that there has not been a reply to the second letter for four weeks. Following what can only be described as an unseemly and embarrassing squabble between the Minister's Department and the Scottish Executive, with the Scotland Office also getting involved, we find that what we have in Scotland is some small sub-committee that goes no way to satisfying the concerns of the broadcasting community in Scotland. Will the Minister confirm that Scotland is still deprived of a place on the Ofcom board? Does he agree that this can only disadvantage the broadcasting community within Scotland?

Dr. Howells: As someone who in the right mood will cross a road for a row, I can usually pick them up when

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they are around, and I have noticed no squabble between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and anyone in Scotland. The idea is that a small board for Ofcom will react quickly and with energy. The nations and regions of the country will have their interests well represented on the content board.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): Is my hon. Friend aware that at the weekend the managing director of Scottish Television said that he thought that


and that it

Is not that the real voice of those in Scotland who are concerned about broadcasting in Scotland? I suggest that my hon. Friend listens to that voice rather than to the negative voices that we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon.

Dr. Howells: I could not agree more. I am glad that I did not answer the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) with the words, "Never believe anything you read in the press."

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Is Ofcom, whether in England or Scotland, expected in its competition mode to offer any hope to small educational software firms, such as one in my constituency, which are about to find their markets swamped by £150 million worth of BBC educational software? Can anything be done to allay their fears that unfair competition will be practised by the BBC?

Dr. Howells: Competition issues are important and fair trade, as it has come to be known in the sector, should properly be practised and policed. I believe that the Office of Comunications Bill, or at least the Communications Bill, when it becomes law, will provide the means to ensure that there is fair competition for everyone who wants to take part in the sector.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): As the purpose of establishing an Ofcom office in Scotland would presumably be to serve Scottish consumers, will the Minister say whether he considers that those consumers would benefit more if digital terrestrial television offered only free-to-air channels or a mix of free-to-air and pay television channels?

Dr. Howells: That is a matter for the regulator, not for Ministers.

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