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House of Commons

Monday 23 July 2007

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—

Renaissance in the Regions

1. Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the impact of the renaissance in the regions programme. [151094]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): Renaissance in the regions is transforming England’s regional museums. More than 13 million visits were made to renaissance hub museums last year, of which 3.7 million visits were made by children.

Mr. Jones: May I first congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to his new post, and add that I am sad that my good friend the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is not on the Conservative Front Bench? Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the north east regional museums hub, which with Government support has generated record numbers of school visits to museums throughout the north-east, including Beamish open air museum in my constituency, which received 43,000 school visits last year? Will he take time out of his busy schedule to visit Beamish museum and the north-east museums hub to thank them for the tremendous work they are doing on behalf of the museum service in the north-east?

James Purnell: I would be delighted to visit Beamish with my hon. Friend and to see the work being done in the north-east. The £1.4 million that has been invested has enabled us to treble the number of visits by children, and Beamish is only one of the many world-class cultural attractions in the north-east. Thanks to the money that has been invested over the past 10 years, culture in Britain is truly world class, and my goal is to make sure that it stays that way.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): May I welcome the Secretary of State to his post and say how much I am looking forward to him and his Ministers visiting Stonehenge? One element of the renaissance in the regions programme is to do with archives of museum and archaeological material. Will he look into the problem in the English Heritage and Department for
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Culture, Media and Sport project for archives in the regions, which has ground to a halt causing a crisis in access to archaeological and museum archives?

James Purnell: I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter in previous questions. Funding for local archaeological services is primarily the responsibility of local authorities, but we are looking into the matter and I would be happy to meet him to discuss any specific concerns he might have.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post. I am sure that he is as enthusiastic about access for his constituents to museums and libraries in Manchester and the north-west as I am about such access for mine. However, is he aware that the renaissance in the regions programme is successful not only because so many young people are visiting our museums and libraries but because many of them come from non-traditional museum and library-visiting homes? Can we ensure that money is in place in the future to enable the programme to continue?

James Purnell: As my hon. Friend knows, we are still in discussions on our spending review settlements and it would be brave to make a commitment before that is decided. However, I can say that I share his strong support for renaissance in the regions. It is not a one-off project; we intend it to be ongoing. It builds on our other great successes in museums policy, such as our free charging policy which is being imitated by the right-wing Government in France—although, it appears, not by the British Opposition Front-Bench team—and is being followed with interest around the world.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box, although I should add that I am also sad that the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) has departed from the post. He is a young man of great promise, and I am sure that he will do well. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of recent Culture, Media and Sport Committee warnings about rumoured cuts to renaissance in the regions funding. Will he assure the House that he will heed those warnings, particularly as we learn today that per capita lottery arts funding in England has fallen to its lowest level ever—a full £1 less than four years ago, and four times lower than in Scotland and eight times lower than in Wales?

James Purnell: As the hon. Gentleman knows, overall lottery revenue has been declining, which explains the situation he describes. We intend renaissance in the regions to be an ongoing programme. It is a successful project and the Select Committee said that it provided the Treasury with an example of an ideal programme to be funded. I am sure that such comments will be taken on board, but we cannot make any announcements before the spending review.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Last Saturday morning I visited Bolton museum and art gallery, where I met one of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s constituents, Frances McIntosh,
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who pointed out that the portable antiquities scheme will run out of funding at some time in the future. Will my right hon. Friend consider the funding of that scheme, because I saw on Saturday morning—part of national archaeology week—that it does excellent work in engaging children in archaeology?

James Purnell: That picks up on the point that was being made by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. I am committing myself to lots of meetings, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that.


2. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): If he will make a statement on the Government’s policy on the casinos proposed under the Gambling Act 2005. [151096]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): I set out my next steps in the written statement that I gave on Monday 16 July. I have written to the 16 local authorities recommended to license a large or small casino to confirm their continued desire to do so.

Tom Brake: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. In September 2004, the Government stated that their approach to casinos would secure protection of the vulnerable and ensure that new, regionally significant casino developments delivered optimum tourism and regeneration benefits. What has changed since that statement, and why was that new-found prudence not mentioned by the Prime Minister and other Ministers when they voted for up to 40 new regional casinos?

James Purnell: I am slightly confused, because I thought that the Liberal Democrats opposed that policy. Perhaps there is a split between the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Front-Bench spokesman on this issue. Our policy is clear: we have listened to the concerns expressed in the House and in the other place and, as the Prime Minister said, the right thing to do is to see whether there are better forms of regeneration than a regional casino. We will be looking at that over the summer and will report afterwards. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman to reconcile with his Front Benchers, with whom he obviously disagrees.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and I have both read his written statement very carefully. It is important to put it in the context of the Prime Minister’s remarks at Prime Minister’s questions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the super-casino has been such a major issue in my constituency has been the need for a major and significant economic regenerator that sustains instead of just building new infrastructure? Will he give me an assurance that the issue of a sustained economic regenerator will be central to his considerations this summer?

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James Purnell: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I gather that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has responsibility for sport and licensing will meet him later this week to discuss that point. Regeneration will be at the heart of those considerations. As my hon. Friend knows, the taskforce looking at his constituency and council area has already met and is due to report shortly. It has been looking at exactly that issue.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Can the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to why, only a week or so ago and from that Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister changed the Government’s policy on casinos at a stroke? Was not the Prime Minister present at Cabinet meetings that endorsed the 888 principle?

James Purnell: It is sensible to listen to what Parliament says. Concerns were expressed in this House and in the other place: we listened to those concerns. I know that the hon. Gentleman was a great supporter of the policy, so he must be very disappointed, but the policy that we have announced is right. We will listen to the concerns that are expressed.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. He has a personal interest in the arts and culture, although I fear that with him behind the roulette table, the country may learn that it is unwise to gamble everything on red.

Was the Cabinet consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino or was it taken from the comfort of a large, soft No. 10 sofa?

James Purnell: There was a proper process of consultation around Government. The Prime Minister and I took the decision together after discussions with colleagues in the Cabinet. It was exactly the right process for taking that decision.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Front Bench, as part of his meteoric rise. I also pay tribute to my predecessor. I am looking forward greatly to working with her in her new role and I could not have greater respect for her. I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, for whom I also have great respect. He made the one cardinal mistake in today’s Tory party of actually having a policy. I am sure that that is not a mistake that the hon. Gentleman will repeat.

Mr. Hunt: I think that the answer is that the Cabinet was not consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino. Is not the confusion that many local authorities now feel about the policy partly caused by the fact that on the one hand we have No. 10 briefing that the Prime Minister is against casinos in principle, but on the other we have the Secretary of State’s statement on 16 July that his Department wishes to support local authorities who want to use casinos as a regeneration tool? What is his policy on casinos, or is it the case that the Government’s left one-armed bandit does not know what its right one-armed bandit is doing?

James Purnell: The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer, because I gave him an exact answer, which was that Cabinet colleagues were consulted, and the
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decision was taken in absolutely the proper way. However, the interesting question is, “What is his policy?”. I have been listening to him for the past few weeks and I have absolutely no idea. Does he agree with his shadow Chancellor, his leader and his predecessor, all of whom said that it was the right decision that the casino should to go to Manchester? Is his party in favour of regional casinos or not?


3. Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the impact of recent security incidents on tourism to England. [151097]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): I am pleased to tell the House that VisitBritain and tourism industry leaders have reported only a negligible impact on tourism, with few booking cancellations.

The firm and effective response by the police and security services did much to reassure domestic and overseas visitors. Likewise, the fact that many high-profile televised events went ahead in London, such as the Diana tribute concert, the Gay Pride march and the Tour de France—in Scotland, there was also the T in the Park festival—did much to reassure visitors.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: Portsmouth is the historic home of the Royal Navy and is held in great esteem and affection by many people from all over the world. We have many naval heritage and service heritage sites, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, both national and international. What advice would my right hon. Friend give those visitors in this time of heightened national security?

Margaret Hodge: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I would advise them to go to Portsmouth because, as she said, there is an enormous amount to see, including HMS Victory, the Mary Rose and Charles Dickens’s birthplace. Of course, to ensure their security we give constant advice on security levels. We in the DCMS work with the Home Office and others to ensure that we give proper advice to all those who provide tourist attractions.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): May I welcome the Minister and the entire new Front-Bench team to their posts? However, the Minister will be aware that security incidents do affect tourism, and there was, for instance, a 7 per cent. drop in visa applications following the 7/7 bombings. In those circumstances does not tourism need more support, not less? Will she therefore explain why the Government have cut the funding to VisitBritain, with the loss of 80 jobs, downgraded the role of the chairman of VisitBritain and delayed yet again the publication of the tourism plan for 2012?

Margaret Hodge: In fact, 2005, which was an extremely difficult year, saw a growth in tourism in London. It is really important for all hon. Members to realise that when there are terrorism threats and security threats, we should not overplay them at the expense of British industry in general and tourism in particular.

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The funding for VistBritain is £50 million, which is much more than when we came into government. Across the public sector, about £300 million goes into supporting tourism, and, of course, the private sector plays a role.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the short delay in publishing the tourism strategy for the Olympics. It is absolutely appropriate, with a completely new team in the DCMS, that we feel that we own that document. I have already had discussions with the industry, which feels perfectly at ease with the fact that the document will be published in September.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady make sure that her Department gets across the message that London is open for business—particularly the west end of London, although the same applies to suburban London, as I am sure that she would make clear? Our theatres, museums, and galleries, as well as a vast array of retail outlets, are very much open for business and very much need tourism, both international and from within the UK.

Margaret Hodge: As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, London is the No. 1 international destination for tourists, and we need to maintain that and ensure that it is sustained in the future. However, we also want to ensure that visitors to London take advantage of the many other tourist attractions right across the UK, so that the benefit is felt by all regions of the country.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): Although the Minister says that there is relatively little change in inward tourism, the fact is that, no matter what measures are taken to deter people by making it more difficult to fly, the numbers increase. The fact is that our seaside resorts are crying out for more tourists. Will she take note of the Select Committee report that identified poor transport links as the real problem of getting people into British seaside resorts?

Margaret Hodge: The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the balance of trade deficit remains a growing one, and we need to address that issue constantly and properly, to encourage more inward-bound tourists and to ensure that more people stay in the UK and enjoy the many attractions that we have here on their holidays. As he knows, in my previous job, I took a particular interest in ensuring the regeneration of many of our seaside towns. I will maintain that interest in my current job. Although he alluded to one issue—transport infrastructure—there are many others, and I look forward to working with him and others who are affected by the decline in tourism at seaside resorts to ensure their proper regeneration, so that they, too, can enjoy the prosperity that the rest of Britain enjoys.

Music Studios

4. Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): If he will discuss with ministerial colleagues increasing Government spending on music studios accessible to young people. [151098]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell): With my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, we have
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asked the former Live Music Forum chairman, Feargal Sharkey, to work with key music industry figures, local and regional government and other potential partners to explore what funding opportunities might exist to establish a network of music rehearsal and performance spaces across the country.

Ian Lucas: I am delighted to hear that announcement from the new Secretary of State. In Wrexham, the energy, enthusiasm and talent of young people has been harnessed excellently by Wrexham youth service and a studio has been opened. It is hugely successful, engaging young people and creating bands for the future. Of course, bands are one of the UK’s greatest exports. I am delighted that he has appointed Feargal Sharkey, who opened the Wrexham studio, to take that forward. Will he please encourage as many hon. Members as possible, from both sides of the House, to get involved with young people and to encourage the opening of studios in their constituencies?

James Purnell: I am very happy to do so, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for helping to bring the project to Wrexham, which will lead the way in rehearsal spaces and has shown the great advantage that they can have, both in giving young people something positive to do and, we hope, in creating successful bands in the future. We are looking forward to working with the music industry to ensure that more such spaces can be opened around the country and that they can provide technical and creative expertise to help the industry to grow.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. He may be aware that Luton Youth Music is quite wonderful, quite superb, with hundreds of young musicians playing music of all kinds. Nine days ago, the Luton Youth Jazz orchestra was judged to be the best youth jazz orchestra in the country at the national youth music festival in Birmingham. May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit Luton to talk to the young musicians and, indeed, the adults who service them to find out what facilities the young musicians would like?

James Purnell: How could I resist? We will ensure that we visit Luton, as well as potentially the constituency of every other Member who is in the House today, and I look forward to doing so and seeing whether Luton can be one of the places that successfully bids for one of those rehearsal spaces.

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