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18 Jan 2010 : Column 8

Margaret Hodge: I will indeed to try to visit the exhibition by the university of Sunderland. Many of our universities have excellent museums, and I consider at regular intervals how they are to be funded and sustained to ensure that we maintain the excellence that many of those university museums promote.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): As well as the consternation felt about the cut in the amount of lottery income going to heritage and at the absence of the draft Heritage Protection Bill, is the Minister aware of the consternation in the heritage sector at the original draft of planning policy statement 15, which the Royal Town Planning Institute called

Can she confirm that she is talking to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the redraft offers historic buildings in this country the protection they need?

Margaret Hodge: I am indeed in constant conversation with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about their review of such planning guidance. I hope shortly to bring forward a statement-a cross-Government statement-about the importance of heritage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should try to reintroduce the lost Bill as soon as we possibly can, because it is an important Bill that would demonstrate our commitment to heritage. Until that comes about, however, I hope that my statement about the value of heritage and the work I do with colleagues across Government will reassure the heritage sector that we value its contributions.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): As well as cutting the funding to heritage, does the Minister take note of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, which pointed out that the Department's targets for broadening the audience were unrealistic, obsolete and set without clear evidence, and that free education visits to heritage sites had fallen by 20 per cent.? Is that not another damning indictment of her Department's heritage policy?

Margaret Hodge: At a recent speech, the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) quoted Harold Pinter as saying

I urge the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) to have regard to those words when he sets his questions. The PAC report was not about the heritage sector as a whole; it was about English Heritage. English Heritage contributes to the targets we set across the heritage sector as a whole. Those targets are important, because we want to see who participates and enjoys the vast array of heritage on offer in this country. We will continue with those targets, although we will have regard to the PAC recommendations on other matters that pertain to English Heritage alone.

Channel 4

9. David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): What progress his Department has made on the implementation of the initiative contained in the Digital Britain report to give Channel 4 a new public service remit. [310895]


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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Siôn Simon): A new remit for Channel 4 is being agreed as part of the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently in the other place. Its remit will be extended particularly to cover digital aspects, older children and young adults, as well as to the making and distribution of British films.

David Cairns: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree with me that Channel 4 has made a magnificent contribution to public service broadcasting in this country for well over a quarter of a century? Will he take this opportunity to dismiss any advice to the contrary that he may be receiving and today rule out the privatisation of Channel 4?

Mr. Simon: I am very happy to agree that Channel 4 is overshadowed in its contribution to public service broadcasting only by the BBC. It is an outstanding institution-one that needs to continue to deliver public service in the public sector. The recent proposals by Policy Exchange, the Conservatives' favourite think-tank, to privatise Channel 4 are, I agree with my hon. Friend, as absurd as their creative industries taskforce's idea to get rid of the BBC licence fee.

Museums and Galleries (Admission)

10. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): When his Department plans next to review its policy on free admission to national museums and galleries. [310896]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): The free admissions policy continues to be immensely successful. Visits to museums that previously charged have risen from 7.2 million when we first introduced the policy in 2001 to 16 million in 2008-09-an increase of 124 per cent. My Department, unlike the Conservative party, remains fully committed to maintaining free admission to all our national museums.

Shona McIsaac: I totally agree with my right hon. Friend about the success of the policy of free admissions to galleries in London, but I would like a little of that generosity to flow out from London to support many of our regional galleries, particularly the national Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby, whose opening hours, I am sorry to say, the local Lib-Dem council is going to cut.

Hon. Members: Shame!

Margaret Hodge: While I cannot account for the shameful actions of that Liberal Democrat council, I can assure my hon. Friend that there are museums outside London that also benefit from this policy, such as the national museums in Liverpool, which have had a 279 per cent. increase in visitor numbers, and the Manchester museum of science and industry, where there has been a 158 per cent. increase in attendance.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Like the Government, I am very happy to confirm that we fully support the policy of free admission to museums. Unlike the Government, however, we are prepared to be much more honest about the financial challenges ahead. Last week, the Secretary of State told the RSA that he was confident that he would be able to sustain funding
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for the arts and culture, yet at the same time he has cut funding for the Tate, the Science museum, the national museums of Liverpool, and the Wallace collection. So should the arts world believe what the Government say, or what they do?

Margaret Hodge: First, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will allow me to draw attention to the apparent split in the Conservative party between the Front-Bench spokesperson and the Mayor of London, who consistently says publicly what some Opposition Front-Bench Members say privately about the policy of free admissions. May I also invite the hon. Gentleman to write to me with the details of these alleged cuts, because what I see from all the figures in front of me is that we have recently been able to find additional resources to enable the Tate to go forward with its further development, and that all other museums have enjoyed an increase in this comprehensive spending review?

Mr. Hunt: I would be happy to do so, and also to send the Minister details of a leaked Treasury document saying that non-ring-fenced Departments would face funding cuts of 17 per cent. in order to meet Government spending requirements. We have announced policies to help the arts get through this difficult period, such as reforming the lottery, boosting philanthropy and cutting arts administration. Those are our policies; what are the Government's?

Margaret Hodge: The hon. Gentleman's policies are akin simply to moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. Cutting the lottery fund from many of the very good causes to which it currently contributes in order to substitute for Government funding is no answer. Let me also say to him that we have yet to enter into discussions about the next comprehensive spending review, but he will be aware that we on this team secured a very good settlement last time, although there were cuts across Government. I have no doubt that we can in future persuade our colleagues about the importance of investment in arts and culture from the taxpayer, not through the lottery.

Holiday Lettings (Taxation)

13. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effects on the tourism industry of changes in taxation of furnished holiday lettings. [310899]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): I met my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in December to discuss the tourism industry's concerns about the potential impact of the rule changes on the self-catering sector. I also helped to convene a meeting in December between representatives of the Tourism Alliance, the Financial Secretary and Treasury officials.

Mr. Goodwill: Well, I actually managed to speak to the Chancellor about this before Christmas in one of the Division Lobbies, when I told him how angry farmers in the north Yorkshire moors area are that some of their diversification projects have been holed below the waterline by these changes. If only 10 per cent. of the jobs in this sector go, that will amount to 2,400 jobs. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to think of a way to
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give an exemption to genuine businesses, and not to throw the net around those private people who have holiday cottages, who were previously getting this exemption?

Margaret Hodge: I would be delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he has ideas as to how we can ensure that we implement this change, which is required because of European legislation, in a way that does not damage the particular sector that he mentions. I have been in constant discussion with people in the sector. They have put forward three proposals so far, none of which actually work-we have examined them in detail. If he or any other Conservative Member has any practical proposals to make that would enable us to meet our EU obligations and benefit the sector, I would be more than happy to listen to those and take them forward.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I am afraid that this is yet another example of tourism being pushed to the back of the queue by this Government. The tourism industry is right to ask, "What have this Government done for us?" The tourism budget has been slashed, the sea change funding has all but dried up, the responsibility for English tourism has been thrown into confusion by the introduction of regional development agencies, nothing has been done to harness the opportunities provided by the Olympics, and now there has been a raid by the Treasury on furnished holiday lets. So I ask the Minister: what have this Government done for tourism? The Romans can at least point to the aqueducts and the roads. Let us hear from her how the industry is going to be helped.

Margaret Hodge: The Government invest some £2 billion in support of our tourism industry, and the Conservatives, with their plans to cut public spending before we are properly out of the recession, would damage it far more than we would.

May I give a few examples? This Government introduced free admissions to our museums. Eight out of 10 of the most popular destinations for visitors in the UK are those museums, so we supported the tourism industry by making our museums more attractive. This Government introduced the sea change programme, which has enabled us to invest, through heritage funding and in other ways, to bring back -[Interruption.] May I say to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who is speaking from a sedentary position, that that programme is funded and has been funded? I look forward to a commitment from those on the Conservative Benches that they will continue to fund it as we intend to do.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the Minister. Her answer was a little on the long side, but it was prolonged by excessive chuntering from a sedentary position by Opposition Front Benchers, of which we need to see no repetition.

Sports (Young People)

14. Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): What his most recent estimate is of the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who regularly participate in sport. [310900]


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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): The latest figures from Sport England's active people survey show that more than 31 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds regularly participate in sport-the definition used is three 30-minute moderate-intensity sessions per week. I am pleased to say that that continues the upward trend of sports participation among this age group since 2006, and reflects the good progress that we have made in growing grass-roots community sport over that time.

Derek Twigg: One way to encourage young people to continue in sport after they leave school is to showcase our best sport as widely as possible in the media. Therefore, does the Minister agree that it would be a major mistake if a decision were taken to remove the rugby league challenge cup competition from terrestrial television?

Mr. Sutcliffe: May I congratulate my hon. Friend on putting his question as he did? He will know that we are consulting on the listed system for broadcasting, but he makes a good point about rugby league. I know that that is his favourite sport; it sits alongside his beloved Liverpool football club. It is important that we ensure that people participate in sport and that we use role models in particular sports to encourage young people to take part.

Domestic Film Industry

15. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): What plans he has for future assistance to the domestic film industry; and if he will make a statement. [310901]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Siôn Simon): The UK Film Council annually receives about £25 million of grant funding and £30 million of lottery funding, which it invests in supporting British film. The Government will continue to provide film tax relief; we provided £100 million-worth of tax credit last year. The proposed merger between the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute will create a single streamlined body that will deliver even more for UK audiences and for the film sector.

Mr. Brown: I thank the Minister for his reply. It is reassuring that the British film industry appears to be in a reasonably healthy state. What is the Department doing through other bodies to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to engage in art and drama and, thus, have the potential to become the stars of the future?

Mr. Simon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He is a great champion of such access for people from ordinary backgrounds in his constituency. He is right that British film is undergoing a bumper year, with three quarters of fantastic figures so far and fabulous figures expected tomorrow thanks to 10 years of the kind of investment that I have been talking about. Last week, I visited the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, which cannot be beaten in the world as an elite institution that is bending over backwards to draw in pupils from the broadest possible social base and to support them.


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Libraries

16. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What recent representations he has received on maintaining libraries as a statutory service required from local government; and if he will make a statement. [310902]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): We have received a number of representations on public libraries as part of our modernisation review consultation exercise, including some comments on libraries as a statutory service. We will consider these responses in detail when the consultation closes on 26 January and publish a policy statement incorporating responses to the consultation in the spring.

Tony Baldry: Does the Minister agree that there is always a risk that libraries will end up as something of a Cinderella service? Does she also agree that for those who have listened to this afternoon's exchanges in questions, the idea that the Government will be able to maintain exactly the same spending on her Department after the general election, whoever wins, and that that will simply continue in a steady state, is wholly unrealistic? Is it not time for a collective grown-up debate about how we are going to make savings and reduce the public deficit while causing the minimum danger and damage to public services-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that we have the thrust of his question.

Margaret Hodge: Funding for libraries is actually a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, which funds libraries through the local government settlement and local government grants. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that libraries can become a Cinderella service in many local authority areas, and it was because of that danger that I instituted this review. I want to ensure that we get a library service that is fit for purpose in the 21st century and that can be afforded by local authorities on a firm footing.

Local News Services

17. Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to secure the future of local news services. [310903]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): We intend to secure the future of local and regional news through new regional news consortia, starting with pilots in Wales, Scotland and the Tyne Tees and Border region. Last week, the Government announced the successful bidders that will go through to the next stage of the process. We do not agree with those who appear to believe that the market alone can secure the future of high quality regional news, which is greatly valued by both the public and Members of this House.

Mr. Crausby: Local newspapers, such as The Bolton News, face increasing competition from other media sources. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that Government advertising is steered towards these vital local sources?


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