HC Deb 20 May 1996 vol 278 cc6-8
5. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will make a statement on her Department's policy in respect of the contribution of the performing arts to urban regeneration. [28761]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The performing arts have considerable potential to regenerate urban areas by attracting tourism and inward investment, creating jobs and wealth, and improving the quality of life of local residents.

Mr. Cunningham

Given that answer, what positive plans has the Secretary of State to encourage young people to move away from criminal behaviour? The latest statistics show that 60 per cent. of young people are involved in criminal behaviour in some form. Will she make some positive plans for those young people in the west midlands, and especially in Coventry, where there is a problem in my constituency?

Mrs. Bottomley

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's question because, of all my aims for the Department, it is a priority to encourage youngsters to participate in practical activities, the arts, sport and heritage. That is why we have changed the national lottery rules to enable us to invest in talent and in training and coaching schemes. Only recently, we launched a document entitled, "People Taking Part", which describes the many ways in which different arts organisations have encouraged further participation.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his local organisations to apply to the lottery distribution bodies for the great benefits that are now available, in addition to the 24 awards—amounting to £2.5 million— that have already been awarded to his part of the world.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Does my hon. Friend recognise the importance of the performing arts to rural areas as well as urban regeneration, as many people who live in rural areas find it difficult to reach urban areas? I am thinking in particular of facilities in my constituency such as the cinema, which provides an excellent service and is full of character, and the village halls, where a number of amateur productions take place. They would be extremely grateful for support from the national lottery and other funds. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that even the Labour party now reluctantly admits the great success of the national lottery?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is right to spell out the needs of rural as well as urban areas and the opportunities that can be provided through the national lottery. He will know that, only recently, the Millennium Commission announced the funding of up to 250 millennium halls to provide a focus for community life that brings people together and provides a great deal of enjoyment.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the Festival of Britain and not the national lottery brought about the regeneration of the south bank and made it such an exciting magnet to people all over the world who are interested in the arts? It would be a tragedy if the right hon. Lady, presiding over the Millennium Commission, failed to pull off the Greenwich project to regenerate east London. That project—which is to celebrate the millennium—should not depend on private funding.

Mrs. Bottomley

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman recognises the huge regeneration potential of the millennium festival. It involves a great deal of complex planning. He will be reassured to learn that the timetable for decontamination is well under way, although a number of details still have to be addressed. The national lottery enables Britain to fund a celebration that, so far, appears to exceed that planned by any other country.

The hon. Gentleman will also know that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has announced a ministerial team to support the work of the festival to ensure that, when final decisions are made, Government Departments can respond appropriately and swiftly.

Mr. Congdon

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the South Bank centre, including the Royal Festival hall, has made a major contribution to the performing arts in Britain? I know that she is aware that the South Bank centre has proposed an imaginative scheme that not only would improve performing arts at the South Bank centre, but—and perhaps even more crucially—would have a major effect on regeneration of the south bank. As the Royal Festival hall was built at the time of the Festival of Britain in 1951, does she agree that the refurbishment and improvement of the South Bank centre would be a fitting achievement in time for the millennium?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend makes a strong plea for the merits of the application by the South Bank centre. It is being considered by the Arts Council along with a great number of other projects, many of which are situated in London. The distributing bodies are independent, but they all have to keep a balance between the number of awards they make in London and those serving other parts of the country.

Dr. John Cunningham

Following widespread press reports published before and after the meeting of the Millennium Commission last week, will the Secretary of State tell the House how much private sector funding has been raised for regeneration or investment in connection with the millennium exhibition at Greenwich? Has more time been allocated to the fund-raising process? Have the Government agreed to underwrite the whole project, as some press reports have stated? If so, will the money come from her Department's budget or from the Treasury?

Mrs. Bottomley

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman full information about the discussions that are under way—many of which are confidential. However, I can tell him that the festival committee, which is chaired by Simon Jenkins, has asked Sir Peter Levene to do more urgent work to take forward the encouraging early commitments and understandings reached. We are all aware that it is a complex and exciting proposal that will give the nation an opportunity to celebrate the new millennium in one place while providing a lasting legacy in the form of the significant regeneration of an underdeveloped, but very exciting, part of London. I shall give more information to the House as soon as I am in a position to do so.