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Topical Questions

Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

Later this week, Manchester will host the UEFA cup final, and I am sure that the whole House, including you, Mr. Speaker, will join me in sending a good-luck message to Walter Smith and Glasgow Rangers. The authorities are expecting a large number of supporters to travel to Manchester, and we are working with the Home Office and Manchester city council to ensure that there is a successful final. Supporters will be able to gather at fan zones in Albert square, Piccadilly gardens and Cathedral gardens, where entertainment will be provided throughout the day and big outdoor screens will show the match in the evening.

The Government are also pleased to reciprocate the generous offer made by the Russian Government regarding visas, and have waived the fee for travelling Zenit supporters. We remain committed to bringing major sporting events to the UK. Following discussions with my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the Treasury has confirmed to the FA that if the UK wins the right to host the UEFA champions league final in 2011, visiting teams and their players will not face tax charges.

Next week’s historic champions league final is the first between two English clubs, and we shall continue our work with our colleagues at the Foreign Office to provide support and information for supporters on its website. We will also work with our colleagues in the Home Office to make the event a success. [Hon. Members: “This is a statement.”] I am making an opening statement at the start of topical questions.

Finally, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating Everton football club on coming top of the 16-team real premier league, and more seriously, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson on winning their 10th premier league title.

I thank the Secretary of State for his comments about football, which were welcome. Is he aware that next Tuesday is national schools cricket day? His Department recently announced that 80 per cent. of all state schools play cricket, but is he aware that the Cricket Foundation, which is the Government’s delivery body for grass-roots cricket, has stated that only 10 per cent. of pupils in state schools are playing cricket? Which of those figures is correct? Is not this another example of the Government spinning statistics for their own political agenda?

No, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for cricket in state schools, having represented Lancashire as a schoolboy and having retained a close interest in cricket. I strongly believe that we must give young people access to cricket coaching in schools and the opportunity to play competitive cricket. I am as concerned as he is to see the situation improve, and the England and Wales Cricket Board, through its “Chance to Shine” initiative, is making real progress in giving young people the chance to play cricket. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), and I meet representatives of the board regularly to discuss how we can further improve cricket in state schools.

T2. The Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport will know that OneNottingham, the local strategic partnership, is using its “Sport for Nottingham” scheme to use sport to attack deprivation and under-achievement in our city. Will the Minister make it clear that, despite recent changes at Sport England, funding will not go entirely to national governing bodies, and that it will go to where it is most needed in the communities and neighbourhoods, particularly in areas that are using sport to attack deprivation? (204439)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his leadership of the campaign in Nottingham to ensure that the various bodies come together to use sporting activity to deal with the many issues that Nottingham faces. He is right to say that what we will be doing with the Sport England review is ensuring that national governing bodies draw up their whole sport plans and look at initiatives such as the one taking place in Nottingham, to ensure that people at all levels have the opportunity to be involved in sport. I would be happy to discuss this with him further, and I would like to meet him and the people of Nottingham to see how we can take this forward and perhaps use Nottingham as a pilot for future events.

T3. The organisations funded by Arts Council England were given such short notice of cuts to their funding that many of them had no time to find out why it was being cut or to find alternative means of funding their activities. When will valuable community organisations such as London Bubble and the London Mozart Players hear the results of Arts Council England’s review and find out how ACE and the Government are going to help them to secure their long-term future? (204440)

Let me first correct what the hon. Gentleman has said. All organisations were given a period in which they could make representations—[Interruption.] It was a perfectly adequate period in which they could make representations, and there were also discussions. The Arts Council reconsidered and changed its view in the light of those representations, and it has now commissioned a review of the process and will be reflecting on that. I must also say to the hon. Gentleman that the arts change and grow, and if we want a flourishing arts sector in this country, it is absolutely right that the Arts Council should change the pattern of its expenditure investment so that we can maintain innovation and new arts organisations right across the UK.

Is the Secretary of State aware that national lottery administration costs are now so high that every penny raised for good causes in the first two months of every year is spent not on good causes but on administration? He appoints the distribution boards; when will he take concrete action to ensure that lottery money is spent not on bureaucracy, Olympics miscalculations and Government pet projects, but on helping the good causes that are now struggling, but which the lottery was set up to protect?

It is obviously important that we should have low administration costs, and that is a matter for the different agencies. The Big Lottery Fund is the agency that the hon. Gentleman was referring to. It is not appropriate, however, for him to pick on the lowest one, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and to use it as an example of the administration costs right across all the providers. That is a little bit disingenuous. We are going to ensure that the good causes get the maximum amount that is available to them, and we will also ensure that administration costs are kept to the lowest level.

T6. Many of my constituents support the campaign for a 9 pm watershed for junk food advertising aimed at children, yet the Minister has said in correspondence with me that Ofcom has flatly rejected that idea, saying that it would have a disproportionate impact on broadcasting. To me, that sounds like prioritising the revenue streams of wealthy TV moguls over the health of the nation’s children. Will the Minister tell the House what assessment he has made of that decision, and whether he has discussed it with the Department of Health? (204443)

I say to my hon. Friend that I know that this issue raises strong feelings; as the House knows, there is currently a private Member’s Bill on the subject. In January, new restrictions on the advertising to children of foods high in salt, sugar and fat were brought in. It is my position, and it makes sense, to take some time to evaluate the success of those restrictions before considering going further. Some evidence is already emerging that they are indeed having an effect.

Let me also say to my hon. Friend that tackling obesity is obviously a complicated issue and there is no one simple answer to it. Speaking as someone with three young children, I know that it is important to say that these days children get their messages from a huge array of sources, so the idea that simply restricting or controlling advertising on television will solve the problem fails to grapple with the real issues. It is also important to say that children’s programming generally is under pressure, yet that is an area of TV where young people can get good responsible messages. My hon. Friend needs to consider the impact on children’s programming of any further restrictions on television advertising.

T4. The Minister for Sport will know that athletes with a learning disability have been unable to compete in the Paralympics since the Sydney games in 2000. The International Paralympic Committee will consider the matter again this autumn. One issue raised by Mencap, among others, is that along with the inability to compete, some of those athletes have lost their funding for training equipment. Will the Minister ensure that if the decision goes the right way this autumn, that funding for training and equipment is reinstated to those athletes as soon as possible so that they have the best chance to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics to be held in London in 2012? (204441)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, which is an issue of concern to me in my discussions with the British Paralympic Association and the variety of bodies that are involved. We want to ensure that people with learning disabilities can, if they are able to, compete in London 2012 and we are working to ensure that that happens. He will appreciate that we need to provide open access to everybody; it is not about tokenism, but about ensuring that the appropriate people with the right classification can go forward. As to the particular issue of individuals who are in the position that he described, I will certainly look at it and try to provide all the support I can to ensure that they have adequate funding for 2012 and the training that they require.

T7. What steps are being taken to ensure that television programmes are accessible to deaf children—and deaf adults, for that matter—through more comprehensive subtitling and sign language for programmes? (204444)

I do not know whether my hon. Friend was present in the reception in the House last week at which we marked the successful completion by the BBC of 100 per cent. subtitling on all programmes —a condition and requirement laid down in the Communications Act 2003. Other public service broadcasters are currently reaching about 90 per cent., I believe, and I hope that they will follow the BBC’s lead and work towards 100 per cent. subtitling. Watching TV and enjoying programmes at the same time as other people is an incredibly important part of ensuring that there are no barriers and no discrimination in our society. I pay tribute to the work of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and indeed of my hon. Friend, on this issue.

What are the Government doing to enforce existing legislation against ticket touting? Ahead of the FA Cup final, for example, there are numerous illegal tickets available online. Now the head of the UK policing unit has written to me, saying that

“the majority of Police Match Commanders do not deem it appropriate or necessary for police resources to be deployed to deal with ticket touts”.

How can anyone take seriously the Secretary of State’s promise to get tough on ticket touts when the police do not?

There is more we can do in this area. I have been disappointed—in fact it is worse; frankly, I have been appalled—at some of the reports I have read of people profiteering on the back of football supporters in this country in the run-up to the UEFA cup final, the champions league final and, indeed, the FA cup final. I take the view that there is more we can do, so I am working with the governing bodies in sport and the promoters of major music and others. For some events, we take the principle that access should be enshrined in legislation for broadcasting purposes, but I personally believe that we should have a stronger system of ticket allocation around sporting events, particularly when they are of national significance. I believe that with the new technology that is available, we can put more security into ticketing arrangements and ensure that more tickets get into the hands of the real fans. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will work with me in trying to achieve that objective. It is difficult, though, to make changes for events coming up in the near future.

T9. What consideration is given to the wider economic and regeneration issues in the listing of buildings? (204446)

My hon. Friend will know from my discussions with her that the two criteria to which English Heritage has regard in determining whether to recommend to the Department to list a building are the architectural and historic value of the building. In the context of the consideration of draft legislation by the departmental Select Committee, I hope that a debate will take place on whether other subsidiary criteria can be considered, particularly for recently constructed buildings, before a recommendation is made to the Department. Economic regeneration would be one such criterion.

T10. As we advance towards digital switchover, more and more of my constituents are contacting me with concerns about Ceefax and Teletext. They are usually elderly and rely heavily on those services. They are concerned that Ceefax and Teletext will not be available after digital switchover. Will the Minister assure me that the current pages will remain in place and be available digitally? (204447)

I am looking closely at all the issues related to digital switchover, and particularly their impact on vulnerable people or those with disabilities. I want to ensure that all the benefits that we presently enjoy, and more, continue to be available after switchover. I think that my hon. Friend’s local transmitter switches in the latter part of next year. I will discuss with her precisely the issues that she has raised, so that her constituents are helped through the process and given a broader range of information and entertainment than they currently receive.