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Topical Questions

Volume 478: debated on Monday 23 June 2008

Today, I shall place the interim report from the digital radio working group in the Libraries of both Houses. Millions of people are already enjoying the benefits of digital radio, and I believe that radio must have a digital future if it is to remain relevant.

I am pleased that the working group has set a possible framework for digital radio migration, but a number of issues must be resolved before a decision on the framework can be made, not least the impact of digital migration on consumers. I look forward to the group’s final report at the end of the year, and to considering what steps can be taken to build a strong digital future for radio.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills about the consultation that that Department is conducting on informal learning, especially on the future of courses such as the exercise class that I attended at the Sutton College of Learning for Adults last Friday? Such provision is key to the delivery of the 1 per cent. increase in participation in physical activity that the Secretary of State wants to see. Can he promise some joined-up government and no cuts in exercise-related adult learning classes?

I have had one discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Both he and I recognise that the worlds of sport, music, the arts and culture have the potential to contribute enormously to informal learning provision for older people.

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s broad suggestion. The discussions are at the earliest stage and I do not want to imply that they are anywhere near finished, but I am thinking about how the DCMS world can make a contribution, and I will keep the hon. Gentleman up to date on progress.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) raised the issue of the Tote. May I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that there is a wider issue for the industry as a whole? In constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), literally hundreds of jobs are at stake. It is important for the final decision to be right for not just the short term but the long term. Will it take account of the fact that in metropolitan areas such as Wigan, investment of this kind has been a driver for change in the labour market over the past decade? We should like that change to be sustained through the ensuring of good access to the excellent jobs that the Tote currently provides.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner). Both have shown considerable interest in matters relating to the Tote, especially those involving the work force. The decision will affect 600 jobs, so it is important that we get it right, not only for the taxpayer but for people who work in the north-west. I shall be happy to meet both my hon. Friends later today to discuss the issue in more detail.

T2. In November 2004, the most exciting archaeological discovery for decades occurred: the discovery of the only Roman chariot-racing stadium in Britain. The setting of the Roman circus is now threatened with residential development. Will the relevant Minister come to Colchester with officials and representatives of English Heritage? This is a matter of national and international importance, and more than just a matter for a local authority to determine. (212534)

I am always interested in issues of national importance. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to me with the details so that I can consider this matter properly. If it requires me to visit his constituency, of course I shall be happy to do so.

T3. Can the Secretary of State assure me that people in West Lancashire—including Skelmersdale, where there appears to be a problem—will be able to go on receiving television programmes after the analogue signal is switched off next year? (212535)

My constituency is very close to that of my hon. Friend. When I look at Winter Hill and think about the signal being switched off in a little over a year’s time, it certainly focuses my mind.

I am aware of the problems in Skelmersdale, where people have historically received television programmes via a local authority-operated cable system that is now approaching the end of its useful life. Ofcom has required that a new relay transmitter to serve the town must be built and operational before switchover in the Granada area late in 2009. I understand that the process is likely to be completed as planned, subject to the availability of a suitable site, local planning permission and the allocation of suitable frequencies, but I assure my hon. Friend that I will pay the closest possible attention to the issue, and will ensure that her constituents benefit from switchover when the time comes.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern that has been expressed about his recent remarks that appear to rule out the possibility of taking advantage of the European Union audiovisual media services directive to allow some product placement on commercial television? If he has made up his mind on this issue, what is the point of having a consultation on it?

May I say to the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the Government often conduct a consultation on the back of a preference—a clearly stated view—and that is what I did in this instance? I take the view that British television has benefited from having standards and integrity, and that it has an international reputation for that. I further take the view that, especially when we contemplate the pressures that commercial television may face in the future, we in this country should think about allowing the space between programmes to be sold, and not the space within them. I do not believe that British viewers want to think that the hand of the ad sales director might have been at play in editorial decisions. That is my preference, but I said in my speech that I understood that others would say that there are benefits to product placement. We will conduct the consultation, and although I have made my initial preference clear I am prepared to hear other sides of the debate. If the hon. Gentleman holds different views, he is welcome to put them to me, and at the end of the process we will come to a considered decision.

T5. Paulsgrove in my constituency is an area of high deprivation with no local swimming pool. Under the Building Schools for the Future programme, a learning campus is being built and the local community would very much like a swimming pool to be part of that development. What can we do to ensure that local authorities work with other partners, use all the means at their disposal and take up all opportunities to encourage swimming in deprived areas such as Paulsgrove? (212537)

I would be very willing to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues in order to see how we might be able to help take further forward the discussions in her area. Only on Friday, I opened the Leigh indoor sports centre. It is part of the £80-million Leigh sports village, which, frankly, is my pride and joy. It is a scheme that will, in a deprived part of the country such as my hon. Friend’s, give people access to the highest quality sports facilities. I could not be more proud of anything I have ever achieved than I am of that. If she is seeking to do something similar in her constituency, she will have my full support.

In January, the Arts Council announced that it was cutting funding to respected organisations such as the Derby playhouse, the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford and the City of London Symphonia, yet over seven years its spending on administration has risen from 5p in every pound distributed to 12p in every pound distributed. What measures will the Department take to ensure that the public’s money is being spent on arts, not arts administration?

Let me first say that in that same settlement, which was very generous, and under which there has been a £50 million increase in the money available to the Arts Council over what is a very tight spending review period, more than 80 new organisations received Arts Council funding for the first time. That is as it should be, because the arts change and it is important that the Arts Council reflects that in its distribution of moneys. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that we should always work towards reducing the money spent on administration and ensuring that it goes out to the front line. The Arts Council has been taking steps over the past years to reduce its administrative costs, and it has succeeded in doing so. [Interruption.] From the figures I have in front of me, I do not recognise the figures the hon. Gentleman puts to us, but of course there is more work to be done on this, and part of the Arts Council’s remit over the current spending review settlement period is to produce a cut in the administrative costs year on year.

T6. Ashes cricket will be on television free to view next year, but only in Australia. Will the Government please take into account the additional money coming into English cricket through Stanford and through the Indian premier league and act now, rather than awaiting a review, to reinstate live Test cricket on the TV A-list? (212538)

I am as passionate about cricket—not just Test cricket but all cricket—as my hon. Friend is, and I understand how high passions run on this issue. However, I point out that when Test rights were drawn up on the secondary list—on the B-list—that allowed the England and Wales Cricket Board significantly to increase the amount of money it was able to invest in grass-roots cricket: £30 million in investment in facilities and clubs, and there is also the “Chance to shine” scheme, which has been a real success. There always has to be a balance between grass-roots investment and access to the sport. I hear what my hon. Friend says and I have a lot of sympathy with his wish to get more people watching cricket, but we always have to listen to the governing body and get money into the grass roots to get more young people playing.

Do the Government acknowledge that amusement arcades and bingo clubs are on their knees? In February, the Minister with responsibility for such matters promised to respond to recovery proposals within a week. In March, he said that he would respond shortly; in May, he said that it would be very soon. And yet we are still waiting. Is he aware that while the softer forms of gambling are collapsing, there is a huge growth in the highly addictive and super-lucrative gaming machines in betting shops? Has he not got his priorities wrong, and how soon is very soon?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have referred the issue of fixed-odds betting terminals to the Gambling Commission because of our concern about the migration to FOBTs. I am pleased to reassure him with the announcement that we will make a written statement this Wednesday to answer the issues of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and the bingo industry.

T7. The “Creative Britain” paper outlined that internet service providers must take concrete steps to curb illegal downloads, or consultation would begin in the spring on anti-piracy legislation. Given the obstinacy of some ISPs, such as Carphone Warehouse, in not doing their duty, can my right hon. Friend say when he proposes to introduce the proposals to regulate these people that have long been needed in this industry? (212539)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is of prime importance. The question is how, given the changing technology, we ensure that proper value is obtained for creators across all our sectors—be it music, film or the written word. We said in our “Creative Britain” document that if we could not get a voluntary agreement between the ISPs and the industry on these issues, we would introduce proposals for regulation. We stand by that, but I am pleased to report to my hon. Friend that the mere publication of the document is already encouraging both parties to come to the table. We are hopeful that we can in the near future obtain a voluntary agreement between them, to the benefit of all those who create in Britain today.

T10. The BBC is one of the few foreign broadcasting organisations that have been given permission to broadcast from the Olympics. Will the Minister give a commitment to the House that the Minister concerned will speak to the BBC Trust and to the BBC director-general to ensure that if there are human rights protests at the Olympic games in Beijing, they will not be censored by the Chinese or, indeed, by the BBC? (212542)

The questions that the hon. Gentleman raises are straightforwardly an editorial matter for the BBC, but in all her discussions with the Chinese authorities my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has repeatedly made the point that there should be progress toward full freedom of speech on all issues. She continues to make that case at every opportunity.

T8. How will the new arrangements between Sport England and the national bodies encourage people to participate more in sport? (212540)

As my hon. Friend knows, we have made our new policy for Sport England public in the past few weeks, and it is very much a policy of working through the national governing bodies of sport. We want to get 1 million more people playing organised and competitive sport, and that means having a clear relationship with the governing bodies in order to provide more coaching and more competitive opportunities to young people, thus expanding the talent pool at the very bottom, so that we can increase the chances of international success for the country. That is the vision that we have set out. It is a clear vision that sharpens the distinction between sport and physical activity. We think it is the right way to go, when coupled with initiatives such as free swimming, which will help to get more people active.

T9. In view of FIFA’s statement that our world cup bid for 2018 will be decided entirely on its merits, with no reference having been made to the fact that we insist, as a nation, that all matches are shown on live, free-to-air TV, will Ministers now vigorously defend the principle that all matches in future world cup and European finals tournaments should be kept on the A-list of protected events and thus be available to the many, not the few? (212541)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on listed sporting events and his robust defence of the need for such a list to ensure free-to-air access to our main national sports. I am as committed as he is to that principle, because it is important to balance giving sports access to the widest possible public and getting money into the grass roots. He will be aware that the list is subject to some challenge in Europe—for example whether it is possible to maintain such a policy. I assure him that I am vigorously defending the principles of the list, and I look forward to having continued discussions with him on this subject.