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Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Secretary of State was asked—

Sound Recordings (Copyright)

1. What his policy is on the extension of copyright duration and terms affecting sound recordings; and if he will make a statement. (224370)

Policy responsibility for intellectual property rests with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. However, given my Department’s responsibility for the music industry, these are issues in which we have a close interest. The Government are considering the European Commission proposal currently on the table in Brussels. Discussions are still continuing at a European level.

A band named Pendragon in my constituency tells me that when it recently produced a new DVD it sold 50 copies in the first week, but in that same week 3,000 copies were illegally downloaded. Does the Secretary of State not agree that he ought now to implement the recommendation made two years ago in the Gowers report that would take some steps towards stamping out illegal downloading, which is driving smaller bands and small labels in particular to the wall, and is it not also about time that he accepted the Select Committee recommendation that copyright should be extended to 90 years?

There are two issues in that supplementary question, the first of which is about illegal downloading. The hon. Gentleman will have seen that in the summer the Government facilitated a memorandum of understanding signed between the film and music industries and the major internet service providers, with general agreement to achieving a significant reduction in illegal downloading within two to three years. He is right to raise this issue, because it goes right to the heart of the success of the British music industry in the long term; there are still far too many tracks downloaded illegally, and we have to take firm action. I hope that he agrees that the Government have changed their tone on this issue and are signalling far more urgency.

The question of term involves complicated issues, and while the Commission has put forward its proposals, I think it is fair to say that no consensus has yet emerged around them. Here, our Select Committee proposed the idea of term extensions to 70 years, so there are different ideas and we need to see if we can find a way through and a compromise position. Again, I am looking very closely at all the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.

The Secretary of State has consistently said that he wants to do something big for the music industry. Well, here is his chance. He talks about consensus; all the stakeholders in the music industry, from the labels to the musicians, collection agencies and publishers, want an end to this unique and historic discrimination against musicians. The draft directive is on the table in Brussels. All the Secretary of State has to do is say yes and support it. Why will he not do that?

The memorandum that I mentioned a few moments ago is something significant for the music industry, because illegal downloading is seriously threatening its future. On the question of copyright term, I think it is fair to say that there is not quite the unanimity that the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest. There is still some debate about whether the Commission’s proposals are the right ones. They take us a step further forward and they raise the question of benefits to performers, which is important, and which, from my Department’s perspective, I am keen to pursue. However, I do not think this is quite as easy as he seems to make out.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see a young Evertonian at the Dispatch Box, as opposed to an old Etonian? On this subject, does my right hon. Friend know whether Mr. Steven Wonder, the author of “A man with a plan”, is still receiving his loyalties at present? Finally, may I say that there is a great deal of confusion, and that while we seek illumination we seem to find caliginosity everywhere? Will the Secretary of State please undertake at some stage in the future to clarify this issue?

Well, I could do with some clarification myself, I think, after that question, but my hon. Friend is right that there is a need for clarification. These are complicated issues, which we are looking at very carefully. They raise strong feelings in the music industry, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned. We are looking at them very carefully and we will come to a UK Government position very soon.

If I write to the Secretary of State, will he look at the issue of copyright extension as it affects the British Film Institute, which, as he knows, has the largest and most important film archive in the world? Will he, furthermore, congratulate the BFI on its 75th anniversary, and in particular “Screenonline” for schools, which has brought schools, through digital media, to so many of our educational institutions?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, and indeed I will congratulate the BFI. The scheme that he mentions is very worthy and valuable. Illegal downloading affects both the music industry and the film industry, although it has affected the music industry first, and the memorandum we signed affects both music and film. He also talked about copyright extension. These are issues that potentially have an impact on more than just the music industry, and we have to give careful consideration to rewarding people who have made content that is still very much in demand around the world while striking a fair balance for consumers who wish to get access to that content for the lowest possible price. These are complicated judgments. We have to come to the right decision, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have the interests of the film and music industries very much at the forefront of my mind.

Elite Athletes

The Government and UK Sport are working with sports governing bodies to identify and develop elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes through our world-class performance programme. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way in which elite sport is resourced—from £63 million of lottery funding for Sydney to £265 million of lottery and Exchequer funding for Beijing, building to a significant package of lottery, Exchequer and private funds for London 2012.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating the Sunderland boxer Tony Jeffries on the bronze medal that he won in Beijing. However, the Secretary of State may not be aware of the problems that Tony Jeffries encountered trying to secure funding for his pre-Olympic training. My friend and neighbouring MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), thanks to some good work, managed to secure some funding on Tony Jeffries’ behalf. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the same problems will not be encountered by north-east athletes or indeed athletes from anywhere in the UK in the run-up to 2012?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who gives me a useful prompt to say that I am sure that the whole House wishes to join me in congratulating our Olympians and Paralympians on their outstanding success at the Beijing Olympics in the summer. They truly inspired and lifted the entire nation, and we all pay tribute to them; it was the best ever performance by Great Britain on foreign soil in an Olympic games. I saw Tony Jeffries fighting while I was in Beijing, and I am sure that we would want to congratulate him, too, on his bronze medal. I know that he faced particular challenges leading up to Beijing, although he did benefit from some world-class performance funding. What this says to me is that as we move forward, we need to put in place a package of support that really lets our young people focus on sport. That is the real benefit of world-class performance funding—giving them some certainty, so that they can focus on what they do best. We can all learn the lessons of the run-up to Beijing, and try to do even better as we come into the London Olympics.

In a similar vein to that of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson), I wonder whether the Secretary of State will join me in wishing the very best of luck to Jake Arkell and Callum Frowen, from my constituency, who this weekend will be participating in the world drugs-free powerlifting championships in Antwerp. They trained at the Forest fitness centre in Cinderford, which trains people across my constituency. I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in wishing them the very best of luck.

I certainly will. I am sure that everybody wishes to see British sporting success continue and the momentum that we established in Beijing go on and on, so they have my very best wishes.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind if we do not run through all the medallists that we have in Loughborough; we would probably be here for some time, and I think that we came 34th in the medal table at Beijing this time round. However, he will know that there is still the substantial shortfall of £100 million of funding—it has probably reduced a little now, to £69 million—leading up to 2012. Unless there is a significant change in the Government’s position in the immediate future, the cuts to the programme could put at risk all the success that we achieved by coming fourth in the Olympic and Paralympic tables in Beijing. Will my right hon. Friend as a matter of urgency make sure that this thing is sorted out by the time of UK Sport’s December board meeting?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we do not wish to lose any momentum that we have gained on the Olympic games. It is also important to say that the public support available now to our elite Olympians and Paralympians is obviously unprecedented, but we always said that wished to supplement it with funds raised from private sponsorship in the private sector, so we have come to a package of support for elite athletes that is essentially a mixed economy of lottery and Exchequer funds and funds from the private sector. In the long term, that will be the best way to sustain elite sport. We will soon announce a new scheme called “medal hopes”, which will provide opportunities for businesses up and down the country to be associated with the world-class performance programme, and I am very confident that we will raise the money needed to ensure that we get even more success in London 2012.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the National Rifle Association at Bisley has done a tremendous amount of work in the past few years in encouraging young people to develop their skills and their participation in the Olympic sport of target shooting? Wonderful work has been done. Can the Government say anything to encourage that improvement among young people that the NRA has started? Can he say a word or two about Bisley’s future as far as the Olympics are concerned?

I would not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman said; the NRA does extremely good work. My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has visited Bisley, and we remain in close discussion with the NRA and the Home Office, which has an interest in these matters. We shall continue to take forward those discussions, and I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman said.

May I associate myself entirely with the Minister’s remarks about our Olympians and Paralympians?

I wish to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed). Over the past month, I have met every sports organisation involved with sourcing this missing £100 million—UK Sport, the British Olympic Association, the governing bodies of the individual sports or even Fast Track—and not one of them believes that the full amount is deliverable from the private sector, simply because so many other organisations are in the market looking for private funding. The Secretary of State must be aware that that uncertainty is having an extremely damaging effect on preparations for London 2012. Have any of those key organisations given him the same warning that they have given me?

I shall come to the hon. Gentleman’s question, but first I wish to put some facts on the table. Some £265 million of public money was made available to support our Olympians and Paralympians in preparing for the games in Beijing. Let us cast our minds back. Practically nothing was available in the run-up to the Atlanta Olympics and Britain came 36th in the medals table. [Interruption.] Opposition Members say, “Before the lottery”. It may have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s attention that some Exchequer funding was put into the effort to support the team for Beijing.

The hon. Gentleman talks about a missing £100 million. It has always been our plan to put in place at least the same amount of support that we had for the Beijing games and then to supplement that with contributions from the private sector. We are working out the details of that scheme. Before the end of this year we will make a detailed set of announcements that give sport certainty going into this Olympic period—a unique period when the world spotlight will be upon us. I am proud of what we have done so far to support elite sport, and I am confident that we will build on the momentum and success that we achieved in Beijing.

World Heritage Sites

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, before I answer the question I should like to pay tribute to the work done by my predecessor and friend, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), and wish her husband, Henry, a very speedy recovery.

The Government are reviewing their UK world heritage policy, and as part of that review we will examine the costs and benefits of world heritage status and the future of the UK tentative list. We propose to consult widely on that shortly, and we are also looking to enhance protection for our world heritage sites through the planning framework.

Do we not need to do more to promote UK world heritage sites around the world? Do not the 2012 Olympics give us an excellent opportunity to promote world heritage and world games? Will the Minister agree to meet me—I chair the all-party group on world heritage sites—and the Local Authority World Heritage Forum to discuss how the Government can support the better promotion of world heritage sites in the run-up to 2012?

I would be very happy indeed to do that, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he and the all-party group on world heritage sites do. I know that he has a particular interest in the site at Ironbridge.

May I warmly welcome the Minister to her new role and urge her to put Stonehenge at the top of her priorities? Since Stonehenge was declared a world heritage site, more than 50 Ministers have had some responsibility for it, which is probably why nothing has happened so far. Will she assure me that she will meet the new roads Minister to discuss the current proposals, the consultation on which ends this month, so that she can make progress on Stonehenge, taking into account not only its international and national significance, but the burden put on local communities by the lack of proper facilities at Stonehenge and the gridlock that occurs there every weekend?

I commend the hon. Gentleman; when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in this Department, I had great admiration for his tenacity on this subject. I will indeed do as he asks and meet the Transport Minister responsible.

In congratulating my hon. Friend on her new role, may I invite her to visit Gorton monastery in my constituency, one of the most superbly refurbished world monuments in this country—

We’ve had MacShane: what about Lucan?

In inviting my hon. Friend the Minister to visit the monastery, may I ask her to consult colleagues about the ludicrous anachronism that prevents civil marriage ceremonies from taking place there, because the Marriage Act 1994 prevents civil marriages from taking place in a former place of worship? In her new role, will she show her dedication to world monuments by consulting colleagues to put that right?

I thank my right hon. Friend, and I would be very happy to visit the monastery. I have a family interest in such matters as my husband writes about them extensively. I will also consult colleagues on the Marriage Act.

Saltaire is a marvellous world heritage site in my constituency, and the biggest problem that it experiences is congestion at Saltaire roundabout. Does the Minister agree that the regional transport board that decides such matters should take into account the visitor experience at that world heritage site, and will she use her good offices to try to persuade the board that funding for improvement of that roundabout should be a priority?

I will indeed. It is a great heritage site, and as a regional Minister I know how important it is to get regional engagement on these matters.

The Minister’s predecessor not only agreed to support the Jarrow-Wearmouth bid for world heritage site status, but agreed to meet a delegation on the issue. May I take it that the Minister will confirm her support for the bid and carry on the commitment to meet the delegation from Jarrow?

I am very happy to do so. I seem to be collecting quite a lot of meetings today, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and to confirm my support for the site.

May I also pay tribute to the Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who brought huge passion and enthusiasm to her job? I regret that she has left the Front Bench, but my regret is tinged with joy in welcoming the new Minister, who also brings huge passion to the job, as well as a close association with one of the greatest literary figures in this country. We will welcome her contribution over the next few months.

I invite the Minister to admit that she feels ashamed that, on this Government’s watch, seven out 27 of our world heritage sites have been threatened with inclusion on UNESCO’s in-danger list. Now we learn that the Government have overruled their own planning inspector on the Doon tower. When will this Government take our world heritage sites seriously?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his gracious remarks. I do not think that my husband would describe himself in such terms, but I will convey them to him. I am only proud of what this Government have done and what we intend to do for heritage. Some of the UNESCO reports have been slightly exaggerated.

Football Clubs

The governance and ownership of football clubs is primarily a matter for football. However, I believe that given the changes in the game in recent years a number of legitimate concerns are being expressed by football supporters and now is the time to have a proper and open debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will shortly meet the football authorities—the Football Association, the premier league, the Football League and others—to discuss the financial regulatory framework of football and a range of issues surrounding the game.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he will want to join me in passing on our best wishes to Mike Newell, who was announced as Grimsby Town’s new manager this morning. The club suffered financial difficulties due to the collapse of ITV Digital and I know that the Minister’s own club, Bradford City, has had financial problems, too. In those meetings with football authorities, will the Minister discuss ways in which they can help with the governance of the game to ensure that clubs do not amass crippling debt and that there is greater financial transparency?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which has been raised with me by a number of colleagues in the House and in the other place, as well as in correspondence from a variety of football supporters. The time is right to look at football. On his initial point, I, too, wish Mike Newell well—as an ex-Evertonian he must have some knowledge of the game—and I wish Grimsby Town well. This is a serious subject that affects many football clubs and a great number of people in the country. We want to work with the football authorities and look forward to doing so.

I appreciate that the Minister is a hard-working and committed football fan, but I think that his sense that football can get on and regulate itself is somewhat far from the mark. There is great concern that football needs to get its house in order, particularly given the amount of public money that has gone into the game over the past decade and a half and the fact that we also wish to host the World cup. Those are real concerns that he touched on earlier. Will he ensure that he works closely with his erstwhile colleague, Lord Triesman, who now has an important role in the Football Association, to ensure that more is done and that the high-profile concerns about the football industry are brought to book?

I understand that it is the hon. Gentleman’s birthday, so I wish him a happy birthday. We have to consider the key issues, and it is quite interesting to hear from Conservative Members suggestions that we look at more regulation. We have to take the key issues into consideration, and first of all the international bodies—FIFA and UEFA—will play a role.

We have to appreciate that some work has been done. That done by the conference on early warning systems and financial difficulties has been an important step forward. We want to see transparency, and perhaps we need to look again at the fit and proper persons test. Clearly, the matter has to be the responsibility of football, but we will do what we can to ensure that the concerns of supporters are addressed. The hon. Gentleman will know that the FA has an independent chair as a result of the Burns report, and so movement has clearly taken place.

Given the takeover of Manchester City by a mega-rich plutocrat from a country governed by a hereditary dictatorship and given the dubious source of finances used to buy Chelsea and Heart of Midlothian football clubs, does the Minister agree that now really is the time to regulate the way in which British football clubs are acquired, particularly when they are acquired by people who have become billionaires through corruption, dishonesty or extortion, or all three?

First, I do not think that it matters what the nationality of an individual is. We have examples in the premier league, such as that of Aston Villa, where people are doing well in their ownership of the club and in its development within the community. My hon. Friend touches on the fit and proper persons test, which needs to be revisited. That is one of the issues that we will take up with the football authorities.

I am grateful to the Minister for the answers that he has already given. I join him in believing that we need football club owners who really care about the long-term interests of the game. Indeed, the Secretary of State said that more than 10 years ago. In each reply so far, the Minister has said that the football authorities should resolve the issues, including the fit and proper persons test. Does he accept that the premiership has said only recently that the Government and not the football authorities must lay down the rules of ownership for football clubs? What are the Government going to do?

I do not recall the premiership saying that it wants Government interference, but I will check the record for the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, the country has laws on fit and proper persons, on company directors and on their rights, responsibilities and duties. Yes, there are laws effective on insolvency, and we need to find out whether we can do any more in terms of the laws of the land. But at the end of the day, it is not for the Government to run football. That would be the wrong thing to do, but we are certainly working with the football authorities to ensure that we do everything that is possible. We are ensuring that the concerns of supporters and others are getting across. The Government have supported Supporters Direct, and we have been working with the supporter organisations to ensure that they have a voice.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although it is important to keep his beady eye on Abramovich and all the rest of them, it is probably more important in this world of politics, especially at this time, to ensure that bloated plutocrats such as Lord Ashcroft do not own the Tory party?

I take on enough in dealing with the world of sport. Clearly, the funding of the Tory party is a matter for it, but Lord Ashcroft’s donations have not gone unnoticed on the Government side.

As the Minister knows, I have written to him to express my concerns about the penalties that the football authorities imposed on Luton Town football club. That is clearly a major issue for Luton Town, but it also affects other small clubs around the country. Can the Minister assure me that the same penalties would have been imposed if Luton Town was in the premier league, or is there no level playing field in football these days?

I can understand the frustration of Luton Town fans, particularly as its new owners have done everything by the book. I can understand their feeling frustrated at the number of points that have been deducted, but that is clearly a matter for football and how it operates. However, such concerns have been put to me, and we will take them up with the football authorities.

Television (Access)

7. What steps he plans to take to enhance access to television for people with visual impairments as part of digital switchover. (224378)

Blind or partially sighted people are eligible for the digital switchover help scheme, which provides help with equipment, installation and after-care support. Audio description is accessible through the equipment provided by the scheme.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his interest in this subject, particularly in relation to audio description, but is he concerned that the industry’s target is 10 per cent. by 2013, whereas awareness of the service has already gone up from 43 to 72 per cent. among people with visual impairment? Is not digital switchover a unique opportunity to ensure that people can get Freeview receivers that include audio description? Will he urge the industry to increase the target to a more realistic level and to do so within months, rather than years, so that my constituents can benefit during 2009?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the determination with which he pursues these issues and for his work with the Royal National Institute of Blind People on these incredibly important matters. He is right to remind us that the digital switchover provides an opportunity to ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of digital technology. There are two issues on audio description. One of them is to ensure that it is as easy as possible for people to use. We are currently reviewing the core receiver requirements—the set-top box requirements—to find out whether we can make that easier still, so that we give people single button access to audio description. But he is right to push me and to ask whether more programme makers should include audio description on their services. Although I cannot give him a firm commitment today, I give him a commitment to look again at whether the ambition for programmes to carry audio description can be raised.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the past few months, it has been apparent that a number of people who invested early in digital terrestrial TV set-top boxes to get ahead of switchover have discovered that they now do not work due to the fact that Freeview has changed the technology that it uses? Will he consider whether there is a case for extending the help scheme to any vulnerable or elderly person who suddenly finds that they are faced with black screens as a result?

I am aware of the technical problems raised by the hon. Gentleman, who is the Chairman of Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Indeed, I have begun to notice an increasing number of letters on the issue arriving from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I agree with him that it is somewhat annoying, to say the least, for people who invested in digital technology very early to find that it does not work. I will look closely at the issue, and if he wants to meet to discuss it further, I am happy to do that, too, but it is now very important to maintain people’s confidence in the services that they are switching to.

With regard to access, the Secretary of State will be dismayed to hear that my local council has announced that many, if not a majority, of its tenants are likely to be without any access to TV after digital switchover. That is absolutely unacceptable for all my constituents, particularly those who are disabled or who have any sensory impairment. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give—I am not referring to the companies, which are offering a prayer and a promise—that my constituents will not be without a TV signal, and that switchover will not be allowed to happen if huge numbers of people cannot access TV?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. The problem relates to a relay transmitter in the Skelmersdale area, if I am not mistaken. Obviously, we are approaching the switchover point in Granada-land, as we in the area like to call it; I think that a date is to be announced later this month. That should focus the minds of a few Labour Members. Clearly, we have to be sure that we are on top of such issues and that there is a fair solution, so that people can continue to access television services. I am aware of the issues that my hon. Friend raised and I am working through them, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss them further.

Television Licence Fee

None. The licence fee settlement announced in January 2007 by the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), covers the period from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2013.

By 2013, we may find that the licence fee itself is somewhat out of date. Mr. Speaker, when you and I were boys—not so long ago—the BBC was regarded across the world as the gold standard of broadcasting, but many people now question the regressive nature of taxation through the licence fee. They question whether it gives the BBC an unfair advantage over commercial competitors, not just in the broadcast media but among local newspapers. Notwithstanding the work of the BBC Trust, people question the accountability of the BBC. Does the Secretary of State believe that the BBC gives the licence fee payer value for money, and will he address the concerns that people have raised?

The hon. Gentleman sounds dangerously off message; it sounds as though he has not done his homework. I am led to believe that one Polly Toynbee is the columnist of choice for those on the Conservative Benches these days, and I am sure that her column is the first thing that he looks for when the papers drop through his letterbox. In The Guardian today, she says that:

“at less than the price of a daily newspaper, the BBC remains astounding value.”

I happen to agree with that—[Interruption]—but from the noises on the Opposition Benches, I am beginning to pick up on the fact that the Opposition do not. If they do not, they should make that absolutely plain.

Obviously I agree with the Secretary of State’s estimation of the BBC, but he should accept that this reactionary and regressive tax, which means that the poorest in the land pay the same as the richest, may no longer be sustainable. I ask him to talk with the BBC, just as we are talking with energy companies and others. If very poor people in my constituency who do not watch the BBC continue to have to fork out for this ever-increasing tax, there will be serious social problems.

My right hon. Friend will remember that there was a very thorough debate on the issues when my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood set the new licence fee only a few months ago. All those issues were taken into account. The charter review concluded that, compared with the alternatives, the licence fee continues to be the best funding mechanism for the foreseeable future. Now that there is pressure on commercial public service broadcasting, it is crucial that we maintain a strong BBC as the backbone of our public service broadcasting system. The BBC is an international beacon, and I think that the licence fee is the fairest way to fund a universal service that is widely loved and respected by many.

BBC Alba, an excellent new Gaelic channel, has met with popular acclaim, particularly in my constituency, since it began broadcasting about two weeks ago, on channel 168 on Sky. Will the Minister use his influence with the BBC and the BBC Trust to make sure that the licence fee is used to ensure that the channel is accessible on Freeview as soon as possible?

I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that I will look into that proposal. My Department has been very supportive of the service that he mentioned, and we will continue to support it in whatever way we can. I cannot stand here today and give him a precise answer to his question, but I will look into it.

Topical Questions

Mr. Speaker, with your leave, I wish to update the House on important developments announced by my Department since the summer break.

I have set out the timetable for my review of public service broadcasting, which I will continue to take forward in conjunction with Ofcom, and I am very pleased that Stephen Carter has been appointed to support me in this work. I have also announced that I will commission an independent review of listed sporting events to look again at whether the right sporting events are protected for free-to-air broadcasts, and whether the right balance is struck between the interests of sport and the interests of television viewers.

We continue to work on the implementation of the McMaster report, including the recommendation to make more arts events free to the public. I recently announced a £2.5 million programme, funded through the spending review by Arts Council England, to give young people under 26 the chance to see free theatre at 95 venues across England. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) played an enormous role in that scheme and in the implementation of the McMaster report. I would simply like to echo the very generous comments made by Opposition Front Benchers earlier in Question Time. My right hon. Friend stepped back for family reasons; I am sure that the whole House wishes her well, and wishes the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), well in her new role, too.

The Wellingborough and District Nene angling club has existed for 139 years, and owns and operates lakes in Northamptonshire. Recently, Natural England slapped an SSSI—site of special scientific interest—designation on it and imposed hundreds of restrictions, which makes the club’s viability doubtful. Is it a new Government policy to close angling clubs, or is Natural England out of control?

We fully support angling. Indeed, we have had regular meetings with angling associations. I am pleased that many of those associations have come together in one body, as we start to look at how we can be more supportive in future. Clearly, however, this is an issue, and I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and go through it in greater detail.

T7. Given that the Secretary of State said in a speech in June that it was very disappointing that ITV had failed to meet its regional production quotas for two years running, and that that was non-negotiable, was it not an act of defiance for Ed Richards, the boss of Ofcom, last week to suggest reducing that quota from 50 to 35 per cent., particularly given the fact that his predecessor Lord Carter, who is now broadcasting Minister, set the figure of 50 per cent. just three years ago? (224341)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a passionate interest in these matters, as do I. I have a strong belief in ITV as a company that has its roots in the regions, and has produced excellent news programmes for many years. He is right: I said I was disappointed because that was a legal requirement, not an optional target. Ofcom is dealing with the matter, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment further. However, my hon. Friend must recognise, as must Members on both sides of the House, that as the analogue licences wind down and we move towards a new world in broadcasting, which is all multi-channel and fully digital, the basis on which we regulate broadcasters changes and we cannot ask for the same deal in return for access to the scarce spectrum. That is just a fact of where we are, but I think we are all united in saying that we want strong regional output with a range of voices—more than one company providing it—in future, and I will talk to all broadcasters, ITV included, about those very issues in the months ahead.

T3. The Secretary of State will be aware that, should Newcastle and Everton be acquired by private owners in the near future, as is likely, more than half the clubs in the English premiership would be foreign owned, leading the former Sport Minister, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), to refer to that as a tipping point, so that the English game would “cease to be English”. Is it not therefore time that the Government ordered a royal commission, or some other inquiry, into the whole stewardship and future of the national sport? (224337)

As I tried to say earlier, we want football to resolve these issues. I do not think it is a question of nationality. We can give examples in which foreign nationals do well with some of our premier league clubs. However, I take the point that there are issues that we need to consider, which have been raised by supporters and by many in the House, concerning the governance of the game and concerning early warning systems in respect of financial accountability. A royal commission would be going too far, but we will report to the House the outcome of the discussions that we have with football authorities. Then we can have a debate in the House about the future of the game.

T8. My right hon. Friend will be aware that during the summer the Performing Rights Society carried out a clampdown in certain areas, one of which was Yoker resource centre in my constituency, where the after-school care group was prevented from playing music and DVDs to entertain the children after they came out of school. Will my right hon. Friend look into such cases at Yoker and other centres so that people in deprived areas do not have to fork out an exorbitant amount of money to keep children occupied? (224342)

I have to say that I was not aware of the issue that my hon. Friend raises in relation to his constituency, but I am prepared to look into it. I agree that in general terms we want young people to be able to enjoy music without any barriers.

Mr. Speaker, may I welcome you back after the recess? I welcome the new Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), to her post. Her biography states that she is not so much a champagne socialist as a cappuccino socialist. As a cappuccino Conservative, I look forward to many stimulating cups of coffee with her at arts events. [Interruption.] May I move the discussion on from cappuccino to ask the Secretary of State about the free swimming offer that he announced earlier this summer?

The Opposition welcome anything that gets more people involved in swimming. What is the Secretary of State’s response to the letter that he received this summer from the Labour leader of Stevenage council, the new Minister’s constituency, which said that the average cost to a district council of implementing that offer for the over-60s alone would increase council tax by nearly 2 per cent? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a categoric assurance that his Department will fund the offer in full and not pass the costs on to hard-pressed council tax payers by the back door, when they are already so concerned about rising bills?

I do not know about cappuccino, but there was a certain amount of froth in that question. The hon. Gentleman seems to have misunderstood the package that we proposed. The initiatives began in local government. Many councils have begun to make swimming free for older and younger people. My council, Wigan, has, entirely from its own resources, already put in place a free swimming scheme. We said we would like to help councils to go further, so in support of our objective of getting 2 million more people active by the time of the 2012 games in London, we wanted more councils to offer such schemes to their public. We said all along that it was a challenge initiative and that local authorities could opt into it, should they choose to. Of the 354 eligible local authorities, some 300 have confirmed their participation in the over-60s element of the free swimming programme, and 296 in the under-16s element. It is their decision to take advantage of the scheme. If the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman’s council do not wish to take part, that is a choice for them, but Labour and the Government believe in sport for all.

T10. Will the Minister redouble his efforts in respect of sport as a way of tackling regeneration? Is he aware of the efforts by Sport for Nottingham, part of the local strategic partnership in Nottingham, which is trying to get young people on the outer estates and in the inner cities involved in sport as a means of team building and leadership building? It is already putting considerable effort into that. Will my hon. Friend ensure that sport is undertaken not just at the prestige level but at grassroots level, where it can help with crime, health and many other issues? (224344)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on showing such great leadership in his locality on sport and showing the impact that it can have on people’s lives. He is quite right: this is not just about elite sport, important though that is; it is about ensuring strong community sport and strong sport in schools. He will know that we have restructured Sport England so that we can now work with governing bodies to look into whole sport plans. For me and the Government, a key element of that is ensuring that communities benefit from that participation through sport. We are happy to work with my hon. Friend and Sport England to ensure that everybody has access to sport.

T4. Has the Minister seen “Dance Manifesto”, which is supported by more than 130 dance organisations across the spectrum, from our wonderful English National Ballet to I Love Salsa? Given the health, social and artistic benefits of dance, what will the Government do to strengthen it as an artistic pursuit? (224338)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue, because it is ever more popular across the spectrum, as we see in the variety of television programmes about it and about dance fit for young people. The Government are fully supportive. We believe that dance is an ideal tool for making people’s lifestyles healthier and improving their self-esteem and confidence. We are working with the dance authorities and with regional partners to ensure that we invest in dance.

T5. Kettering borough council is keen to opt into the free swimming initiative. Although it can already do so for the over-60s, it is unable to do so for the under-16s because it still awaits detailed financial information from the Secretary of State’s Department about how the grant funding mechanism will work. That information was due in September, but I understand that Kettering borough council is still awaiting it. Will he ensure that it is released as soon as possible to district authorities? (224339)

I welcome Kettering borough council’s participation in the scheme for older people. My local experience is that not only was there an increase in people going swimming when we made it free for the over-60s, but there was an increase in the secondary income that comes from people using leisure centres and pools more regularly, which is another good source of income for local authorities, so the scheme seems to work. We have been in discussion with local authorities, asking them to opt into the different funding streams. We will give final allocations to local authorities on 15 October, so I am sure that we will be ironing out those issues with Kettering in the next few days. However, I will ensure that we do so, following up the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he does not oversee the end of political programming in the regions? Will he now give Ofcom the teeth to ensure that it makes ITV stick to the franchise agreements on which it is currently trying to renege?

I know that my hon. Friend appears regularly on Granada’s late-night programme—indeed, I look forward to his words of wisdom when I get home on a Thursday evening. He and I are from the same region and we share the same passion for regional broadcasting. As I was saying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) a moment ago, as long as there is still value in the licence, it is important that we prioritise news, current affairs and political programming. That comes out loud and clear from Ofcom’s research into the issue. I will continue to talk to Ofcom and ITV to ensure a good, strong regional offering in news and current affairs.

T6. The Taking Part survey has shown a decline in the number of over-75s taking part in cultural activities. Given that the Government are reviewing their ageing strategy, what steps is the Secretary of State’s Department going to take to reverse that decline? (224340)

We commissioned the Taking Part survey precisely to ensure that we do reach all parts of the community. One of the great things about free entry to museums and galleries over the past 10 years is that it has encouraged more people to use them more regularly. However, we keep such issues under review, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall respond in due course to the issue that he raises.

T9. The Secretary of State will be aware that there has been something of a renaissance in British film recently. Will he guarantee the future of local cinemas, such as the Ritz in Thirsk, which may suffer unfair competition from home entertainment plans? (224343)

This is a very important issue, and I am sure that it raises strong feelings locally in areas such as Thirsk and elsewhere in the hon. Lady’s constituency. The Film Council has given some funds to help to put digital screens into smaller local cinemas, but ultimately I cannot guarantee their future. That is something that it is beyond my power to do, but we do support local cinema and we will engage constructively—as will the Film Council—to ensure that their survival continues.