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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 488: debated on Monday 2 March 2009

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Football World Cup

Last month, I joined Lord Triesman in Zurich for the formal presentation to FIFA of the Football Association’s bid to host the 2018 World cup finals. Following the presentation, Lord Triesman and I had constructive discussions with FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, on the bid and a range of football governance issues.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I genuinely wish the FA every success in its bid for the World cup, because it could be the only route to qualification that the team get, and it makes it easy for us Scots to come down and compete. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will encourage the games authorities to do more to establish a lifetime legacy for a World cup bid to ensure that grass-roots football is delivered to people, particularly those in poorer countries such as Africa and, indeed, throughout the rest of the world?

What provocation! I am barely out of the traps at DCMS questions and my hon. Friend goads me in that way. I hope that we will both see the 2018 World cup in England. I very much agree with him that we should learn from the failed bid of 2006 about how to go about bidding. At that time there was a sense of “Football’s coming home. It is our turn; give it to us”, but this time we must bid differently and more cleverly and recognise that English football has a reach in Africa and Asia that other national leagues do not. Because of that, there is so much that English football can take to the world to the benefit of football. That should be the spirit of the bid; I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support in that endeavour.

I warmly support the bid. Does the Secretary of State agree that in this very deep world recession the strongest case that we have to put at the next meeting with FIFA representatives is that we already have the infrastructure and ability to take on the games? In the present financial circumstances, FIFA would be ill advised to take a chance on a country that does not have the facilities already available.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a solid point, and I very much agree with him. FIFA is taking the World cup to South Africa and then to south America; I think it would be in everyone’s interest to have a World cup in 2018 that can do so much to reach out around the world. He is right that, because of our football grounds infrastructure, unlike others we can spend time working with other countries through our status as host nation. That is one of the compelling aspects of our bid. It feels to me that this is the right time for the country to get the FIFA World cup—not because we deserve it or because it is our turn, but because we can do so much more to enhance football around the world.

What representations has my right hon. Friend received from FIFA about its wish to remove the World cup finals from the A list of protected events that must be shown live on free-to-air TV? Will he continue to resist any link between that desire on behalf of FIFA and our bid for 2018?

My hon. Friend will know that we recently appointed David Davies, the former Football Association executive, to consider the protected list. It is 10 years since we last reviewed it, and the time is right to look again at what shape the list should have in a world when we will all be watching digital multi-channel TV. That review is ongoing and I am sure that all interested parties will feed into it. My hon. Friend should also know that the issues are being tested at the European level. The UK has offered support to Belgium, which is currently facing a test on its own list. We strongly believe in the importance of a protected list to ensure that all people can watch for free events that are of national significance, which can help them to be inspired by sport. That will remain our case.

I am sure that the Secretary of State saw the remarks of FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, over the weekend. He supported the view of the Scottish Football Association, the tartan army, and the overwhelming majority of Scotland fans that a “team GB” would threaten the independence of the Scottish football team. Given that it has all been about FIFA assurances, will the Secretary of State now drop those plans and instead support our proposal to have all the home nations participating in the 2012 Olympics, just as they did in London in 1908?

I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Late last year, the FIFA executive passed a resolution specifically saying that the independent status of the four Football Associations would not be affected by the fielding of a British team at the London 2012 Olympics. Might I say that FIFA takes issue with some of the reporting published at the weekend and has today resolutely confirmed its position, which it minuted in December. I understand that, individually, the home Football Associations may not want to be part of the machinery that creates a team in 2012, and I understand that it is their right to take that decision, but I say to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that the British Olympic Association wants to put forward a British football team, and it should be the strongest team that we could possibly field. No sanctions should be applied against any young person who wants to accept the call-up to that team and represent their country in their home-soil Olympics. To deny young people that opportunity would, I think, be a crying shame.

This is a new question. Given the good will towards the bid from both sides of the House, does the Secretary of State think it appropriate that nearly half the members of the bid board are from the Labour party? I know that he will be keen to maintain cross-party support, so will he make urgent representations to resolve the issue so that a potentially great sporting success is not compromised by party politics?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I hope that he is not trying to make a party political issue out of the bid, because the strength of our Olympic bid was its cross-party nature. Might I point it out to him that there are figures linked to the bid who represent both political parties? The recent announcement that Lord Coe accepted an invitation to join the board is welcome. Party politics really should not play a part; this should be a bid that represents all opinion, all football supporters and, indeed, all people who love sport in this country. I am confident that the balance on the board properly reflects the interest in sport throughout the country.

Newspaper Redundancies

2. What recent assessment he has made of levels of redundancies in the newspaper sector; and if he will make a statement. (259227)

We do not hold figures on the number of redundancies, but I can tell the House that 57 local newspapers have closed in the past 12 months. Given those real pressures, Lord Carter is considering how to sustain quality news provision across all media at a local level as part of the final “Digital Britain” report.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He will be aware of the recent announcement of 70 job losses at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail in Scotland. As he says, that is far from an isolated example. Indeed, the parent company of those newspapers, Trinity Mirror, just days afterwards announced profits of more than £145 million. Will he outline what he thinks the Government can do to stop that erosion of employment within the sector, which undoubtedly will have an impact on the quality of journalism?

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern about, as she puts it, the erosion of the work force at a local level. I do not think that there is a constituency represented in the House that has not seen some pressure on its local newspapers as a result, obviously, of the cyclical pressures in the economy and, perhaps more importantly, the structural change in the media industry. Lots of advertising spend is migrating away from press towards other advertising. Those are the real issues that we have to address. I gave her a commitment that I would meet the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group to discuss that, and I believe that we now have a date set for that meeting.

I believe that those issues are of the most profound importance, because they affect the health of democracy at a local level. We need to come forward with proposals to ensure that there are high-quality training and media at a local level across all media. As part of the “Digital Britain” process, we have an ability to place focus on that issue to raise it up the agenda, because to be frank it does not often get a good airing in this place. By doing so, we can develop proposals to help to sustain local media into the future.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in many communities the local newspaper is as important as the local post office, the local shop or the local pub? Given the number of closures, which he has already referred to, and the fact that journalists are being laid off, offices are being centralised and newspapers are becoming more distant from their local communities, there needs to be urgent action, in particular to relax the competition rules so that markets are judged more broadly in terms of media consumption, and also to encourage local newspapers to take part in consortiums for the provision of regional news, while at the same time perhaps addressing the problem in the broadcast market for news.

The hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is quite right to say that we need to look afresh at how best to provide local news in future and to consider other ways of working—perhaps local newspapers working with media at a regional level or other possibilities that might include considering the role of regional development agencies and the Learning and Skills Council. Those are all ideas that I am perfectly happy to consider.

The hon. Gentleman raised specifically cross-media ownership rules. He will know that, as part of the “Digital Britain” interim report it was proposed that there be now a review by Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading on the appropriateness of current rules, given the structural change in the media industry. That work will come forward as part of the final “Digital Britain” report, but the views that he has placed on the record today will obviously be heard as part of that.

I have an interest to declare. I am a former president of the National Union of Journalists, and my predecessor but one, Stan Crowther—whom you will recall, Mr. Speaker—had a lifelong career as a journalist in south Yorkshire. We all have problems with journalists—even you, Sir—but whereas it is possible to have politicians without democracy, I do not believe that it is possible to have democracy without independent journalism, and print media are essential: digital media could never replace them. However, we are seeing a massive erosion of our print media. Journalists are going out of the door regionally, locally and nationally. Lord Carter may be twittering away on the digital problems, but we need more urgent examination now of how we are to keep our print newspapers and trained journalists alive and in business.

I do not know whether Lord Carter twitters or not, but I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that we all have our problems with newspapers. Indeed, I had my own last week.

As I said in my reply to our hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark), the time has come for Parliament to take a greater interest in the health of journalism at local level, and particularly in how it might relate to skills and to the health of democracy. These are big issues, and we need to come up with new models for sustaining local news in the future. We all need to keep open minds on how best that might be achieved, but I could not have put it any more persuasively or directly than my right hon. Friend.

What concerns many of us is not just the health of journalists, important as that may be, but the health of local communities. Does the Secretary of State accept—I paraphrase what the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has just said—that online is no substitute for in the hand, and that local newspapers, especially weekly ones, help to give a sense of cohesion to our communities and must not be allowed to perish?

I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman’s view, but let me gently point out that we should not set up a conflict between online and in the hand. The world is changing out there, and we need to recognise that.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly about the importance of trusted local names which help people to be discerning about the information that they are given. People trust local newspapers to be an impartial source of local information, like their local community. If they have the same reputation in the online world, some people are likely to feel more at home in that world, because they will know the background from which the information comes and the stance taken by the paper concerned. We must help local papers to make that migration into the online world, where the two media can live side by side.

My right hon. Friend is well aware of the importance of the community, which is represented through local newspapers, local radio and, of course, regional television. Does he believe that there is a way in which all three can survive better if they can share that news and information? We cannot afford to lose any of those strands, and we cannot wait for the digital age, because it is happening now and we need action now. What does my right hon. Friend propose for us?

My hon. Friend has put it very well. That is exactly what I have in mind: partnerships at regional and local level. We have talked about a potential partnership between the BBC and a commercial operator in the provision of regional news on television, for instance. Obviously the BBC may have a broader role in helping to sustain local newspapers by providing access to information and, possibly, pictures and footage. There are all kinds of possibilities. As I have said, we need to approach the matter with an open mind, recognising that things will probably need to change if we are to provide an infrastructure to support local media in the long term. I am confident that if we approach it in the right way, the right models and solutions can be found.

The Secretary of State says that Lord Carter will conduct a review, but surely what newspapers need is not a review but a decision. At the current rate, another 1,800 jobs will be lost in the newspaper industry before that review is published. What immediate practical steps will the Secretary of State consider, before more newspapers are closed and more jobs lost?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is making a spending commitment and suggesting that there should be a subsidy. If he is accusing us of not acting quickly enough, I should tell him that we put in train the “Digital Britain” review precisely to take a quick but nevertheless detailed look at the range of issues affecting the media industry across the board and to come back with firm recommendations by the summer. That represents a pretty focused piece of work and I encourage him to engage in the process. It is not necessarily just funding; it may be regulatory change or looking at new ways of providing services, but in this case he cannot accuse us of being behind the curve. I told the House at our last Question Time that I had decided to raise the issue up the Department’s agenda, having met the Society of Editors, and I remain absolutely committed to making sure we get solutions that the newspaper industry can work with.

Community Radio

3. What recent assessment he has made of the long-term financial viability of community radio serving smaller communities. (259228)

As set out in the interim “Digital Britain” report, we have appointed John Myers to consider the sustainability of local content on radio. The review, which will report by the end of March, will consider both the commercial and community radio sectors.

Does the Secretary of State realise how difficult it is in small communities of populations up to 20,000, as in the Alnwick area served by the popular Lionheart radio, to raise funding from small business and local advertising? It will get even more difficult during the recession, so what ideas is he putting to the review as the Government’s view of how we can have a sustainable future for community radio?

I am aware of the community radio service that the right hon. Gentleman mentions and I think it particularly focuses on younger people, which is very welcome. As part of the review that I just mentioned, the rules under which community radio operates are being considered, so we want to look at those things together. I think that he would acknowledge that community radio is still in many ways a fledgling industry—it is only a few years since the first station started—but it is developing and growing. We already have established radio stations that provide an excellent service to their community and we want to work pragmatically to ensure not only that community radio can continue to develop but, with one eye on the rest of the media industry, that it does not threaten the development of commercial services.

Will my right hon. Friend look at the issue of grant finance? The grant finance introduced at the start of my community radio station, Stroud FM, was absolutely crucial, but there is an issue about how that grant finance can continue over time, because of course all the people running the station are volunteers. Does my right hon. Friend accept the importance of the grant regime and will he look at it to see whether there are ways in which we can expand it and make slightly different use of it?

I certainly endorse the importance of those points. The money that DCMS has made available has helped to develop community radio, although I acknowledge that the more community radio stations there are, the more thinly the money has to be spread, so I take on board the general point that my hon. Friend makes. We can look at the issue again, but in the long term community radio also needs the unlocking of sources of funding at local level. I promise my hon. Friend that I will look at both those things together. Having been involved at the very beginning, when the first White Paper came along suggesting community radio as a good development, I am very committed to it and I want to work with the community radio sector to develop services around the country.

The Secretary of State is right in saying that community radio is a fledgling industry, but is he aware that the services provided by those stations are incredibly important and popular? As it is a new industry, will he remove the dead hand of government from the regulatory consultation he is going through and let those stations flourish and deliver to local people the kind of local service they are beginning to miss?

A moment ago, I was being asked for more of the dead hand of government to help the stations along their way, so the hon. Gentleman needs to acknowledge—as I think he did—that the sector is at a very early stage of development and we have to get the process right and think it through at every stage. The other point is that there is pressure on the commercial media industry at local level, as we were just discussing, so in relaxing any rules that affect community radio we have to be aware of the knock-on effect that that might have on commercial radio or even local newspapers if everybody is competing for a smaller ad spend locally, but I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I have visited lots of community radio stations and they do a skilful job locally, but we need to take things forward carefully.

Given that 40 per cent. of local radio stations—probably more now—are losing money, is it not time that the Government stopped dithering and came forward with clear proposals, not just on local programming, but on co-location, media ownership and digital switchover? We need legislation and proposals not in a few months’ time but now, so that local, community and commercial radio can survive, if not thrive.

I am not sure what I can say; I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. There could not be a more focused process than the “Digital Britain” process, overseen by Lord Carter. It was precisely because of that issue that the Prime Minister appointed Lord Carter to conduct that detailed piece of work, which looks at the content industry and at infrastructure—and I did not hear any calls for that from the Opposition at the time. We will have the final recommendations in the spring, or perhaps—

I will not give a firm commitment, but it will be well before the summer recess. Unless the hon. Gentleman has alternative proposals to feed in, or unless he is clear about what needs to be done, he should say that we are right to conduct that process. We will bring forward our proposals shortly.

Free Swimming Schemes

4. What plans he has to assist local authorities to participate in his Department’s free swimming schemes. (259230)

We have already made available £10 million of capital funding for pool modernisation for those local authorities that have chosen to participate in both elements of the Government’s free swimming programme, and by way of revenue funding. Those local authorities have also been encouraged to apply for a further share of the £50 million capital. We are putting in place a national network of county swimming co-ordinators, who will offer expert advice and support to all participating local authorities and pool operators. That will help them to identify and deliver on priorities, such as reaching out to deprived areas and vulnerable groups. There will also be a “learn to swim” package, which will enable participating local authorities to target free swimming lessons at particular groups.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. In my constituency, 41 per cent. of the population are either over 60 or under 16. After making a freedom of information request, I found out that the local authority was not prepared to spend a mere £3,000 to allow free swimming. We have missed the boat this time; could he suggest a second way in, so that we could go back to the authorities and say that, for £3,000, they ought to come into the scheme?

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work to try to promote the idea of free swimming. I am shocked and saddened that for the sake of £3,000 his local authority was not prepared to offer free swimming to the over-60s in his area. It is mostly Labour authorities that have successfully implemented free swimming. We will make sure that his local authority is considered in the next round.

The Minister will, I know, accept that all local authorities would love to provide free swimming for the over-60s and the under-16s, but the fact is that when a local authority is as badly funded as Wiltshire, it is extremely difficult to do so. Will he stand by his pledge to provide free swimming for everyone by 2012? Will he achieve that?

We have said that we wanted free swimming first for the over-60s, then for the under-16s. That idea came from local government—from areas such as Wigan and Durham, which introduced free swimming. At one time, only 40 local authorities—usually Labour authorities—provided free swimming. Now 290 local authorities—82 per cent. of them—provide free swimming for the over-60s. They are working with local partnerships, local primary care trusts and other organisations. I am sad to say that, on occasion, some local authorities—they are usually politically motivated—have not put forward plans, although it could have been to the benefit of everybody if they had done so.

Sport (Young People)

5. What recent steps the Government have taken to encourage young people to participate in sport outside school activities. (259231)

We will offer five hours of high-quality physical education and sport per week to every child who wants it. Nine out of 10 children now participate in two hours of PE and sport in school, but schools alone cannot deliver the full five hours, so through our PE and sport strategy for young people we are providing diverse sporting opportunities in a range of community settings. We are building links between clubs and schools, providing opportunities for young people to lead and volunteer in sport, and recruiting more coaches, to be deployed in school and community settings. That is being done through Sport Unlimited. We have also delivered exciting and non-traditional sports in a range of settings to over 80,000 children since September 2008.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but can he say what he is actually doing to encourage schools to open after hours, and particularly to get children from poorer families to participate in sport? The situation is not uniform up and down the country; some kids go without sports. I remind my hon. Friend that the Opposition did immense damage to sport in school when they were in power.

I commend my hon. Friend for his work in Coventry on promoting sport and its values. We are pleased with the number of people who are given the two-hour offer, and we want to try to get to hard-to-reach groups, which usually include girls and people with disabilities. We must work with sporting clubs and sport governing bodies to ensure that the offer is given to them. That is why we will target those hard-to-reach groups through the funding from Sport England. As I said, we are already improving the two-hour offer to five hours by working with the Youth Sport Trust, so that there are great sporting opportunities. I believe that the whole House would accept that that is a massive improvement on the situation that existed before, when competition in schools was virtually nil.

Given that 4 million men and only 2.8 million women regularly participate in sport, what more can be done to bridge that gap?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. That is an immense challenge, and we can meet it in many ways. We are focusing on particular policies through Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and UK Sport, but there must also be a culture change, with role models among women sports personalities being portrayed in schools or communities throughout the country, so that people can see how good they are. That will inspire young girls in particular. We know that there is a drop-off rate among girls, particularly at 16, and we want to ensure through our programmes that we challenge those statistics, and that women’s and girls’ sport is improved.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fantastic job that he is doing on this matter. It is a far cry from what we inherited in 1997—[Interruption.]—when less than 20 per cent. of the kids in our schools were getting two hours of sport. We have increased that to 90 per cent., which means that there is 3 million hours a week more sport in our schools. As my hon. Friend the Minister says, we are going to build on that. We have stopped the rot of the previous Administration, and we are building for our schools and youngsters of the future.

I agree with my right hon. Friend. If it were not for his hard work as Sports Minister to undo the rot left by the Conservatives, we would not be in the position that we are in today. We now have a sound foundation of sporting infrastructure to build on, so that we can reach those difficult groups.

Following the self-congratulation, will the Minister acknowledge that having community sport for hard-to-reach and other young people requires at least some funding? Does he recall that, in 2000, the then Prime Minister made a wonderful announcement—the Government are good at announcements—of £750 million for school and community sport? That money was meant to be spent by 2003. Will he explain why, six years later, £75 million of it has still not been spent? With 3.6 million young people not meeting the recommended target for activity, were there not a lot of good uses for it?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s criticism. He should be congratulating the Government on the amount of money that has been spent on school sport and its infrastructure. He will know that we have 470 sports colleges, 450 school sport partnerships, 226 competition managers and the best infrastructure for sport in schools that there has ever been. We should not be criticised; we should be congratulated.

Regional Theatres

Audience development is a core objective of Arts Council England. That is why, earlier this month, it launched its “A Night Less Ordinary” scheme to give 618,000 free theatre tickets to people aged under 26 over the next two years. Arts Council England’s projected spend on theatres is £318 million during this spending review period, an increase of 8 per cent. on the previous period.

I congratulate the Government on that excellent scheme, because a visit to the theatre can be life-changing. In my region, the west midlands, we are blessed with many outstanding theatres, including the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon. Unfortunately, the excellent Grand theatre in Wolverhampton does not seem to be participating in the free ticket scheme. Will my hon. Friend reconsider the participation of the Grand theatre?

The Grand theatre in Wolverhampton was not in the final choice that Arts Council England made from an extraordinarily strong field of candidates—so strong, in fact, that it issued more awards than it had originally planned. The Drum, the Repertory and the Hippodrome theatres, along with the RSC in Stratford, are involved in the scheme, and I hope that young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency can benefit from that opportunity.

Promoting regional theatres is also important for economic development and regeneration. Unfortunately, in Croydon, which suffers from such challenges, arts funding has declined in terms of council support for the Fairfield halls and the Warehouse theatre. Can the Minister give any advice on trying to tackle the decline in the arts and arts funding in the London borough of Croydon?

In fact, arts funding nationally has risen, but I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Croydon, and I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that in detail and see what can be done to help.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are to boost regional theatre audiences, we need more confidence in the regions? We have already got rid of the regional activity of libraries and museums, and we now seem to be running down the Arts Council. When will she support the Arts Council’s regional work more vigorously?

I assure my hon. Friend that, as I am a regional Minister, the regions and particularly arts activities in the regions are extremely close to my heart. They are not being run down; they are being reorganised and, I hope, strengthened.

Broadcast Media (Disabled People)

7. What steps he plans to take to extend the accessibility to disabled people of broadcast media. (259233)

The Communications Act 2003 sets minimum targets for subtitling, signing and audio description on television and places a duty on Ofcom to ensure that those requirements are met. Ofcom will undertake a review of television access services this year, and we will await the conclusions of that review.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that modern technology has been an immense boon to millions of people who have disabilities, by extending their horizons and enriching their lives? Is it not good to see many people with disabilities presenting television programmes, and the facilities provided by audio description which allows television programmes to be fully comprehensible to the 2 million people in this country who are partially sighted or blind? The companies are obliged to put text on 80 per cent. of their programmes, but only 10 per cent. of them are audio described at the moment. Should we not double that before the digital changeover happens?

I agree entirely about the power that digital television brings. Last year, we changed the core receiver requirements under the digital switchover help scheme to give single-button access to audio description services, and we are looking at this all the time to see how we can go further. My hon. Friend and I attended a reception in the House with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which is campaigning to go further on audio description targets. As I said, Ofcom is looking at the issue, so I will have to wait for its review, but he may know that Sky announced last week that, from the beginning of this month, it will voluntarily double its target to 20 per cent. I should like other broadcasters to follow that lead and voluntarily and independently increase the amount of audio description, but we will follow through with Ofcom and come back to the issue later in the year.

Despite the deliberations of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on his blog, I should like to put on record my support for his comment today about audio description. Indeed, may I encourage the Secretary of State to convey the cross-party consensus in the House to Ofcom to ensure that the 3,000 people who are either blind or visually impaired in Shropshire, and, indeed, those throughout the country, benefit from audio description when the digital switchover takes place?

I certainly welcome what the hon. Gentleman says, and I think that he is right to raise the issue. There has been cross-party support for the early-day motion that has been tabled on the subject. Of course, that must be balanced against some of the very real pressures that the media industry is facing, and we have been discussing some of those issues today. We all want to go further, but in a sustainable way. That is the key issue that Ofcom is addressing, but the hon. Gentleman should have no doubt about my intention to keep a close eye on the issue and to make progress where we can.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the initiative that he personally has taken in accelerating the work on audio description? The current window of opportunity in respect of digital switchover or analogue switch-off is enormously important for people with visual impairment. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to publicise that, and to persuade television companies that there is an audience out there who, as a result of this process, will be able to benefit from our maximising the number of programmes that have audio description, along the lines of the plea, to which I know he is sympathetic, made by the RNIB?

May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his work on this issue? He has been a determined campaigner on these matters since I took on this job, and some of the progress we have made is in many ways down to his determination. He makes a very good point about these services being attractive more generally to television viewers, and I think Sky’s decision last week can be seen in that light. We would all like to go further, and my right hon. Friend is right to say that when nearly everyone is talking about a particular television programme, it is very excluding for certain sections of the community if they cannot join in that conversation in the pub or at work, or wherever. These are important matters, therefore, as they are about having a society in which everyone is involved and about enabling everyone to play a full part in the cultural life of the nation. That is something I want to do in my job and, as I said a few moments ago, we want to go further, but we will do so when we hear Ofcom’s advice.


8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the administrative burden of the licensing applications procedures under the Licensing Act 2003 on small businesses applying for such licences. (259234)

The Licensing Act has resulted in a considerable reduction in red tape. Administrative savings are estimated at £99 million per annum, with benefits not just for business but for the third sector and non-profit-making clubs. Although we do not have specific data on the impact on small businesses, they represent the majority of applicants and will thus be major beneficiaries of these savings.

I recently met licensees from my constituency and, almost to a man and woman, they complained about the amount of bureaucracy that the Act has introduced. Does the Minister have any plans to review the whole licensing process in order to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that small business people are facing?

We are always looking at what we can do to reduce bureaucracy, and the DCMS has a proud record of reducing it across the piece. There is an issue for pubs, however, and I know the hon. Gentleman cares about that as he is a member of the all-party beer group and signed an early-day motion on the issues raised. He will be pleased to learn that the Government are providing real help for businesses, and particularly for pubs that are tied houses. We have made sure that the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, whereby 75 per cent. of the loan is met by the Government, will be applied to tied houses so that such pubs can benefit from real help from the Government and banks. There are a number of other measures: we are supporting organisations such as CAMRA—the Campaign for Real Ale—and making sure we take steps to ensure that pubs are an integral part of our communities.

The hon. Gentleman mentions the Licensing Act. Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether your drinking habits have changed over the past 10 years, but that is certainly the case for a growing minority of younger Britons. A decade ago, the Government promised a renaissance in the approach to licensing and responsible drinking: town centres would be tamed, binge drinkers would be brought to heel, and councils would be empowered to create the so-called new café culture of Britain. The reality could not be further from that. Does the Minister agree with the Opposition and with recent reports which show that since 1997 teenage lawlessness has increased by 300 per cent., one in three girls now admits to binge drinking and there is a 30 per cent. increase in alcohol-related obesity? All this proves that, under this Government, binge drinking is slowly becoming the norm. Labour is giving Britain a beer belly and a worrying taste for alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour.

It would help if the hon. Gentleman did his research, as we all know that Mr. Speaker is, in fact, a teetotaller. I certainly do not recognise the picture the hon. Gentleman paints. The Licensing Act gives people the opportunity to have a drink at the time they choose, with local government and the police being able to make sure that is properly monitored. Also, most of the licensee trade supported the principles of the Act.

Topical Questions

I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating Kate Winslet, Danny Boyle, Simon Chinn and all those in the British film industry whose exceptional talent was rewarded at the Oscars a week ago.

Last week, I announced a new partnership between UK Sport, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and the British Olympic Association, fulfilling the Prime Minister’s wish for a private sector fundraising drive to supplement the unprecedented public support for our elite athletes as they prepare for the London 2012 games and subsequent Olympic and Paralympic games. Next week, we will announce our conclusions following the Government’s consultation on implementing the European Union audiovisual media services directive.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the world-renowned Stourbridge glass collection, based at Broadfield House in Dudley, but he might not be aware that at a meeting tonight, the Tory council will propose the disposal of the site. What can he do to protect this national treasure and my constituents from the philistines who run the council and threaten our black country heritage?

As my hon. Friend will know, museums are a discretionary local authority service and their funding is a matter for democratically elected councillors—although in this case the local people may wish to hold them to account. That said, I am keeping a close watch on the situation, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has met the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and that it is working closely with Dudley metropolitan borough council on the relocation of the Stourbridge glass collection to the Red House Glass Cone trust.

T3. I am sure that the whole House shares the Secretary of State’s vision for a digital Britain, but may I draw his attention to the specific problems that Milton Keynes has with broadband? The area is suffering from being at the cutting edge of 1970s technology: our copper wires mean that broadband speeds are incredibly slow and that some areas get no broadband at all. Will he get his officials to look into this specific problem for the city and write to me with his potential solution? (259250)

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to the attention of Lord Carter. I am sure that we can examine the particular local issues that his area faces as part of the “Digital Britain” work—I shall do so and I shall write to him.

T6. Will the Minister update the House on the expected benefits of the 2012 London Olympics for my constituency, the London borough of Ealing and west London in general? (259253)

We are hoping that the whole country, including my hon. Friend’s constituency, will benefit from the impact of the games in London in 2012. He will know that not only will the east end of London be regenerated, but there will be an opportunity for sports and the legacy of sport to be available to all our constituents. I hope that he and other colleagues in the House will ensure that all our constituencies fight to ensure that benefits of the Olympics are seen not only in London—as we know they will be—but throughout the UK.

T4. In 2005, the Government launched a £6 million quality and innovation fund, the purpose of which was to provide subsidised theatre tickets and to involve young people in the arts. Can the Secretary of State say why that was cancelled and whether the cancellation was linked in any way to the much smaller fund of £2.5 million available for free theatre tickets? (259251)

In response to the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, no it was not. The fund was cancelled in 2005-06 because of other Government priorities, but we have used the cancellation to reprioritise and to put money into things such as the Find Your Talent scheme.

Is my hon. Friend aware that because of recent grant aid to two theatres just outside my constituency, young people there now pay much reduced prices to go to the theatre? Is she aware that Thornton little theatre invited young people in over half term with reduced tickets and the splendid Grand theatre in Blackpool invites young people in not only as members of the audience but as performers? Will she monitor this excellent scheme and ensure that as many young people as possible can go to the theatre and enjoy themselves?

I am really glad to hear from my hon. Friend about the success of this scheme in Blackpool. I know that the Blackpool Grand is doing excellent work, and in fact it is staging a free burlesque show for all under-26-year-olds tonight. I know too that it is my hon. Friend’s birthday tomorrow, and I am only sorry that she and I are not young enough to benefit from that very good scheme.

T5. What are Ministers going to do to rescue small sports clubs from the disaster of the Licensing Act 2003, which has meant their licensing fees go up from £25 to the best part of £1,000? (259252)

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Small sports clubs benefit from CASC—community and amateur sports clubs—status and a variety of Government schemes. If he wishes to give me a specific example, I would be happy to meet or correspond with him about it.

When my hon. Friend next meets the Film Council, will she urge it to promote lower budget British and European films over US blockbusters as that will both increase the number of film crews employed and ensure reciprocity so that British film crews have the same opportunities to work as American crews enjoy here?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government provide support for UK film makers through the UK Film Council’s lottery-backed funding schemes, such as the new cinema fund and the development fund. However, I would be happy to meet him to discuss possible new support mechanisms for smaller films as I agree with him about the dominance of the blockbusters.

T7. May I take the Secretary of State back to his answer to the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn)? I too welcome the access services review that Ofcom is undertaking. He will be aware that the new chairman of Ofcom, in her evidence to the Select Committee, said that improving accessibility would be one of Ofcom’s top three priorities. When Ofcom has completed its review and if any of its recommendations to improve accessibility require legislation, will he commit to taking steps at the earliest opportunity to bring that legislation before the House? (259254)

That is a very good question, and I will give that commitment, subject obviously to other pressures on the timetable. We would want to bring it forward as soon as possible. Indeed, why wait for legislation? Sky took action independently and unilaterally last week. Even though times are difficult, other broadcasters could go further voluntarily, and I would urge them to do so. They have established audio description services now, and they could be extended without the need to wait for legislation. I hope that others will follow the lead that has been set.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the disgraceful situation that has arisen around the Everton-Stoke City match, which was due to be played on 14 March? Because of a British National party rally and leafleting campaign, the match was moved back 24 hours, and then moved back again after the BNP cancelled the rally.

I should perhaps declare an interest as one of those who would have been affected. I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the issue, because we faced the prospect of 30,000 Everton and Stoke supporters being left out of pocket or at least seriously inconvenienced by that change. Football supporters get messed around enough by the timetabling of the fixture list, without political parties adding to the problems. Merseyside police advised the BNP of the clash and asked it to reschedule its march. It was a disgrace that the BNP did not do so, and it proves what a shower its members are that it rescheduled only after media pressure last weekend. Football supporters should know where the BNP stands in relation to the interests of football supporters. I am glad that we managed to resolve this particular situation, but I want the Association of Chief Police Officers to issue guidance to political parties to the effect that they should always avoid holding major events with policing implications on days for which football fans have already bought tickets for long-standing fixtures.

T9. The Minister responsible for gambling will know that companies such as Ladbrokes and Betfair are trying to access European markets and break down state monopolies in some EU countries. Surely if the single market is to mean anything at all, British businesses should be able to access those European markets. Will the Minister explain what he will do to help those businesses to access those markets? (259316)

The hon. Gentleman is a member of the all-party racing group and is well versed in these issues. He knows that we have been talking to Ladbrokes, Betfair and other betting companies about how to access foreign markets, and the European markets in particular. We continue to work with Governments in Europe to try to put the pressure on. Obviously, when the European treaty is ratified, there will be an opportunity to open up the market.

At the beginning of the Olympics process, we were given assurances that the benefits—not least the economic benefits—would spread across all regions. Will my hon. Friend publish a list of companies in the north-east of England that have so far won contracts for the Olympics project and the total value of those contracts?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics has made sure that there is transparency in all these things, including the openness of contracts. A list will be published shortly. We are keen to make sure that for the whole of the UK not only are there contractual benefits for businesses, but that people from my hon. Friend’s constituency, for example, will be able to volunteer, and hopefully some athletes from his constituency will be in the Olympic games. We want to make sure that, although the games are important for London, they are successful for the whole of the UK.


The Minister for the Olympics was asked—

International Inspiration Programme

1. What role the International Inspiration programme will play in delivering the London 2012 Olympics programme objective to promote sport excellence and participation in other countries. (259256)

International Inspiration is a promise that we made in Singapore when we won the right to host the 2012 games. The purpose of the programme is to ensure that a generation of young people are inspired through sport in developing countries around the world. The programme is already operating in five countries. Soon that number will be eight and it will increase. I take this opportunity to thank our partners in the programme—the British Council, UNICEF, the premier league, UK Sport and the Department for International Development—for their contributions.

I was recently in Zambia, where I visited a boys school in Lusaka which is part of the International Inspiration programme. We were impressed on that visit to see just how engaged the young people were in sport. One of the things that particularly impressed me was the fact that children with disabilities in the school were as involved as the more able bodied children. Is that part of the International Inspiration programme, and what can we do to support it?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her visit to the programme in Lusaka. I can assure her that in International Inspiration right across the world, disabled children are equal participants with children who do not have disabilities. Given that the focus of the Zambia programme is the reduction of HIV/AIDS, I hope my hon. Friend may look at the opportunities for twinning between organisations and schools in her constituency and the International Inspiration programme.

Is the Minister aware that those of us who remember the 1948 games—the last London Olympics—which were run on a shoestring, remember them because they were an international inspiration programme? Sport was first, second and last, and money was very much further down the list. There is a fear that the London Olympics are so costly and the focus is so much on money that sport will take a back seat.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that our objective is to ensure that these are the greatest Olympic games ever, as a sporting event, a cultural event and a paralympic event. Of course, it is also important to make sure that the regeneration objectives in east London are met. Of every pound being spent on developing the Olympic park, 75p is being spent on regeneration. The games will be good value for money, a great national party and an opportunity to celebrate the success of our athletes and para-athletes.

Legacy (Essex)

2. What legacy effect she expects the holding of London 2012 Olympics events in Essex to have on levels of participation in sport in Essex. (259257)

The Government have the big ambition of making sure that the opportunity of the Olympics inspires 2 million people to be more active by 2012. In the case of 1 million of those, that will be through sport. Our investments are already making a difference in Essex, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, with an increase in participation between 2005 and 2007-08 that is ahead of the national increase in participation. In addition, Essex will have the opportunity to motivate its residents by using the significant hosting role of the Olympic mountain biking event at Hadleigh Farm as a way of making sure that even more people get active.

There is growing concern in my constituency that there will not be much of a legacy in Chelmsford. Will the Minister come to my constituency so that she can explain to my constituents what legacy the 2012 Olympics will be in Chelmsford?

The legacy can be achieved in several ways. First, there is the significant number—more than 60—of training camps in the eastern region; secondly, the hon. Gentleman can make sure that he encourages businesses of all sizes in Chelmsford to bid for the contracts that will be let through the CompeteFor network as part of the Olympics. Furthermore, his constituents could put themselves forward as volunteers, and it could be ensured that the tourism benefits are maximised. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could also persuade Essex county council to be rather more enthusiastic about free swimming than it has been to date.

Will the Minister care to deny the scurrilous rumours that, to encourage the people of Essex to be more involved, it is intended that the sports of putting the medallion and throwing the white high heels should be included?

Will the Minister acknowledge that, apart from the free swimming initiative in which many local authorities in Essex have chosen not to participate, there are very few up-and-running projects that will secure people’s active participation in exercise? Furthermore, the lack of a logo that could be used to publicise events linked to the Olympics remains a hindrance. Have we started early or left it too late to meet the target of 2 million extra active people by 2012?

I absolutely do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s pessimistic view. As he will know, the Inspire mark can be earned by organisations that have demonstrably achieved in relation to Olympic goals; he might like to encourage the sports clubs in his constituency to do that. He could also take the time and trouble to talk to the governing bodies across the board about the generally impressive efforts that they are making, not just to see their sportsmen and women compete and succeed at the highest level, but to get more and more people participating in sport—rowing, cycling, sailing, athletics; I could go on. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could focus his questions on the basis of a knowledge and understanding of what is actually going on, rather than promoting this climate of pessimism.

Essex is one of the counties that has been making representations about the cost of policing venues external to London. I appreciate why the Department has not been able to answer questions on the issue until now, but given that the security plan was published at the end of last week, is the Minister now in a position to confirm whether the £600 million inside the main Olympic budget earmarked for security will cover the cost of policing venues external to London?

As we made clear last week when the Home Office published the security plan, it is our expectation that the funds reserved for security—£600 million plus an allowance for contingency, as the hon. Gentleman knows—will be sufficient. However, the hon. Gentleman has received a briefing on the issue; for reasons that he will understand, the detailed costing of individual elements of the security programme will be developed over time, taking full account of the threat level at the appropriate time.


3. What progress has been made on plans for the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic games; and if she will make a statement. (259258)

We are making very good progress on the implementation of plans for the legacy of the London 2012 games. We recently provided Parliament with an update on the progress and future plans in the annual report on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. That was published on 5 February. The nature of the priorities for the Olympic legacy will vary across the regions of the UK, and it is important that those regional preferences are properly reflected. As I said, the Government have the big ambition of using the motivational power of the Olympics to inspire 2 million more people to be active by 2012, 1 million of them through sport.

I totally agree with my right hon. Friend’s sentiments. Will she ensure that everything possible is done to support groups such as West Cheshire athletic club, which has an Olympic-standard track along with associated facilities? It is vital that the hard work done by volunteers and organisers to develop the club and support new young athletes is protected well after 2012.

I thank my hon. Friend and recognise the part that he has played in getting that excellent facility for his constituents. I understand that there is some anxiety about the consequence of local government reorganisation. I hope that the new authority will honour all the commitments that have already been given, especially in recognition of the important role that local authorities up and down the country have to play in ensuring that 2 million more people are physically active and taking part in sport.

The Minister will know that research from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation has shown that fewer women than men are involved in sport at all levels, whether as participants, coaches or officials. What plans does she have to use the London 2012 Olympics to ensure that the legacy tackles the problem of women’s under-participation in sport?

That can be done in very many ways, starting with the school sport programme, where ways of engaging girls, in particular, are very much a focus, using dance, aerobics and so forth—the kinds of physical activity that are more likely to be attractive to girls. We must then seek to address the other barriers to girls’ participation, whether they are to do with gender, ethnicity or religion. We must then ensure, at the very top of sport, that women have equal chances with men—and, in some cases, men have equal chances with women—to take part in Olympic events. Let us take cycling as an example: Victoria Pendleton should have the opportunity to compete in as many events where she has the potential to win a gold medal as possible, as should male colleagues.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the south-west region may not be as successful as other regions in attracting Olympic sports? Will she therefore agree to meet me to discuss the legacy and how we can improve that for the south-west?

I would be absolutely delighted to meet my hon. Friend. I hope that she is reassured by the excellent work that is being done by the nations and regions group in the south-west through the marketing of training camps, the promotion of participating and volunteering. That will ensure that the economic benefits flow to the south-west, as they should. However, I would be delighted to meet her to ensure that even more is achieved.