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Topical Questions

Volume 488: debated on Monday 2 March 2009

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.