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Topical Questions

Volume 491: debated on Monday 20 April 2009

Last week, I attended a memorial service at Anfield to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough stadium disaster. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying respects to the families of the 96 people who tragically lost their lives on that terrible day. In advance of this, working with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), I called for the full disclosure of any documents held by public bodies relating to the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath. I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, and I will work closely with her and other colleagues across the Government to determine the process by which to take this forward.

Following formal concerns raised by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, we recently announced an inquiry into the provision of library services in the Wirral.

If the Government are successful in achieving their target, announced in “Digital Britain”, of reducing illegal file sharing by 70 per cent., that will still leave 2 million individuals to be sued. That is clearly an unrealistic possibility. Will the Secretary of State look again at the technological possibilities of excluding the miscreants, rather than clogging up our courts? “Digital Britain” should be a huge opportunity for creative industries to lead the country out of recession, but at the moment, for every file legally downloaded, 600 are stolen.

I find myself in the unusual position of wanting to agree with the hon. Gentleman—a very unusual position—because I do not believe that the right way to approach this matter is via a legislative route. Clearly, behavioural change on a large scale is required. Lots of downloads are not paid for. That is true of music in particular, but other creative content could follow shortly.

The right approach is to encourage better dialogue between rights holders and internet service providers so that new opportunities emerge for how people may pay differently for music, film and other content in future. That would keep within the spirit in which the internet has been so good: people could explore music and could have full access to all the creative content they wanted. We believe that that is the right approach, but be in no doubt that the Government are determined to find solutions, because unless we have a workable system of copyright in the digital age we will weaken our creative industries in the long term.

As a lifelong Liverpool fan and someone who was at the Hillsborough disaster, may I say that my right hon. Friend’s presence at last week’s memorial service was most welcome? Most people there wanted to hear with interest what he had to say. On that point, will he say more about the papers that might be released as a result of work being done currently and whether that includes not just police files, but Government, health authority, health agency and local council papers that might be relevant to what happened on that day? Can he also give me the assurance that the families will be involved in this process and that no one in government will stop it continuing?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. He more than anybody will know that those events are still unbearably painful and very difficult to talk about, particularly in a public context. I agree with everything he said. I believe that it is not right to expect the families who have suffered so much in the 20 years since the disaster to wait a further 10 years to see full disclosure of documents. I favour very much the full disclosure of all documents held by any relevant public body that was connected with the tragedy. I am happy to give him the assurance today that, at all times, the Hillsborough Family Support Group should be fully consulted about the manner and the process by which this is taken forward.

T4. I was very pleased indeed to hear the Secretary of State announce the summit on media options, particularly as journalists and other workers on the Stockport Express were given their redundancy notices over Easter. In future, newsgathering will be in the hands of an overcrowded newsroom in Manchester. What are some of the options that he will put on the table for the summit to consider? (269426)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. The summit has been called in response to a suggestion from the all-party National Union of Journalists group in the House. The idea is to bring forward all relevant organisations in this debate. That will obviously include the Newspaper Society, the Society of Editors, the Local Government Association and others.

At this stage, we want to consider all potential options, and I am open-minded about what they might be. It may be that, rather than titles simply being closed, we allow a space whereby other local solutions could be considered to sustain a newspaper title that has been important in any local community down the years.

As I have said, I am open-minded. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take part in next week’s debate, but I believe that we could take a broad range of measures to help local news organisations, and I intend the final “Digital Britain” report to contain clear proposals on this important topic.

T2. I appreciate that there is to be a summit on the future of the newspaper industry, but does my right hon. Friend realise that the rationalisation process has been going on for about two years? The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) said that redundancy notices had been received fairly recently, but the process has been going on for a long time in the west midlands, and it requires a little more than a summit.Why cannot the newspaper industry be treated like any other industry? The Government have gone out of their way to give the motor car industry large sums of taxpayers’ money. Why do they not take a good look at the newspaper industry at the same time? Many local people—particularly pensioners and those who are housebound—depend on their local newspapers as much as they depend on benefits. (269424)

I agree with my hon. Friend that we may have taken local papers for granted for a little too long. We all know from our constituencies how important they are to the quality of local debate and information, and it is high time that the House devoted some of its time to considering them.

As I have said, I believe that a broad range of measures could come to the aid of local news organisations. It may also be possible to establish stronger partnerships with other media organisations, notably the BBC, to ensure that local newspapers have attractive content that people will wish to access via websites. The problem this year is the combination of structural change, with people turning increasingly to online news sources, and pressures in the economy. Our aim, however, must be to help local newspapers through these difficult times and set them up for the future, and that is what we intend to do.

T7. I know that the sports Minister shares my desire to widen opportunities for those with learning disabilities to participate in sport. Will he join me in congratulating the initiative of Wingate and Finchley football club? I visited the club recently, along with the leader of Barnet council, Mike Freer. It had worked with the local branch of Mencap to host a disability open day on which more than 30 adults with learning disabilities were able to play football and then watch a match. That set a very positive example, and I believe that we should encourage similar initiatives throughout the country. (269430)

I am happy to congratulate the club on that event, because it showed that we can provide sport for all. People with learning disabilities should have an opportunity to play sport at a number of different levels. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s local authority on the work it has done, and congratulate him on his own work in the House.

T3. May I return to the topic of Hillsborough? Ten years ago I worked with trade unionists in Liverpool to support people who had gone through that trauma, and the fact that they are still seeking justice 10 years on beggars belief. I congratulate the Secretary of State and his colleagues on the work that they have done, but let me tell the Secretary of State very clearly that what is being done now may well not be enough. Will he undertake to work closely with support groups and families to ensure that the truth comes out? (269425)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to support those families. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), I was at the other semi-final on that terrible day, and I shall never forget seeing the news of six dead at Hillsborough on the score board at Villa Park. Our delight turned to despair as we thought of friends at the other ground, and of what they were going through.

Those events are still unbearably difficult to deal with, but we must now finally answer questions that are still unanswered, and ensure full disclosure. It is important for us to uncover the full picture. Obviously that may resurrect difficult and painful issues, but judging by the public comment and debate of recent days, I think that the mood in the country is very much in favour of a process that will enable us finally to answer the questions raised by that terrible day, to ensure that it never happens again, and to bring some—I emphasise the word “some”—respite to families who, while suffering terrible indignities and injustices down the years, have conducted themselves with enormous dignity at all times.

T8. Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) on the vast scale of digital piracy and the impracticality of suing such immense numbers of people, will the Secretary of State agree to meet representatives of the creative industries to discuss the possibility of introducing technical measures such as throttling bandwidth? (269431)

The hon. Lady sounds more technically up to date than me; I do not know whether “throttling bandwidth” is a technical term, but it certainly sounds interesting. I think that technical solutions may well hold the answer, but the hon. Lady will know from the Pirate Bay court case in Sweden last week that there are enormous technical challenges in tackling illegal downloading. The Government have clearly and unequivocally said that there has to be a solution and that there has to be a solution quickly. In my view, that solution has to be international; there has to be an international consensus, because that is the very nature of the online space. Later this year, having concluded our own discussions on this issue in “Digital Britain”, we will seek at the Cabinet forum in the autumn to build an international consensus on the right way to tackle illegal downloading in the long term. The signs are very encouraging, and the rights holders and internet service providers are engaging very well on these issues, but the Government are absolutely clear that if there is not a solution we will, in the end, have to legislate.

T6. As my hon. Friend the Minister is aware, I am lucky enough to have the world’s first ever football club, Sheffield FC, in my constituency. Given the fantastic work it does in the community, particularly through community football, will my hon. Friend commit to working with Sheffield FC in promoting England as the venue for the 2018 World cup? (269428)

I can do that. Clearly, the 2018 World cup bid is important to the country, and we want all who can contribute to do so, and particularly Sheffield FC, which is now based in Dronfield. It was founded in 1857 and it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007, so it clearly is well placed to help us bid successfully for the 2018 World cup.

T9. Given that we spend far too much time in this country celebrating cultures other than our own, is it not time to start redressing the balance by creating a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day? (269432)

I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in promoting Englishness and the flag of St. George. I would have to discuss with Government colleagues the idea of holding a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day, but I hope that people will follow the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and celebrate St. George’s day, while also remembering that we will also be celebrating the birth of William Shakespeare.