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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Digital Radio Switchover

1. What his most recent assessment is of progress on digital radio switchover; and if he will make a statement. (287437)

The “Digital Britain” White Paper set out the Government’s vision for the delivery of the digital radio upgrade by the end of 2015. We have committed to a review of the progress towards that timetable in spring 2010, and we have also asked Ofcom to review and publish progress against the upgrade criteria at least once a year, starting next year.

Is the Minister not aware that “Digital Britain” has in fact failed to address the inadequacies of digital radio broadcasting coverage? I am sure that he will agree with that comment. Representations made to me so far suggest that the idea of a switchover is currently very unpopular. Instead of rushing ahead with the switchover, will he take positive action to allow people to see some tangible benefits?

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are rushing ahead. We have said that we will move Britain to digital by 2015. That gives consumers and the industry six years to make the upgrade, which we are doing because we are committed to radio, we believe in radio and we love radio, and radio will not have a future unless it goes digital. We are not switching off FM, and we are putting new services on the FM spectrum that is vacated by the services which move to digital audio broadcasting, because we want to see radio prosper and grow in the digital age.

Is my hon. Friend aware that switchover is affecting valued services on both radio and television? I have been lobbied by Teachers TV, which fears that it will lose an enormous part of its audience because the Department for Children, Schools and Families is stipulating that it must switch over totally to digital.

We are ensuring with radio switchover that community organisations and small community radio stations, which might currently be able to broadcast for only two weeks a year, will inherit the FM spectrum currently taken up by big regional and national FM broadcasters. Precisely such small, commercial, local community organisations will be able to flourish in the digital future in a way that they are technologically constrained from doing now.

The Minister is a Welsh speaker, so is he aware of the fears for the future of Radio Cymru, the BBC’s Welsh language national service? It is not currently available on digital and will not be available in large swathes of western Wales for reasons of topography.

I have, with personal regret, to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not really a Welsh speaker. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Dwi’n dysgu, ’de? I should have been a Welsh speaker.

We are alive to the particular problems of Wales. There are serious problems with coverage, not just with respect to Radio Cymru but with digital coverage throughout Wales. We have made it clear that the nations and regions that are furthest behind in digital coverage will be the first priority for the most serious intervention, to ensure that they are not left behind when we move to digital. We have made it clear also that we will not move to digital unless 90 per cent. coverage at the very least is achieved.

I start by welcoming you to your post, Mr. Speaker—an elevation that was only marginally more likely than man walking on the moon, which happened 40 years ago today. I offer you my congratulations. I am sure that you will want to join me in offering the congratulations of the whole House to the England cricket team, which won an historic victory today—their first victory over the Australians at Lord’s for 75 years. We would also like to congratulate the Minister on taking up his post in the DCMS team.

The Government’s own figures state that there are 65 million analogue radios in circulation, and they hope that the cost of digital radios will fall to £20 a set. That means that the cost of upgrading the nation’s analogue radio stock will surpass £1 billion. Who will pay that £1 billion? Will it be the Government, or will it be consumers?

Mr. Speaker, I should apologise for having forgotten to congratulate you; I thought that we were taking your position for granted by now, but it is my first time speaking under your chairmanship. I offer my very sincere congratulations. I never thought that your elevation was unlikely.

The hon. Gentleman shouts “cricket” from a sedentary position. I can tell him that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), was at the cricket, which almost certainly accounts for the first English victory at Lord’s since, I believe, 1934.

In response to what we might call the “Tory sums” of the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt)—[Interruption.] No, Tory sums. We do not know how many analogue radios are in circulation; it may be 65 million. The first point to make is that those sets will not become redundant. The FM spectrum will be well used for new services that are currently squeezed out. We are working with industry to come up with sets that are consistently priced at £20 or less. That will enable consumers to add to the 9 million digital sets—

Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, who has been extremely generous in his remarks, that I do not want to have to press the switch-off button, but I am a bit alarmed that he has a second point in mind? It might be better if he kept it for the long winter evenings.

The point is that if people use their analogue sets, they will be able to listen to new radio stations, but not the radio stations that they have been listening to for a very long time. Was it not the height of irresponsibility to announce the phasing out of analogue spectrum without announcing any details or any funding for a help scheme, similar to the one that was in place for TV switchover? Will that not cause widespread concern among millions of radio listeners, who will feel that they are faced with the unenviable choice of either paying up or switching off?

I shall try to squeeze in my answer at the end of that extraordinarily long question. We will do exactly the same with radio as we did with television: we will carry out a full cost-benefit analysis of exactly what kind of help scheme might or might not be required, and we will proceed accordingly. There are 9 million digital sets in use already. Consumers have six years to decide how much they want to pay, for what equipment, to receive which services.

Free Theatre Initiative

Nearly 50,000 free tickets have been issued during the scheme’s first quarter, enabling thousands of young people to experience fantastic theatre who otherwise would not have done so.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment, and I look forward to working with him. The Bolton Octagon theatre hopes to give away 4,000 tickets during the lifetime of the scheme. Will he congratulate it on the fact that by the end of the summer break it will have allocated a total of 718 tickets of its 790 ticket allocation, which I think is pretty good?

I regret that I will not be working with my hon. Friend for as long as I would like, as I think that he is standing down at the next election, which is very sad. I should certainly like to join him in congratulating the Bolton Octagon. Not only has it had remarkable success with the free ticket scheme, but it has had its most successful year ever in ticket sales. Of course, Sir Ian McKellen began his acting career in Bolton. If the free ticket scheme inspires another actor of his calibre, it will have been money very well spent.

Digital Radio Switchover

The “Digital Britain” White Paper was clear that analogue radio, via FM, will continue beyond 2015. After the digital radio upgrade is completed, the vacated FM spectrum will be allocated to community radio stations and a new tier of ultra-local commercial radio.

I congratulate the Minister on his new position, not least because I am a former pupil of Erdington grammar school in his constituency. As he knows, 52 per cent. of listeners have not converted to digital audio broadcasting. Many groups of listeners, including the blind, are concerned that their analogue radios may be turned off in due course. That includes, of course, all those analogue radios in cars. What hope for the future can the Minister give those groups?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s congratulations, and thank her for her adornment of my constituency. To answer her two questions quickly, on help for the blind, there is an important issue to do with audio description for radio stations along the spectrum. We have been working for 18 months—and continue to work—with manufacturers to make sure that sets that provide that description for the blind are made available at an affordable price in the digital future. On cars, we are working with the car industry to ensure that all new cars after 2013 contain digital radios. Technology already exists to convert FM receivers to digital in cars.

Is it not a fact that the BBC would have more money to improve coverage and content if it spent less public money on excessive salaries and excessive expenses?

My right hon. Friend must take that up with Sir Michael Lyons and the BBC Trust. Sir Michael will perhaps be glad of the opportunity to take up those matters, because I am sure that he is conscious that he and the trust need to account to the public for them.

Tourism Industry

Mr. Speaker, may I add my congratulations on your elevation? Having served with you on the marathon Minimum Wage Bill, I welcome your conversion to short contributions.

Since April 2008, my Department aside from the marketing and economic development that it regularly contributes to Visit Britain and Visit England, has made eight separate grants worth over £4.2 million to the south-west region from its Sea Change programme, which supports cultural regeneration and the visitor economy. I am glad to say that the largest beneficiary of those grants was Torbay, which I can confirm was awarded £2.25 million in August 2008 for projects at Cockington Court and Berry Head.

According to a recent parliamentary answer, the number of tourists in the south-west region fell by more than a quarter in the first quarter of this year, so why is that policy not working?

The number of tourists in the south-west region did fall in the first quarter of this year for a number of reasons including the credit crunch and the recession. I am glad to say, however, that initial figures show that it is now rising. We can see from benefit returns that the 10 towns with the most benefit claimants returning to work have been in seaside areas, and I am glad to say that six of them are in the south-west, where people are getting more work. The “staycation” and short breaks are providing a good result in the south-west.

One issue affecting the whole country, including the south-west, is the growth of the swine flu pandemic. Hon. Members might recall that, at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak and after the 9/11 attacks, the Treasury granted an additional £20 million, which was match-funded by the industry, to assist UK tourism through those difficult times. I notice that there is nothing on the DCMS or Visit Britain websites about swine flu. May I ask the Minister and, indeed, the Secretary of State what discussions they have had with the Treasury and the Department of Health to ensure that we avoid sensationalist headlines such as that in The Daily Telegraph today—“Crowds may be banned from major sporting events”? What plans are there to help the British tourism industry to keep people informed and to tell them that Britain remains a safe place to visit?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, but I would caution him against such alarmist talk. I would also caution him against quoting the media, which are sometimes more interested in selling copies of their newspapers than in informing—

The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), sits on Cobra, the civil contingencies secretariat, and we are in daily contact. We are constantly updated on the situation. At present, the advice is to stay calm—I urge the hon. Gentleman to do that—not to panic and to take precautions.

Sport (Young People)

5. What steps his Department is taking to encourage participation in sporting activity by young people who have left school. (287441)

Mr. Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your new role?

Part of the legacy programme for 2012 will be to ensure that we leave behind a system that encourages those of all ages, particularly children and young people, to play sport. The five-hour offer for children aged five to 16 has been expanded to include three hours a week for those aged 16 to 19. To combat the drop-off on leaving school, and as part of more than £780 million of Government funding between 2008 and 2011, we are investing more than £15 million to create a new network of sports co-ordinators for those who have left school in order to move on to further education. Through our unprecedented investment in national governing bodies, nine sports will now also work specifically to reduce post-16 drop-off by 25 per cent. for 2013.

Among other things, I would like to ask my hon. Friend whether in the context of the question it is better for people to sit on Cobra rather than drink Cobra.

My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that there is an enormous drop-off in sports activity by young people post-school, particularly among young women. Will he work with local authorities and perhaps with private sporting clubs to ensure that his Department’s marketing to encourage people into sport is taken up by those groups so that we can see our young people get back into meaningful activity?

It is a pleasure to sit on the Cobra committee, and I also enjoy a pint of Cobra now and again.

My hon. Friend is quite right about the drop-off rate. In trying to get 2 million more people active in sport and physical activities by 2012—a key legacy aim—we are looking at the drop-off rate post-16. I know that in my hon. Friend’s area of Manchester and in Salford the local authorities are doing a great deal of work with the local community, in initiatives such as StreetGames and the KICKz project, to encourage people to get involved in sport. I am particularly pleased with Sport Unlimited, which is aimed at 11 to 19-year-olds; that involves 900 young people and £36 million of investment. I hope that that will help to get them into more organised sport.

The Minister will know that obesity is a huge and serious problem. If the Minister wants joined-up thinking and joined-up government with the Department of Health, why is his Department allowing the selling-off of four more sports fields and more school land than ever before, which of course prevents young people from having access to sports and addressing that important issue of obesity?

The hon. Gentleman usually gets his facts right, but he is completely wrong on this occasion. It is a complete myth that sports fields are being sold off. This Government have put processes in place to make sure that sports fields are not sold off. In fact, we have had a net increase in the number of sports fields. It is not just about sports fields; it is about indoor sports arenas and ensuring that we have world-class facilities for our youngsters and sports people. The hon. Gentleman is right about obesity, which is why the Government introduced free swimming, which more than 80 per cent. of local authorities took up. I am sorry that some Tory local authorities did not do so.

I have made all my falderals thanking and congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, so I will move straight to the Minister, who visited my constituency and saw the Hamilton-Davies trust and the Barton Athletic club projects in partnership with Salford city council. Does he agree that the project to encourage young people leaving school to take up non-traditional sports such as boxing, wrestling and martial arts is to be commended? Does he also agree that the 70 and 80-year-olds whom he saw training at Barton Athletic was a great example to others?

It was a great pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and to meet people at the Barton Athletic sports club. He is right that we saw young people getting involved in a range of different sports, but I was very happy to see a 70-year-old and an 80-year-old rowing and achieving fast times in preparation for entering the world senior games. As we are talking about older people, let me say that it was a great pleasure to see Tom Watson nearly become the British open champion yesterday. I congratulate the winner, but Mr. Watson’s performance gave great hope to all those older golfers.

The Minister has rightly said that increases in sports participation are a critical part of the legacy plan for 2012, but does he acknowledge that after a good early start there has been stagnation? Does he accept that the latest figures show that in six out of nine key sports there has been no increase in participation in the past 12 months; that in three of those sports—rugby, football and athletics—there has been a significant fall in participation; and that fewer women and fewer people with limiting disabilities are participating in sport? The Government must do more. Will he acknowledge that there are good ideas out there, such as gift aid for junior membership of sports clubs and the Active Generation programme by the Prince’s Trust? What are we to make of newspaper reports of some new scheme to be announced next year?

Let me say again that, although the hon. Gentleman normally gets his facts right, he has unfortunately got them wrong today. He keeps criticising the legacy that we are trying to create, but he will know that involving 2 million more people in sport and physical activity by 2012 has never been achieved by any other host of the Olympic games. There is a fantastic challenge ahead of us, but we are already making progress. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the new funding arrangements for Sport England are enabling the national governing bodies to increase participation: money is going to where sport is. More than £5 billion of lottery and Government funds has been invested since 1997.

I hope that the Opposition will now stop carping. If good ideas are emerging, let us hear them.

The hon. Gentleman has given me one idea. I look forward to hearing more from him. The legacy will be great, and we will achieve our figures.

Bingo Industry

8. What recent representations he has received on the future of the bingo industry; and if he will make a statement. (287444)

We have not received any recent representations on the future of the bingo industry, but I am aware that such representations are being made to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We recognise the important social role that bingo plays in many of our communities, and continue to engage with the industry on a range of issues affecting the state of the sector.

Sadly, we have not got very far with the Treasury. Many of my constituents have contacted me to say that they are very worried about the future of Southend Mecca, and that they thoroughly enjoy playing the game. One hundred bingo halls have already closed over the past three years because of the 32 per cent. tax. Will the Minister have another word with the Treasury, in order to establish whether it can provide parity for the industry and lower the tax to the rightful level of 15 per cent.?

We continue to have frequent discussions with the Treasury, but the hon. Gentleman will know how much work the DCMS itself has done to support bingo. He will know, for instance, that in February we increased the permitted number of B3 machines in bingo halls from four to eight, and also examined stake and prize levels for category C and D machines.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the number of bingo halls that have closed. In fact, between 37 and 40 have closed over the past 12 months, which represents 6 per cent. of the industry, but that is still too many clubs. We are aware of the important part that bingo plays in our communities, and we will continue to work with the industry and the Treasury to try to alleviate its problems.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but surely there is a need to lobby the Treasury to ensure that there is some consistency in the tax rates. If ever there was a need for a taskforce to work on saving one of our great British institutions, this is it. Would my hon. Friend consider leading such a taskforce?

I am always happy to be involved with a taskforce, but given my hon. Friend’s reputation for becoming involved in key issues, he might want to chair this one. He will know that the Prime Minister has been involved in the discussions about bingo. He met a deputation from the Bingo Association, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), to consider the issues in greater detail. We continue to work with the Treasury and others to ensure that we add to the work that we have already done to support bingo.

When I next speak to those at the very successful bingo club at the Elephant and Castle, or the very successful bingo club in Surrey Quays, will I be able to tell them that the Minister’s Department will look again at the taxation of bingo, and lobby the Government, as soon as we know the court decision on participation valued added tax? That will give the Government another opportunity. The Department lost the last battle, but can the Minister assure us that it is determined to win the war?

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. We await the outcome of the court case, but we continue to work with the Treasury. For example, we are discussing the current consultation on gross profits tax relating to gaming machines. As the sponsoring Department, we are working closely with the industry in the sector to try to ensure that its case is heard wherever necessary.

Digital Television Switchover

9. What lessons learned from digital switchover in the Border TV region will be used in planning for switchover in other regions. (287445)

Switchover has been successfully completed in the Selkirk and Douglas transmitter group areas of the Border region, with the Caldbeck group area due to complete on Wednesday. A number of findings resulting from research carried out during the switchover have been used to refine switchover further for the next regions to switch.

As my right hon. Friend has said, in two days switchover will be completed in the Border TV region. I sincerely hope that my good lady wife will ensure that everything is in order when that happens in my absence. I believe that the digital switchover help scheme initially caused concern. Has the uptake that we budgeted for been as great as my right hon. Friend expected?

It has not been as great as we expected; there is a considerable underspend. We do not think that, by and large, that is because the scheme is too complicated, but issues raised in my hon. Friend’s area have been looked at, and the new advice and videos that are being provided are intended to make it less complicated. The main reason for the underspend is that most people have simply done it for themselves, perhaps helped by friends or family. The help scheme has been a great success, and has been valued by those who have used it. Nevertheless, there are always lessons to be learned, and we hope that we are learning them from the switchover in my hon. Friend’s area.

Pub Industry

10. What recent representations he has received from the public house industry on the future of that industry; and if he will make a statement. (287446)

The Department has regular dialogue with representatives of the pub industry and other areas of the tourism and hospitality industry. That is essential to ensure that licensing policy reduces unnecessary burdens on small businesses while maintaining the necessary public protection.

That is all very interesting, but is the Minister aware that although responsible publicans—I am thinking particularly about such a group in the city of Wells—are doing what they can to counter irresponsible and antisocial drinking, when big retail chains sell loss-leading and discounted alcohol the pubs are blamed for the consequences? What is the Minister doing to counter that? What discussions has he had with the drinks trade to stop that particular unfairness, which is undermining responsible publicans?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He is right that responsible publicans ensure that they do not serve people who have had too much alcohol. Sometimes that causes problems outside their premises. We are working with the drinks industry. We responded to the all-party group on beer, members of which are present in the House today, in trying to look at the issues around pricing, and at a mandatory code to ensure that people do not have irresponsible promotions. Many such promotions are seen on the high street—for example, women can drink for free, or for £5 people can drink as much as they can. They are irresponsible promotions. Like him, I congratulate those publicans who act responsibly.

My hon. Friend is aware that the pub is part of the community. It is an important part of that fabric, but has he thought about the number of pubs that are empty? Has he considered the challenge of alcohol-free pubs as an alternative for young people? They would be a way of controlling young people, and of giving them a new way of life and an outlet.

My hon. Friend raises a good idea that has already been acted on in a number of areas. Buildings are being taken over and alcohol-free pubs are in place. I do not want people to run away with the idea that we think that that is a substitute for good community pubs. We want to see good, strong community pubs, and with empty pubs that may be a good idea to develop.


11. What assessment has been made of the effect of his Department's renaissance programme on regional museums in (a) England and (b) the east of England. (287447)

My Department has invested £242 million in the renaissance in the regions programme, which aims to raise standards and participation in museums across England. Since its inception in 2002, visitor numbers have increased by 18.5 per cent. In the east of England, visits by children aged 16 and under to hub museums have increased by 216 per cent. In addition 72 new jobs have been created in hub museums in the eastern region.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps it shows my ignorance but I do not know what a hub museum is. The museums in Southend are very good, but residents and children in particular from Southend often travel to London to visit some of the larger museums. What more can be done through the renaissance programme to encourage visits to regional museums, particularly by people from the east of England and other regions that are quite close to central London?

I know that the Department’s statutory body, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, has been working with Southend to increase its offer. I know that the council has many exciting projects, particularly concerning the Saxon King museum, and that a bid has been submitted for the Southend pier head project. As Minister for the East of England, I am obviously watching all those things closely and I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman with that work.

Snibston discovery park is a regional museum based on the former colliery of that name, sunk by the great George Stephenson. Would the Minister accept an invitation to come and look at the work that is done there? Creativity, energy and professionalism has enabled the museum to reinvent itself in the most impressive fashion. It is a successful museum for an area much wider than north-west Leicestershire. We could do worse than to have that as a beacon for the way ahead.

As this is my first appearance under your watchful eye, Mr. Speaker, may I add to the legion of congratulations that have been sent your way and put on record my huge admiration for the job you are doing? [Hon. Members: “More!”] I still have three minutes, and I could go on.

On Wednesday, the Minister will publish her independent review of renaissance in the regions, which she will describe as a real success. The report itself is, however, highly critical of the management of renaissance in the regions, including the criticisms of incomplete accounts, a lack of financial reporting and a lack of documentation. Is this why the report, which was given to the Minister at the beginning of March, is being published only at the end of July—the beginning of the summer recess?

The report is, in fact, being published in two days’ time. [Interruption.] Yes, but that is not the end of July. It is being published on 22 July, and until it comes out I shall not comment on it.

Broadcasting Bill

The digital economy Bill is not one of those in the draft programme proposed for pre-legislative scrutiny. Many of its proposals were contained in the interim “Digital Britain” document that we published in January. They have been the subject of reports by Select Committees in both Houses, and we are currently consulting on the proposals made in the final report last month.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I welcome him to his new position. I am sorry that that Bill will not be in the pre-legislative programme, because if it were there would have been something for us to do in October and November before the Queen’s Speech. May I take it as read, however, that it will definitely be in the Queen’s Speech?

My hon. Friend will, of course, understand that we cannot at this stage say what will definitely be in the Queen’s Speech—we cannot do so until Her Majesty stands up and delivers her Gracious Speech—but given that it is in the draft programme and it has been heralded by the Government as one of the mainstays of our active industrial strategy, I think he can be fairly confident that it has good prospects of being there.

Given the possibility that such a Bill might be in the legislative programme, will the Secretary of State confirm that it will cover access to foreign language stations after the digital switchover for radio coverage?

Video Games

13. What recent discussions he has had with pan-European game information on the age classification of video games. (287449)

I have spoken to the Video Standards Council—the current UK agents for the PEGI system—about the classification of video games and have another meeting scheduled with it very soon. I have also had discussions with the British Board of Film Classification. Both organisations are working hard to ensure the success of the new system.

I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome the steps that the Government are taking on this issue. However, it is still a matter of concern that a game such as “RapeLay”, which shows extreme violence against women, can be downloaded from the internet. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that such games are not accessed from the internet, so that children and young people are properly protected?

We should be clear that the game was not classified, but was briefly available on Amazon and then was banned. The point that my right hon. Friend is making is about games that, like other brutal, unpleasant, illegal content, can be available on the internet. All steps that apply to any other content on the internet will apply to games. Specifically, as part of the Byron review we set up the UK Council for Child Internet Safety to work with content providers, internet service providers and all aspects of Government to make sure that such content cannot be accessed, particularly by children.

The Minister will know that Britain is a great leader in video and computer games, and while I take on board many of the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), will the Minister recognise that this is a global industry, not simply a European one, and in so far as we are going to have the safeguards to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, we will clearly also need to have global regulation along those lines?

The system of regulation for which we have opted—the PEGI system—is pan-European, and as such, we see it as the building block to moving towards a global regulatory future. The key principle is that the markings on games should make it clear to parents which games are suitable for adults and which are suitable and unsuitable for children and young children. Adults should be allowed to access adult content; children most certainly should not.

Topical Questions

We are responsible for a number of important areas. We are announcing excellent results for our free swimming and free theatre tickets initiatives this week. I wish to add to the earlier congratulations to Andrew Strauss and his team on their superb result at Lord’s. In doing so, we should not forget the achievement of our women’s cricket team, who have won every international competition this year. We believe that they have made themselves the most successful English sporting team in a single year in history.

The Secretary of State makes a good point about the influence of sport, but does he think it is right that sporting events should advertise alcohol? Does he not think it is time to bring an end to that?

The hon. Lady will know that we are considering that at the moment. There will always be a balance to be struck between the sort of messages that advertising sends out about healthy living and its health impact—those issues will concern people a great deal—and the importance of sporting events and sport generally being properly funded. That applies to many of the funds that go to sports at grass-roots level.

T3. Local newspapers make politicians and public officials more accountable, but sadly, many titles have ceased printing because of a fall in advertising revenue and a migration of advertising to the internet. On 20 January, in Westminster Hall, I proposed cross-subsidising local papers with the internet revenue. In its early days Channel 4 was cross-subsidised with ITV advertising revenue, without that undermining Channel 4’s editorial freedom. Will my right hon. Friend examine the possibility of applying the same principle to local newspapers being cross-subsidised by internet advertising revenue? (287458)

Order. Before the Secretary of State replies, may I say to the House that there is a tendency now for topical questions to be more like discursive essays? What we are seeking is a pithy question and a pithy answer.

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern about the fate of local newspapers, as I believe we all do in this House. Those papers are the lifeblood of our local democracy, they hold local authorities and other bodies to account and they are a very important part of our democracy. If he has studied the recommendations in our “Digital Britain” White Paper, he will have seen a number of proposals that will help, including the establishment of independent news consortiums to help provide local and regional news. Such an approach could include ownership or part-ownership by existing or new newspaper organisations. We are examining a number of areas in order to help local newspapers, because we agree that they are vital.

T2. Does the Secretary of State agree that if the entire population of Exeter were kidnapped, that would make a huge news story, yet approximately the same number of people are trafficked every year in and around Europe, be it for debt bondage or as sex slaves? Will he put his name to a suggestion that the media launch a new initiative—a new crusade—to draw attention to this worldwide evil? (287457)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that it is not my job to tell media organisations what they should investigate and what they should do. However, may I pay tribute to the excellent work that he has done in this House to highlight the problem of human trafficking? I am very sorry that he will not be here in the future to continue doing that. Perhaps now that he, sadly, has more time on his hands, he will be able to spend some of it persuading media organisations to do exactly what he has just advocated.

I want to ask the Minister what the news is following my intervention last Thursday with the education and skills people about the co-location of the Royal Opera House and National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural Skills project in Thurrock. She will have noticed that I accused the Government of not being involved in joined-up government and of being confused and dysfunctional. To ask a pithy question: can we have the money to get this site under way this summer—yes or no?

To give a pithy answer, I am doing my utmost to get my hon. Friend the money. I am nagging, pushing and writing to the relevant Minister. I am doing everything I can to get the money, because I, too, have an interest in this.

T4. In 1934 there was a Labour Government in deep trouble in the midst of an economic recession. The only bright spot that year was the England cricket team beating the Australians at Lord’s. The following year, Labour was turfed out and a Conservative Government were elected, who led the country out of recession. Does the Minister agree that it is great news that history is repeating itself? (287459)

It is great news that the England cricket team won a test match at Lord’s against Australia for the first time since 1934, and it is also great that the England women’s cricket team have won everything in their path. Another thing that has happened that has never happened before is the biggest investment there has ever been in sport, made by this Government. I hope that we will have more success, built on the success that we had at the Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing last year—and the hon. Gentleman should not count his chickens.

T9. With Cardiff’s successful hosting of the Ashes and the Ryder cup coming to Newport next year, does the Minister agree that we should take full advantage of the growing levels of expertise in Wales in hosting major sporting events, so that we can have more in the future? (287464)

My hon. Friend is right. Not only did we have a successful test match in Glamorgan, but the school games will take place later this year, and the Ryder cup will be in Wales next year. In Wales, and all over the UK, expertise is being built up in sporting events, and I congratulate all involved in Wales on hosting some tremendous events.

T6. The British amusement industry believes that the Government should abandon their proposed gross profits tax as a further unnecessary administrative burden, and instead work with the industry to deliver efficiencies to benefit both Government and business. Will the Minister work with the industry to benefit not just the industry but the Treasury and the public, not least in the seaside arcade sector? (287461)

We have supported the seaside arcades. As the hon. Lady will know, we had a review of the category C and D machines and we have also considered category B. The gross profits tax is part of the overall issue, but we will continue to talk to the Treasury. We work with the industry on a regular basis and we have alleviated many of the problems of seaside arcades, although there is a lot more to be done.

Does my hon. Friend agree that on a day when we have won the first Ashes test match at Lord’s since 1934, it is a shame that it was shown only on a fee-paying channel, not a terrestrial channel where more people would have seen it and perhaps been encouraged to participate in the sport in the future?

That is why the Government have instituted a review, chaired by David Davies. We hope that his panel will respond by September. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is sad when people can only see edited highlights on Channel 5, and sometimes not even those. We have to strike a balance between money going into the game and the opportunity for a wider audience to see such significant events.

T7. Is the Secretary of State aware of concerns in the creative industries that the way in which English libel laws operate, or at least London’s reputation as the libel capital of the world, is suppressing freedom of expression and creative freedom? Will he agree to meet a cross-party delegation with leading members from the creative industries in the next few months to discuss their concerns? (287462)

I am sure that my hon. Friend or I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and a delegation, but he will be aware that this is primarily a matter for the Ministry of Justice. We are certainly aware of the concerns that he expresses: I understand that they will all be covered in a forthcoming consultation document that the Secretary of State for Justice will launch in the near future.

Yes: it was a decision to try to cut the bureaucracy within Sport England and to put the money directly into sports governing bodies, which we have done. We are working with county sports partnerships and local government. The regional sports bodies did well, but were not operating effectively and efficiently enough. That is why we made the change.

T8. My constituents are very concerned about the very high salaries paid to some at the BBC. Does the Secretary of State share those concerns? (287463)

Those must be a matter for the BBC. It has plenty of senior managers who are well paid enough to make such decisions and account for them, without it being necessary for me to micro-manage salary levels for staff. I have always made it clear, including to the BBC, that we live in an age of transparency and accountability. We in this place have been through a painful process of moving towards that, which I welcome. In the long run it will do this place a great deal of good. I am not aware of any institution or organisation that has not benefited by being more open.

Ronaldo sold for £80 million, Manchester City effectively owned by a country and offering John Terry wages of £250,000 a week, and an English manager saying that every player in Scotland is available at a price: is it not time we had an investigation into the running and funding of British football?

My hon. Friend will know that is exactly why we wrote to the premier league, the Football League and the Football Association with a number of questions about the sustainability of football, together with issues around home-grown players. It is right for the Government to express the concern of ordinary fans and our communities about what is happening in football. The premier league is the best in the world and we want it to remain so, but we need transparency and sustainability. I shall be writing to the football authorities in the next few weeks to try to help move this thing forward, because there is great concern about the sustainability and viability of many football clubs.

T10. Following the earlier unsatisfactory exchange, will the Secretary of State now assure the House that the Government are taking the threat of swine flu to the British tourism industry this year seriously? Will he tell us what representations he has been making to the industry? (287465)

Those conversations go on all the time. I urge Opposition Front Benchers not immediately to see parallels with foot and mouth, which involved a completely different set of circumstances. At the time, mistakes were made; too much of the countryside was closed down for the wrong reasons—partly because we were under pressure from the agricultural industry not to let people walk over land. In all the reviews of foot and mouth it has been acknowledged that that was a mistake At this stage, there is no suggestion that the swine flu epidemic need impact at all on tourism or on the sort of gatherings that my Department sponsors—sporting or cultural, or festivals. I was at two festivals over the weekend—[Hon. Members: “Which ones?”] Latitude and the wonderful Tolpuddle Martyrs festival. People should carry on leading their lives as normal.


The Minister for the Olympics was asked—


The £9.325 billion funding package that I announced to the House in March 2007 remains the budget for the Olympics. The project remains on budget and on time, and as part of my commitment to budget transparency, I have since May 2009 been publishing updates on a quarterly basis. The latest quarterly update was published earlier today.

Bearing in mind the United Kingdom’s present economic difficulties, is the Minister confident that sufficient funds will be forthcoming from the private sector for the 2012 games, and that the contingency fund will prove sufficient to fill the potential funding gap?

Yes, I am. That is an important question, so it is worth placing it on record that 65 per cent. of the contingency remains unspent. We are confident that it is sufficient to complete construction and the other commitments made in the budget. In relation to the hon. Lady’s questions about the private sector, she will know—because I have reported to the House—that contingency funding was used to make good the shortfall in private sector contributions both to the press and broadcast centre and to investment in the Olympic village—an investment that will yield about 2,800 homes. The private sector contribution to the staging cost of the games through the organising committee remains well on target, at more than £500 million.

May I add my congratulations to you on your election, Mr. Speaker? I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to take particular note of a gifted young tenor who sings “Jerusalem” at the Ashes. His name is Sean Ruane and he comes from Rossendale in my constituency. May I also urge my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to whether he might have a musical role in the 2012 Olympics?

I thank my hon. Friend. I am sure that Sean’s talents, now recorded in Hansard, will go from strength to strength. I draw her attention to the consultation that is taking place around the country about the content of the opening ceremony, which I hope will be many things, but in no small part a showcase for great young British talent.

What recent changes have been made to the budget to support the ambitious new programme that, according to The Independent on Sunday, the Government are apparently launching to support grass-roots sport? How much sooner does the Minister think the Government will reach the target of getting 1 million more people into sport as a result of the campaign?

The budget to which I have just referred is almost entirely for construction, security and non-sport, non-participation activity. The costs to which the hon. Gentleman referred are being met in a variety of ways: the investment in school sport, community sports clubs and the reconstruction of facilities, and the £100 million a year that the Big Lottery Fund is spending on sport. That all means that whereas in 1997, when this Government came to power, Exchequer investment in sport was £50 million, that figure is now £400 million, so the campaign to get 1 million more people taking part in sport on top of the participation by young people at school is being funded by a steady increase in investment.

Order. I would like to get through a few more questions and answers, and if we show some self-discipline, we will do just that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way in which we will measure the success of the Olympics is by participation in sport beyond 2012? Does she recognise the important and value-for-money role that can be played by non-for-profit voluntary organisations in delivering that and encouraging participation in sport as we approach the Olympics?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and frequently makes that point. The thousands of sports clubs throughout the country are the backbone of participation, and their contribution will enable us to achieve the target of getting 1 million more people active in sport.

A key element in containing the overall budget is the use of the stadium in legacy mode. I think that everybody would agree that Manchester showed the way after the Commonwealth games. In her initial public pronouncements Baroness Ford, the new chairman of the legacy company, has indicated her desire to re-examine the issue of a football use, and both the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Football League are keen to use the stadium to support their bids. Given that the last four European cup finals have been played in dual-use stadiums, is the right hon. Lady prepared to re-examine her opposition to such a move?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have discussed this with Baroness Ford. We have not yet won the right to host the World cup in 2018. Clearly, if our excellent bid is successful, there will of course be a case for re-examination, but this is not cost-free, and the House should understand that plans will proceed to make sure that we honour our commitment to the International Olympic Committee and to athletes across the country in the bid book, that we will have, as a legacy for the games, a 20,000-seater, grand prix-capable athletics stadium. We are making good progress in building the legacy. Tenants include a school, the English Institute of Sport and the National Skills Academy. Baroness Ford is eager to squeeze every last benefit of legacy from every single venue, and I support her in that, but I want certainty and planning for the legacy of the stadium.


I shall answer speedily, Mr. Speaker. The cost of staging the games will primarily be met from the £2 billion budget of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, which was raised principally from the private sector. The costs of additional wider security and policing, and a £66 million public sector contribution towards the Paralympic games, are contained in the £9.3 billion public sector funding package.

As would be expected with a major national event of this kind, there will also be other attributable costs to the public purse, and they will be funded from within departmental expenditure limits.

Sport transcends politics. Every party in the House wants the 2012 Olympic games to be an outstanding success for the benefit of our great country. Can the Minister give any further details about which operations may be scaled back if there is a shortfall in sponsorship and revenue from the private sector? That is important: we want a success, but we also want the facts.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the Olympic games are being planned and delivered on a cross-party basis as far as humanly possible. The second point, however, is that as the development of the park has proceeded, decisions have been taken to put in further public sector investment where private sector financing has not been forthcoming. In staging the event, the organising committee will take full account of the likelihood of meeting its budget, which it expects to do. It is also worth the House recording that the committee is already substantially ahead of its private sponsorship-raising activities, so we have cause for confidence on that point.

Paralympic Games

We are determined to ensure that there is full equivalence between the Paralympics and the summer games and that the Paralympics are fully integrated into the organising committee’s plans, with a cross-Government Paralympic legacy plan, which will identify how we are going to use the power of the Paralympics to increase opportunities for disabled people more widely.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a leavers assembly at Ashbridge school in my constituency, at which a presentation was made by Shelly Woods from Blackpool. Shelly won a silver medal and a bronze medal at the Beijing Paralympics and made a truly inspirational presentation. What opportunities will exist to celebrate the Paralympics, as well as the Olympics, in the forthcoming open weekend?

I thank my hon. Friend and join him in congratulating Shelly on her contribution. The forthcoming open weekend, which will mark three years to go until the opening of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, will be marked across the country. Some 750 events are already registered, and I encourage hon. Members from all parts of the House to take part. In the north-west, my hon. Friend can go to one of many events, which include the academy cup at Greenbank sports academy and many others besides. The open weekend will be a great moment to celebrate achievements so far, and Olympic and Paralympic sports will both feature.

This weekend a great Olympian became the world boxing champion. Amir Khan is a great role model for young people in this country, yet small boxing clubs where people like him will come from in future are struggling. I wonder whether the Minister or the sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), would like to visit a new boxing club in my constituency and see not only the great young people coming forward, but the financial problems that they face.

I am sure that the House will want to congratulate Amir Khan. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about his dedication to providing leadership to young men—and, indeed, young women—right across the country as they take up boxing. As my hon. Friend the sports Minister has pointed out, investment is going into boxing clubs because of Amir Khan’s advocacy and the evident benefits to young people.

What progress is being made on the recruitment of thousands of volunteers from right across the United Kingdom to ensure that the Paralympics and the Olympics in 2012 are the outstanding success that we all want them to be?

The plans for volunteer recruitment will be announced next year and recruitment will start shortly thereafter. However, the scale of public enthusiasm for the forthcoming Olympics can be measured by the fact that although some 70,000 volunteers will be recruited by the organising committee, more than 250,000 people have already registered their interest. We in Government are absolutely determined to ensure that all volunteers who offer themselves for the games have an opportunity to get involved in their community in one way or another.