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Video Games

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

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.