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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Premier League 4 Sport

2. How many premier league 4 sport partnerships have been established; and what assessment he has made of their effectiveness. (310888)

There are 20 premier league 4 sport partnerships, which have led to 240 clubs being set up in schools, with associations to 75 community hub clubs. Data on the number of young people who took part in a premier league 4 sport session during its first term will be available by the end of this month.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate the premier league 4 sport partnerships, but how do schools manage to connect with the programme? We have a sporting college in my constituency, but I wonder how readily schools and other organisations know how to start a partnership with that excellent scheme.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I know that he does a lot of work on sport in his constituency and that he has excellent sports colleges in his constituency. The idea behind the programme is that the premier league, with all the power of its branding, can work with schools to give youngsters tasters in some of the sports in which they would not normally be involved, including Olympic and Paralympic sports such as badminton, volleyball, table tennis and judo.

Product Placement

3. What recent representations he has received on product placement in UK-made television programmes. (310889)

I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that product placement is needed. Indeed, there is cross-party support for product placement, which provides an important revenue stream to ensure that we can have political programmes in our regions. However, would he agree that we need a European standard, because at the moment, we have children watching films from America that are uncensored in any way for product placement?

My hon. Friend makes his point outstandingly well and in his inimitable fashion. We are currently at a competitive disadvantage compared with other European nations and other English-speaking countries—

Indeed. The hon. Gentleman wisely helps me along from the Opposition Front Bench. However, many of the consultation responses are about ensuring that we put in place the right safeguards to protect children, in both the programming and the product categories that we allow.

The British Medical Association has said of product placement:

“Studies show that children are particularly susceptible to embedded brand messages and these operate at a subconscious level.”

We still await the Government’s response to the review launched last November, but can the Minister clarify what safeguards have been considered in the event of the status quo being retained?

The consultation, which closed a couple of weeks ago, mainly concerned itself with the programme categories that might be excluded—children’s programming is already excluded under the European directive—but it also looked at whether we should include family entertainment or other programming that children might watch, even though it might not be aimed at them, and whether we should include product categories, such as alcohol or foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt.

Competitive Sports (Schools)

There has been a steady rise in the number of young people taking up competitive sport since 2003, thanks to the large investment in both schools sport in general and competitive sport in particular, so that, for example, 100 per cent. of primary schools and 98 per cent. of secondary schools held sports days in the past academic year.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, but notwithstanding his comments, a recent report by the British Heart Foundation found that more than 1.5 million children are either overweight or obese. Given that, how do the Government propose to deal with the fact that less than a fifth of pupils in years 3 to 13 regularly take part in active sport between schools?

That is not strictly the case. If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at the figures, instead of the rather tendentious coverage of them given by one or two newspapers, he will find that whereas only one in four children did at least two hours of high-quality PE and sport each week in 2002, more than 90 per cent. of children do so now. When it comes to competitive sport between schools, 69 per cent. of pupils were involved in competitive sports within schools, on top of their regular PE, and 44 per cent. of schools were involved in inter-school activities. Each of those figures is higher than the year before, and each figure for the year before was higher than the year before that. There has been a year-on-year increase. However, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the way to get school and pupil activity up is by continuing to invest in this area, which is something that his party is not committed to doing.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to join me in congratulating Iqbal Singh Bola, a British gold medallist in taekwondo who has lived in Slough since he was born in 1989? He provides an inspiration for other young people in sport. Will my right hon. Friend urge communities to recognise the contribution that excellence and winning in sport can make to fostering aspiration among young people?

Yes, I gladly congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituent. She makes a good point, because she has named a sport mentioned by some who are critical of the broad range of sports and physical activities now offered to children in schools. Not only traditional sports but less traditional ones are being offered, which means that some children who would not otherwise have become physically active or involved in sport are now doing so, like her constituent.

Will the Minister then support the Conservative initiative for a schools Olympics? Does it not fit in with his policy, and would it not be another way to improve health care?

We already have what I would call two schools Olympics. They are the UK School Games, which give elite athletes from our schools a chance to compete annually, and National School Sport week, which involves every school in the country competing. I do not know what would be new about the Conservatives’ idea except that they would have a major row with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games for copyright reasons if they tried to use the Olympics name.

Sport (Integrity and Reputation)

5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department's measures to protect the integrity and reputation of sport. (310891)

It is the responsibility of sport’s national governing bodies to run their sports in a way that protects their integrity and reputation. Government will assist where appropriate and where it is necessary to safeguard those involved, not least participants and spectators. Recent measures include setting up the anti-doping agency to tackle the traffic and supply of doping substances and commissioning an independent report on sports betting integrity.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but he will be aware of what effect internet gambling could have on sport in years to come. The Government have set up the Sports Betting Integrity Panel. When can we expect its report so that we can find out exactly what is going on and protect the integrity of sportsmen and women?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I know that he is keen on sport and the integrity of sportsmen and women. We are dealing with the issue in a particular way because we want to ensure that those people who participate in sport know the dangers of betting issues. I commissioned a report by Rick Parry, which I hope will be delivered soon. There are issues relating to the work of the Gambling Commission to be ironed out, but we expect the panel’s report very soon. I think that most sport is clean, but the panel will set about ensuring that people who participate know the rules and the penalties if they do not operate properly and that sports have the right rules for dealing with integrity issues.

Given that bookmakers are usually the victims when there is any such cheating in sport, and given that the Government are trying to extricate themselves from a levy on horse racing, does the Minister agree that it would be completely wrong to have a sports levy?

The hon. Gentleman has been involved with such issues for some time; indeed, as a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, he has taken evidence on them. There must be a fair return to sport, and I am keen to ensure that. I would prefer it to be through a voluntary arrangement, but we must ensure that where the Government are involved—he is right that we want to extricate ourselves from the levy, but that is proving more difficult than we thought it might—there needs to be a balance between racing and betting. I hope that both parties can work together.


The financial independence of the BBC helps guarantee its editorial independence and, until recently, has been respected by all parties. The Labour party will do all that it can to ensure that financial and editorial independence are maintained and defended.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am grateful that he has put on record our strong support for the BBC’s independence, and I hope that he shares my concern that the constant threat to BBC funding from Opposition parties serves only to undermine the BBC’s editorial independence and creative output.

I agree entirely. It would be helpful if my Conservative opposite number would take this opportunity to clarify his party’s policies, as it is not at all clear whether the Conservatives support the licence fee or, as Greg Dyke does—he chairs their media group but has not yet reported, rather to our surprise—funding by taxation.

Order. May I say gently to the Secretary of State that I know that he will not want to dilate on Opposition policy, or indeed expect Opposition Members to do so? He will have more than enough to say about Government policy.

Although, as the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) rightly pointed out, the Conservatives threaten the independence of the BBC, does the Secretary of State not accept that he and his party are just as guilty? Does not top-slicing mean that the BBC will constantly have to look over its shoulder to ensure that it does not offend the Government of the day, for fear that the top-slicing will be made even bigger, as happened in Ireland, for example? How does top-slicing defend the independence of the BBC?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is nothing in the charter that obviates the use of a fraction of the licence fee to help to fund digital switchover, as we are already doing. What would threaten the independence of the BBC would be to fund it through general taxation, which at least some of the Conservatives seem to be proposing. I do not believe that the public would want that, because they value the independence of the BBC very highly, and they would be worried by the prospect of a taxation-funded BBC, given the liability of Governments to interfere, editorially and financially.

Television Licence Fee

I regularly receive representations on the licence fee, but, for the reasons that we have just been discussing, we believe that it is an important guarantee of the BBC’s independence, and that Governments should therefore respect the multi-annual nature of the license fee agreement.

Well, here is another representation. Forty-nine executives at the BBC earn more than the Prime Minister. That means that the licence fee payments of all the constituents of Ribble Valley and neighbouring Chorley go on their salaries alone. If that were happening in any other institution, the “Today” programme would have done a hatchet job on it by now. Can we have a freeze on the licence fee until Auntie sorts herself out?

The hon. Gentleman needs to speak to those on his own Front Bench. That is indeed what they advocated last year, but their position changed in October. It changed again in November, and it has now changed back to the original one—[Hon. Members: “What is your policy?”] Our policy is as I have stated. There has been consensus on both sides of the House for decades that an important guarantor of the BBC’s independence is that Governments do not interfere with or—as some in the hon. Gentleman’s party have advocated—tear up the multi-annual licence fee agreement. If we were to go down that road, we would be threatening the very independence of the BBC. That is an important matter for the British people, because they value the BBC’s independence, which would be threatened by his party’s policies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in any assessment of the level of the licence fee, it is well worth taking into account the recent report by Deloitte, which observed that the licence fee generated £7.2 billion, which is twice its value in terms of the BBC’s support of the independent sector and the wider creative economy?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We can all make criticisms of individual decisions that the BBC may or may not have taken, but the licence fee costs about the equivalent of a pint of beer a week. It costs considerably less than the licence fee for German television, which carries adverts. Anyone who has ever suffered German television will agree with me that the BBC is far better, and delivers far better value for money than many of its competitors abroad.

National Lottery

8. What proportion of national lottery income has been spent on heritage in each of the last three years? (310894)

Since 1997, the national lottery has raised more than £3.3 billion for the heritage sector. The Heritage Lottery Fund spent almost £1 billion of lottery money in the last three years, equivalent to 26.2 per cent., 21.3 per cent. and 22.3 per cent. of total lottery income during those years.

That is all very well, but the Minister knows full well that, in 2008-09, the Heritage Lottery Fund distributed £88 million less than in 2005-06. One of the reasons for that, as she knows equally well, is that, consistently over the years, the Government have raided more than £3 billion to shore up their own pet projects. Is it not time, in the dying days of this Government, for them to support the Conservative policy of having a new national lottery independence Bill, which would stop the Government sticking their sticky fingers into lottery funds?

It may be “all very well”, but it is actually true that the percentage of the lottery fund that went to heritage during the three years that the hon. Gentleman asked about exceeds the percentage that the Conservatives would give under their proposals. The way in which we currently administer the lottery fund is in the interests of the country. Were the Conservative party’s proposals to be put in place, investments in community libraries and other good causes would go. Furthermore, the money that goes to heritage is only partly funded through the lottery fund. More than £660 million comes directly from my Department, and £130 million comes from the Big Lottery Fund. Under the Conservative party’s proposals, those amounts would be—

Does my right hon. Friend know that the university of Sunderland is exhibiting its glass in the Upper Waiting Hall? I hope that the ministerial team will visit the exhibition and congratulate the university on it. In what way is her Department supporting the brilliant work that is being done by universities such as Sunderland? It is internationally renowned and now, through the national lottery, has accepted responsibility for the National Glass Centre.

I will indeed to try to visit the exhibition by the university of Sunderland. Many of our universities have excellent museums, and I consider at regular intervals how they are to be funded and sustained to ensure that we maintain the excellence that many of those university museums promote.

As well as the consternation felt about the cut in the amount of lottery income going to heritage and at the absence of the draft Heritage Protection Bill, is the Minister aware of the consternation in the heritage sector at the original draft of planning policy statement 15, which the Royal Town Planning Institute called

“a charter for people who want to knock buildings down”?

Can she confirm that she is talking to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the redraft offers historic buildings in this country the protection they need?

I am indeed in constant conversation with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about their review of such planning guidance. I hope shortly to bring forward a statement—a cross-Government statement—about the importance of heritage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should try to reintroduce the lost Bill as soon as we possibly can, because it is an important Bill that would demonstrate our commitment to heritage. Until that comes about, however, I hope that my statement about the value of heritage and the work I do with colleagues across Government will reassure the heritage sector that we value its contributions.

As well as cutting the funding to heritage, does the Minister take note of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, which pointed out that the Department’s targets for broadening the audience were unrealistic, obsolete and set without clear evidence, and that free education visits to heritage sites had fallen by 20 per cent.? Is that not another damning indictment of her Department’s heritage policy?

At a recent speech, the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) quoted Harold Pinter as saying

“as important as what is said, is that which is left unsaid”.

I urge the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) to have regard to those words when he sets his questions. The PAC report was not about the heritage sector as a whole; it was about English Heritage. English Heritage contributes to the targets we set across the heritage sector as a whole. Those targets are important, because we want to see who participates and enjoys the vast array of heritage on offer in this country. We will continue with those targets, although we will have regard to the PAC recommendations on other matters that pertain to English Heritage alone.

Channel 4

9. What progress his Department has made on the implementation of the initiative contained in the Digital Britain report to give Channel 4 a new public service remit. (310895)

A new remit for Channel 4 is being agreed as part of the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently in the other place. Its remit will be extended particularly to cover digital aspects, older children and young adults, as well as to the making and distribution of British films.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree with me that Channel 4 has made a magnificent contribution to public service broadcasting in this country for well over a quarter of a century? Will he take this opportunity to dismiss any advice to the contrary that he may be receiving and today rule out the privatisation of Channel 4?

I am very happy to agree that Channel 4 is overshadowed in its contribution to public service broadcasting only by the BBC. It is an outstanding institution—one that needs to continue to deliver public service in the public sector. The recent proposals by Policy Exchange, the Conservatives’ favourite think-tank, to privatise Channel 4 are, I agree with my hon. Friend, as absurd as their creative industries taskforce’s idea to get rid of the BBC licence fee.

Museums and Galleries (Admission)

10. When his Department plans next to review its policy on free admission to national museums and galleries. (310896)

The free admissions policy continues to be immensely successful. Visits to museums that previously charged have risen from 7.2 million when we first introduced the policy in 2001 to 16 million in 2008-09—an increase of 124 per cent. My Department, unlike the Conservative party, remains fully committed to maintaining free admission to all our national museums.

I totally agree with my right hon. Friend about the success of the policy of free admissions to galleries in London, but I would like a little of that generosity to flow out from London to support many of our regional galleries, particularly the national Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby, whose opening hours, I am sorry to say, the local Lib-Dem council is going to cut.

While I cannot account for the shameful actions of that Liberal Democrat council, I can assure my hon. Friend that there are museums outside London that also benefit from this policy, such as the national museums in Liverpool, which have had a 279 per cent. increase in visitor numbers, and the Manchester museum of science and industry, where there has been a 158 per cent. increase in attendance.

Like the Government, I am very happy to confirm that we fully support the policy of free admission to museums. Unlike the Government, however, we are prepared to be much more honest about the financial challenges ahead. Last week, the Secretary of State told the RSA that he was confident that he would be able to sustain funding for the arts and culture, yet at the same time he has cut funding for the Tate, the Science museum, the national museums of Liverpool, and the Wallace collection. So should the arts world believe what the Government say, or what they do?

First, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will allow me to draw attention to the apparent split in the Conservative party between the Front-Bench spokesperson and the Mayor of London, who consistently says publicly what some Opposition Front-Bench Members say privately about the policy of free admissions. May I also invite the hon. Gentleman to write to me with the details of these alleged cuts, because what I see from all the figures in front of me is that we have recently been able to find additional resources to enable the Tate to go forward with its further development, and that all other museums have enjoyed an increase in this comprehensive spending review?

I would be happy to do so, and also to send the Minister details of a leaked Treasury document saying that non-ring-fenced Departments would face funding cuts of 17 per cent. in order to meet Government spending requirements. We have announced policies to help the arts get through this difficult period, such as reforming the lottery, boosting philanthropy and cutting arts administration. Those are our policies; what are the Government’s?

The hon. Gentleman’s policies are akin simply to moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. Cutting the lottery fund from many of the very good causes to which it currently contributes in order to substitute for Government funding is no answer. Let me also say to him that we have yet to enter into discussions about the next comprehensive spending review, but he will be aware that we on this team secured a very good settlement last time, although there were cuts across Government. I have no doubt that we can in future persuade our colleagues about the importance of investment in arts and culture from the taxpayer, not through the lottery.

Holiday Lettings (Taxation)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effects on the tourism industry of changes in taxation of furnished holiday lettings. (310899)

I met my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in December to discuss the tourism industry’s concerns about the potential impact of the rule changes on the self-catering sector. I also helped to convene a meeting in December between representatives of the Tourism Alliance, the Financial Secretary and Treasury officials.

Well, I actually managed to speak to the Chancellor about this before Christmas in one of the Division Lobbies, when I told him how angry farmers in the north Yorkshire moors area are that some of their diversification projects have been holed below the waterline by these changes. If only 10 per cent. of the jobs in this sector go, that will amount to 2,400 jobs. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to think of a way to give an exemption to genuine businesses, and not to throw the net around those private people who have holiday cottages, who were previously getting this exemption?

I would be delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he has ideas as to how we can ensure that we implement this change, which is required because of European legislation, in a way that does not damage the particular sector that he mentions. I have been in constant discussion with people in the sector. They have put forward three proposals so far, none of which actually work—we have examined them in detail. If he or any other Conservative Member has any practical proposals to make that would enable us to meet our EU obligations and benefit the sector, I would be more than happy to listen to those and take them forward.

I am afraid that this is yet another example of tourism being pushed to the back of the queue by this Government. The tourism industry is right to ask, “What have this Government done for us?” The tourism budget has been slashed, the sea change funding has all but dried up, the responsibility for English tourism has been thrown into confusion by the introduction of regional development agencies, nothing has been done to harness the opportunities provided by the Olympics, and now there has been a raid by the Treasury on furnished holiday lets. So I ask the Minister: what have this Government done for tourism? The Romans can at least point to the aqueducts and the roads. Let us hear from her how the industry is going to be helped.

The Government invest some £2 billion in support of our tourism industry, and the Conservatives, with their plans to cut public spending before we are properly out of the recession, would damage it far more than we would.

May I give a few examples? This Government introduced free admissions to our museums. Eight out of 10 of the most popular destinations for visitors in the UK are those museums, so we supported the tourism industry by making our museums more attractive. This Government introduced the sea change programme, which has enabled us to invest, through heritage funding and in other ways, to bring back—[Interruption.] May I say to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who is speaking from a sedentary position, that that programme is funded and has been funded? I look forward to a commitment from those on the Conservative Benches that they will continue to fund it as we intend to do.

Order. I am grateful to the Minister. Her answer was a little on the long side, but it was prolonged by excessive chuntering from a sedentary position by Opposition Front Benchers, of which we need to see no repetition.

Sports (Young People)

14. What his most recent estimate is of the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who regularly participate in sport. (310900)

The latest figures from Sport England’s active people survey show that more than 31 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds regularly participate in sport—the definition used is three 30-minute moderate-intensity sessions per week. I am pleased to say that that continues the upward trend of sports participation among this age group since 2006, and reflects the good progress that we have made in growing grass-roots community sport over that time.

One way to encourage young people to continue in sport after they leave school is to showcase our best sport as widely as possible in the media. Therefore, does the Minister agree that it would be a major mistake if a decision were taken to remove the rugby league challenge cup competition from terrestrial television?

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on putting his question as he did? He will know that we are consulting on the listed system for broadcasting, but he makes a good point about rugby league. I know that that is his favourite sport; it sits alongside his beloved Liverpool football club. It is important that we ensure that people participate in sport and that we use role models in particular sports to encourage young people to take part.

Domestic Film Industry

15. What plans he has for future assistance to the domestic film industry; and if he will make a statement. (310901)

The UK Film Council annually receives about £25 million of grant funding and £30 million of lottery funding, which it invests in supporting British film. The Government will continue to provide film tax relief; we provided £100 million-worth of tax credit last year. The proposed merger between the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute will create a single streamlined body that will deliver even more for UK audiences and for the film sector.

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is reassuring that the British film industry appears to be in a reasonably healthy state. What is the Department doing through other bodies to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to engage in art and drama and, thus, have the potential to become the stars of the future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He is a great champion of such access for people from ordinary backgrounds in his constituency. He is right that British film is undergoing a bumper year, with three quarters of fantastic figures so far and fabulous figures expected tomorrow thanks to 10 years of the kind of investment that I have been talking about. Last week, I visited the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, which cannot be beaten in the world as an elite institution that is bending over backwards to draw in pupils from the broadest possible social base and to support them.


16. What recent representations he has received on maintaining libraries as a statutory service required from local government; and if he will make a statement. (310902)

We have received a number of representations on public libraries as part of our modernisation review consultation exercise, including some comments on libraries as a statutory service. We will consider these responses in detail when the consultation closes on 26 January and publish a policy statement incorporating responses to the consultation in the spring.

Does the Minister agree that there is always a risk that libraries will end up as something of a Cinderella service? Does she also agree that for those who have listened to this afternoon’s exchanges in questions, the idea that the Government will be able to maintain exactly the same spending on her Department after the general election, whoever wins, and that that will simply continue in a steady state, is wholly unrealistic? Is it not time for a collective grown-up debate about how we are going to make savings and reduce the public deficit while causing the minimum danger and damage to public services—

Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that we have the thrust of his question.

Funding for libraries is actually a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, which funds libraries through the local government settlement and local government grants. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that libraries can become a Cinderella service in many local authority areas, and it was because of that danger that I instituted this review. I want to ensure that we get a library service that is fit for purpose in the 21st century and that can be afforded by local authorities on a firm footing.

Local News Services

We intend to secure the future of local and regional news through new regional news consortia, starting with pilots in Wales, Scotland and the Tyne Tees and Border region. Last week, the Government announced the successful bidders that will go through to the next stage of the process. We do not agree with those who appear to believe that the market alone can secure the future of high quality regional news, which is greatly valued by both the public and Members of this House.

Local newspapers, such as The Bolton News, face increasing competition from other media sources. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that Government advertising is steered towards these vital local sources?

The first thing that I would say to my hon. Friend is that local newspapers and local newspaper groups have warmly welcomed the Government’s proposals for the new regional news consortia. Many local newspaper groups are involved in bidding for some of the pilots to which I have just referred. I have some sympathy with his point about the impact of local government free sheets and their advertising on local newspapers. He might have noticed that we announced in December, just before Christmas, that we would continue to require local authorities to advertise in paid-for newspapers. The Department for Communities and Local Government is undertaking a review of the publicity code for local authorities, in which we have made our opinions quite clear.

Topical Questions

My Department is responsible for a range of policies to support culture, media and sport, which, taken together, had their best year ever last year. They now account for 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom’s gross domestic product, which is the highest proportion for the creative sectors, broadly speaking, of any country in the world.

Will the Minister tell us why there has been such a delay in implementing the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003?

I agree that there has been an unacceptable delay in implementing one particular part of the Act, which is why we have taken action. Just two or three weeks ago, we put out to consultation the necessary drafts to ensure that we can implement at least part of the Act and so that libraries can start to collect books that are published online as well as hardback books. I accept the criticism and hope that the speedy action that I have taken will rectify that position.

T4. Has the Secretary of State made an assessment of the effect on the Met Office if it loses its contract with the BBC, and what safeguards can he give to the 1,200 employees of the Met Office who work in his own constituency? (310910)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that the work of the Met Office is much broader and more comprehensive than simply the service that it provides to the BBC, although that is an important service. The BBC is required under its charter to review such contracts in terms of value for money for the licence fee payer. I am sure the Met Office, which is probably the best and most respected meteorological office anywhere in the world, in spite of recent criticisms of its long-term forecast for the winter, will have a strong chance of maintaining that contract.

T3. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the 16,000 people who signed up to the recent campaign to save our central library from the Tory council, which planned to bulldoze Halifax central library without any consultation? Will she outline the Government’s plans to keep libraries at the centre of our communities in the 21st century? (310909)

I take pleasure in congratulating the citizens of Halifax and the hon. Member who represents them on mounting such a successful campaign, which has kept that library open. I remind all local authorities that as they plan a comprehensive and efficient library service, it is imperative that they consult local people. Our policy statement on the future of libraries will, I hope, help us to keep libraries at the heart of every community throughout the country.

T5. Is the Secretary of State aware that of the last 160 BT exchanges that were upgraded to deliver enhanced broadband, none were located in either Norfolk or Suffolk? Will he find time to look at the excellent Eastern Daily Press campaign on the subject, and will he also speak to the chairman of BT to find out why rural areas of England are being discriminated against? (310911)

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. One subject will do. I have had reason to mention that to him before, but I feel sure that I will not need to do so again.

Without knowing the detail—I will look into it on behalf of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham)—I imagine that that was a commercial decision made by BT, which is a strong argument in favour of the Government’s policy of securing high quality next generation broadband for the whole of our country, including rural areas such as Norfolk, through a small fixed-line levy—a policy that is opposed by his party.

T8. A recent report on illegal downloading by children found that 31 per cent. of children aged six to 14 admit that they regularly watch programmes that they have illegally downloaded or streamed to a television, and that 16 per cent. also download pirate films before they are released. That was a survey of 4,500 children. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter? We cannot turn our children into criminals for having done something that they consider okay, but we need to educate them better— (310914)

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The same principle applies: one question will suffice.

My hon. Friend is right. Large numbers of young people who are doing something that is illegal need to be educated and informed that that behaviour is not okay and that it is against the law. When the Bill comes from another place to this place, there will be specific provisions and procedures to explain to them gently that they cannot continue to break the law.

T6. The AllStarz gymnastics group has benefited from the Government’s extended schools programme, a supportive community school, Addington high, and the local authority, but its continued existence is somewhat compromised by financial difficulties. I know that English Gymnastics and Sport England are supportive, but where should I turn to try to get proper support for the group? (310912)

The voluntary sector in arts and particularly dance activities is hugely important. There are some 50,000 voluntary organisations, and nearly 10 million people participate in some way in voluntary organisations in the arts and culture sector, so it is vital that we do all that we can to maintain and grow that sector. Dance is crucial not only for what it does for individuals’ health, but because it is an innovative and creative art form. We have invested more than £5 million in a dance strategy for young people. I urge the hon. Gentleman—

Order. May I gently say to the right hon. Lady that at topical questions I am always keen to get through the lot, if humanly possible? I appreciate the comprehensiveness, but we must move on.

Those hon. Members who were present for the Special Olympics in Leicester in 2009 will be aware that it leaves a lasting legacy, but what can Ministers do to ensure long-term support and funding for Special Olympics Great Britain so that not just Leicester but the rest of the country can benefit?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work for the Special Olympics in Leicester. He is quite right: sport should be available to everybody and be inclusive of everybody. We are working with other Departments, including the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, to see what we can do to fund the Special Olympics in all its formats.

T2. Digital Britain will bring many opportunities for the new, digital age, but it could create a two-tier system for commercial radio, which will not be treated as preferentially as BBC radio. Will the Government ensure that there is not a two-tier system, with second-rate commercial radio compared with the BBC? (310908)

I understand those concerns, and I am talking to the commercial radio industry all the time about the matter. The essence of the answer to the question is what is called an electronic programme guide, in which smaller commercial stations, which stay on FM, will appear by name on the dial of digital sets. An FM ghetto will not, therefore, be created, and stations will be accessible to consumers in the same way.

Stoke-on-Trent city council has gone ahead with proposals to close down the city’s gymnastics centre and Tunstall swimming pool at a time when the Government are trying to get more people involved in sport. Will my hon. Friend see that his officials urgently consider whether funding can be made available with a joint, holistic approach, so that the inequalities in a place such as Stoke-on-Trent can be reversed and we can get more people, not fewer, to participate in sport?

Clearly, that is what we want to achieve—to get 2 million more people involved in sport and physical activity. I am dismayed to hear about the situation in Stoke. I shall see what we can do, through my officials, and get back to my hon. Friend.

T7. Does the Secretary of State anticipate his Department making any contribution to reducing the public deficit? (310913)

Unlike the Opposition, we are committed to our spending review until 2011. We do not think that is it sensible, for economic reasons, to take money out of the economy now. We did not think that it was sensible last year, as the hon. Gentleman’s party advocated, and we do not think that it is sensible this year. I am pleased to say that our record support for arts and culture, which has helped this country’s creative sector become No. 1 in the world as a proportion of GDP, is a result of our investment; and I am confident that I can convince my Government colleagues that the very small amount of money that we spend in this country gives an absolutely fantastic return.

My understanding is that the Government currently propose that analogue radio be switched off in 2013. If that is the case, it is absolutely potty. Will the Government reconsider?

My hon. Friend is, for once, slightly wrong on the detail. The policy is that we move to digital in 2015, but not that analogue radio be switched off. Most big radio stations will move to digital, but smaller commercial and community radio stations will stay on FM and will be, as I have said, on the same dial as the big digital stations.

Is my hon. Friend aware that last summer Conservative-controlled Bradford city council excluded the wonderful Ilkley lido in my constituency from the free swimming initiative for young people and pensioners? Is he also aware that many of my constituents, having travelled from Keighley, were very disappointed to find that the lido was quite expensive?

I am concerned that the council in question signed up to that initiative for the over-60s and under-16s but excluded Ilkley. That was a big mistake, and the council should look at its swimming pool strategy. I shall work with my hon. Friend to try to put the situation right.

This morning, the Minister of State wrote to me about her unpopular decision to introduce car parking charges for the use of royal parks. Will she explain how the environmental objective of reducing the flow of traffic through those beautiful parks is helped by singling out a very small percentage of users—mainly local people—who go there specifically to walk?

Car park charges are being introduced in the two parks, so that there are car park charges in all the royal parks across the whole of the capital. If there is a charge, it can be said to act as a disincentive to the use of cars. Today, I will be going from the Chamber to a meeting with the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s local authority and other local authority leaders to discuss whether we can provide some sort of train to go across Richmond park, to make it easier for elderly people to enjoy all aspects of the park, right across the park.

Order. There will now be questions for the Minister for the Olympics. I reiterate that there are only 10 minutes for this session, so we need pithy questions and pithy answers.


The Minister for the Olympics was asked—


The £9.325 billion public sector funding package that I announced in March 2007 remains unchanged. The rigorous scrutiny includes significant savings—£390 million alone in 2008-09. I shall sacrifice the rest of my answer in the interests of pith.

The land values have certainly been reviewed. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, negotiations are currently taking place between the Government, the Mayor and the board of the legacy company to determine on what terms and at what level debt should be reassigned.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no further raids on lottery funds to sustain and keep up the budget for the Olympics?

Until 2012, the Olympics are a sixth good cause, as was the millennium in 2000. There will be no further take from the lottery, but the lottery is contributing in a very handsome way towards the creation of the Olympics, which will be one of the greatest events that people in the whole UK have ever known.

Around 250,000 Olympics devotees are desperate to volunteer in 2012, yet only 70,000 of them will be able to act as official volunteers. What steps will the right hon. Lady take to ensure that the existing budget provides meaningful and satisfying volunteering opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of sports fans who are not going to be part of the official volunteering team?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that thousands more people want to volunteer for the Olympics than there are specific opportunities in the Olympic park. We are looking across the UK to create what I hope will become the biggest participation and engagement programme ever. I also hope that one of the criteria that will attach to the selection of volunteers in the Olympic park will be experience of having volunteered in the community.

During a recent briefing, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games reported that one of its greatest operational challenges was Government Departments outside the Government Olympic Executive rowing back on their commitments in the current public expenditure round. Those Departments promised to deliver on those commitments at the time of the bid. Is the right hon. Lady in a position to tell us what action she has taken to prevent that, and can she place in the Library of the House a copy of all those commitments, across Government, with the budgets attached?

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s remarks; those concerns have not been raised with me in those terms by LOCOG. Nineteen Government Departments are engaged in delivering the games and to my knowledge, through the Cabinet Committee and other forms of co-ordination, Government Departments are making every bit of their contributions. For instance, the Home Office is overseeing perhaps the most difficult job of all—security. The Olympics will be the biggest peacetime logistical exercise, and they could not happen without the wholehearted support of the Government; London 2012 has that.

London 2012 (UK Businesses)

The games are creating work and business opportunities for businesses large and small across the UK. The Olympic Delivery Authority has awarded more than £5 billion-worth of contracts to more than 1,000 suppliers. It has been our determined effort to make sure that businesses right around the country, including those in my hon. Friend’s region, benefit from this shot in the arm for UK plc at a time of downturn.

More specifically, can the Minister say what benefits the games construction programme has delivered to companies in the north-west?

Through the ODA, some 43 suppliers from the north-west have sought contracts to supply the Olympic park. I will send to my hon. Friend, and place in the Library, a detailed list of the firms that have contributed, which are diverse and significant. The north-west is also benefiting from the commercial opportunities arising from the Olympics.

While I appreciate that this is a national games and that we want benefits across the country, will the Minister give some indication of the small businesses within a 5-mile radius of the Olympic village that will feel the benefit? Does she have data to hand so that she can give us that information at this stage, or perhaps in writing?

About 50 per cent. of all the businesses that have so far contributed to the supply of the Olympic park are within London. I am not able, at this point, to give the hon. Gentleman the precise detail that he wants, but I am happy to supply it. The ODA is about to issue another £1 billion-worth of contracts, and LOCOG £700 million-worth of contracts, so there are opportunities for businesses of all sizes not only in London but right across the UK.

Will my right hon. Friend write to me—and put a copy in the Library and send one to the Rotherham Advertiserabout how Rotherham workers can find jobs in construction and other related work that is going on, because there is a tremendous sense in South Yorkshire that they are not getting a fair crack of the whip?

I am very happy to do that, and I am happy to come to South Yorkshire again to set out the potential for its contribution to the Olympics. At every stage, we have sought to open up the tendering processes to create opportunities for the whole UK—and South Yorkshire is not usually slow in coming forward.

London 2012 (Multi-Media Coverage)

4. What representations she has received on the provision of multi-media coverage of the London 2012 Olympics; and if she will make a statement. [Official Report, 2 February 2010, Vol. 505, c. 1-2MC.] (310882)

These will be the first games to be filmed wholly to high-definition standards. There will be access to information via additional channels and mobile devices, ensuring the games are accessible to everyone. The International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee are responsible for global broadcast rights of the London 2012 games via many platforms, including multi-media platforms.

We all expect the games to be the most watched ever, but the introduction of multi-media coverage presents a huge logistical and technological challenge, particularly as it will come just after digital switchover. To what extent will an analogue signal still be available to those who want it?

The expectation is that the television switchover will have been completed by 2012, subject to any last-minute issues that might affect the coverage of the Olympics. In that sense, the analogue signal will no longer be available. However, much preparation is under way to ensure access to multi-media platforms, starting with ensuring the availability of spectrum. I thank Ofcom for the invaluable work that it has done, so early on, to ensure that that spectrum is available.

Crystal Palace

6. If she will make it her policy to promote the sporting facilities at Crystal Palace as part of preparations for the London 2012 Olympics. (310884)

Yes, Crystal Palace sports centre is an official London 2012 pre-games training camp—no surprises there. Essentially, the onus is on Crystal Palace to market itself to the international teams to train at the venue. There are incentives, however, with £25,000 from LOCOG available for every national Olympic and Paralympic committee to encourage them to use official pre-games training camps. I hope to visit Crystal Palace again before the end of this month.

The Minister is very supportive of Crystal Palace. Given that it represents the internationalism of the 19th century, which, in some ways, is mirrored in the Olympics now, might we do well to co-ordinate the laying of a foundation stone for a new Crystal Palace with the timing of the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee?

Olympic Delivery Authority

7. What recent discussions she has had with the Olympic Delivery Authority on the implementation of its commitment to maximise local employment opportunities; and if she will make a statement. (310885)

I am a member of the ODA’s employment and skills board, which is responsible for overseeing the creation of the skills and employment legacy. One of the most important aspects of the legacy is ensuring that local people and young people working in businesses as part of the supply chain have the opportunity to leave their Olympic-related job better trained and with an increased chance of staying in work.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of those trade unions that have been complaining about the lack of local people being trained—such training would be beneficial in the years to come. Will she meet the trade unions in question to find out what the problems are and to try to help to solve them?

I am surprised by my hon. Friend’s observation. The apprenticeship level to which we are committed for the Olympic park is in fact three and a half times the regional average, and every single supplier understands the obligation on them. Alan Ritchie, the general secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, recently observed that the Olympics have one of the best regulated construction sites in Britain. Principles of co-operation have been signed between the ODA and the TUC. If there are any concerns, however, we will of course do everything that we can to address them.