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Topical Questions

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

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.