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Topical Questions

Volume 506: debated on Monday 1 March 2010

My Department is responsible for a wide range of policies that support the arts, culture and sport, which are all essential to our nation’s sense of well-being and identity, as well as making an invaluable contribution to the British economy.

My right hon. Friend was in York last month, and perhaps he knows that, at the British Museum at the moment, there is an exhibition of some of the greatest treasures from Yorkshire, including the Middleham jewel, the Coppergate helmet and the Ormside bowl. Will the Minister encourage members of the public, particularly Londoners, to go to the British Museum to see what makes York so special, perhaps as a taster to encourage them to go north in the summer and visit the real thing in Yorkshire?

I am delighted that the temporary closure of the Yorkshire museum has made it possible for those jewels in our crown to be exhibited in a room in the British Museum. I encourage everybody to go and see them. The partnership between national and regional museums is hugely important in ensuring that all the country’s wealth of artefacts are enjoyed by many more people. It is this Government who, through a renaissance in the regions, have made that partnership possible. That is why it is enormously important that we continue to fund that programme.

Although I am sure the whole House would want to congratulate Amy Williams on winning her gold medal at the winter Olympics, does the Minister believe that the British taxpayer got value for money from those games?

That sounds like a suggestion that we should not invest in sport. It is not just about the number of medals that people win in competitions, though I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride)—that this was the best performance by a British team for many, many years. It is also about all the training, and all the investment that goes into improving people’s lives and giving them the opportunity to train for those events. Winning medals is great, but the investment that we put into sport in this country is about far more than just winning medals.

T3 . What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of next generation digital access, particularly in a region such as the south-west, which is largely rural? How will he stop people in the south-west becoming second-class consumers, citizens and patients? (318870)

My hon. Friend raises an important point, particularly for regions such as ours in the south-west, which are largely rural and bits of which are very sparsely populated—that is, that the free market will not deliver high-quality next generation broadband to all those areas. Everybody accepts that, except the Conservative Opposition. That is why we are proposing a very small levy on fixed phone lines—smaller than the amount by which the cost of those lines has decreased in recent years—to help ensure that no one is left out of the digital revolution, and that individuals and businesses in Devon and elsewhere in similar regions can continue to flourish.

T4 . According to the Department’s website, three quarters of children aged between eight and 15 have a television in their bedrooms. Given the dubious effects of television at best on the development of young minds, their attention spans and school attendance, does the Secretary of State think that is a good thing or a bad thing? (318871)

On the whole, the facilities that are enabled by new communication and better communication can have a beneficial impact on children, their educational attainment and their knowledge of the world, but that has to be controlled by parents, in the first instance. Parents play the most important role. If they allow children to have televisions in their own room, I hope they do something to ensure that children do not spend all their time watching television or playing games.

Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to do whatever is possible to support the supporters of clubs such as Chester and Portsmouth, who have been so badly let down by financial backers?

Yes. My hon. Friend raises an important point. There remain some tough questions for the football authorities to address, following the events at Portsmouth and elsewhere—issues of debt and takeovers, and the need to strengthen the financial governance of football. I commend to my hon. Friend the model that my own football club in Exeter uses, which is that of a supporters trust. The club is owned by the fans, and it has no insolvency or debt problems because it does not have any debt. It is democratic, it is a co-operative, and it is a great model of labourism. That is the sort of model that I would like to see spread throughout the game.

T5. Will the Secretary of State accept that he is plain wrong about the speed of broadband being rolled out to areas in north Yorkshire? The speed is nothing like he claims. Why are we being treated so unfairly and so uncompetitively within the digital broadband economy, compared with the rest of the United Kingdom? (318873)

Forgive me. I was not making claims about current speeds. I was talking about the future in answer to a question about the future. The point that I made was that there is nobody in the industry or the country except the hon. Lady’s party who does not believe that there must be some intervention to ensure that constituents exactly like hers get the benefits that those living in urban areas get. We are proposing a solution to deliver high-quality fast broadband to her constituency. Her party will not intervene in the market to deliver that. It will leave 30 to 40 per cent. of her householders and her businesses without broadband, and her constituents need to be aware of that.

Are leaked proposals to close BBC Radio 6 Music and the Asian Network a betrayal of the Reithian principles to support diverse culture creation, or the BBC capitulating to the culture bully boys on the Conservative Front Bench?

It is rather difficult to know, because one day last week the Opposition broadcast spokesman, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), said that he supported the BBC’s proposal to close 6 Music and then, two days later, when he was inundated with angry e-mails, he did another U-turn—the third in one week. My hon. Friend makes a very early representation to the consultation that the BBC Trust will have to conduct when it finally comes up with proposals. I would rather comment on those proposals than give a running commentary on leaks.

T6 . With one premiership football club in administration and several others in hundreds of millions of pounds of debt, what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that there is financial probity in football? (318875)

Without repeating too much of what I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), I simply point out to the footballing authorities, which often look to Government to help them resist some of the more draconian proposed regulation from the European Union, that if they want our help on such proposals, they must get their own house in order. We still await the full implementation of the Burns recommendations. Some have been implemented, and we welcome that, but the football authorities need to get a move on. What has happened at Portsmouth should act as a real wake-up call for them to do so.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), and given that a BBC press release on 15 February said that BBC Radio 6 Music was a distinctive service that did a great deal to fulfil the BBC’s public purposes, should not the argument behind any proposal to close 6 Music be examined very carefully, indeed?

Yes, of course. [Interruption.] No, the question was: should the consultation be very carefully considered? Unlike the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), I do not give a running commentary on how the BBC should run its affairs. I have said that this is a matter for the BBC; there has been a leak; and we should wait for the full report. There will then have to be a full consultation on that—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) should not witter away from a sedentary position in evident disapproval of the stance taken by occupants of the Treasury Bench. The hon. Gentleman can speak from the Dispatch Box, but he should not speak from his seat.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman has anything useful to say he can get up on his feet and say it. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) is absolutely right: there must be proper consultation on any proposal that the BBC makes. Of course people will have strong views—there will be those who feel very strongly in favour of that proposal or very strongly in favour of another. I am sure that my hon. Friend, who always shows a very strong interest and has great expertise in the matter, will be central to that consultation.

T7 . Given the talk today of major cuts in local government funding, what action will the Government take to protect the crucial library service? (318876)

Shortly we will publish our document on the review of, and way forward for, the library service. At the end of the day, local authorities have to take their own decisions on funding priorities, but they have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service, and it is up to the Secretary of State to ensure that they do so.

Will my colleagues on the Front Bench reaffirm to the good people of Chorley that there will be free swimming lessons for young people and pensioners in the next financial year?

Yes, and it is very much to be deprecated that, almost exclusively, those local authorities that do not offer free swimming to young people and pensioners are Conservative-controlled.

T8 . What steps are being taken to encourage community sports clubs to work more with local schools in order to increase the opportunity for young people to participate more in competitive sport? (318877)

If the hon. Gentleman has not yet visited his local school sports partnership, I suggest that he does so. I am sure that he will be able to discover for himself the amazing work done locally in his constituency between groups of schools and sports clubs and sports organisations to give young people the opportunity to do two hours of quality sport and physical education a week. More than half do three hours of sport a week, but the target is five, and that includes competitive sport. There are more than 3,700 new coaches in schools—new competitive managers, as they are called—specifically to deliver the competitive sport that I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to see take place. We certainly do.

Even bearing in mind that Birmingham is the capital of the west midlands region, the city receives far too much Arts Council funding per capita when compared with other towns and cities such as Wolverhampton. What measures can the Minister take to address this outrageous imbalance?

Birmingham’s rich cultural infrastructure is of benefit not only to the residents of Birmingham but to residents of the surrounding area. I was delighted that last week Birmingham succeeded in reaching the shortlist for the UK’s first city of culture in 2013, and I wish it well in taking that bid forward to the next stage. Of course, we want to see arts and culture spread throughout the country in the best way possible, but this is a matter for the Arts Council. Politicians should not intervene in the distribution of resources to arts and cultural projects—that would be an extremely dangerous road to go down. It is for the Arts Council to decide where it should best place its money.