Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 512: debated on Monday 21 June 2010

In my first month as Secretary of State, I have established key priorities for my Department, including boosting philanthropy to the arts and culture, introducing a network of new local TV companies, promoting super-fast broadband, creating an Olympic tourism legacy for 2012 and setting up an Olympic-style school sports competition, and we have made good progress in all areas.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place; I am delighted to see him there. He will obviously be aware that a school tennis tournament is taking place in my constituency this fortnight. He will also be aware of the Davies review of listed events. Will he please ensure that the Davies review’s proposal to alter the status of the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which both the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Club have decried as affecting investment in grass-roots sport, will be looked at by his Department before it proceeds?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are looking at the independent analysis of precisely the factors that he mentions. We have a strong desire not to do anything that would restrict investment in grass-roots sport, and we will announce a decision by July.

We have heard a bit about the legacy for sport in the Olympics, but in my constituency we are seeking the legacy of skills post-2012. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with other Departments, because decisions taken by his Department now could have a major impact on the legacy delivered by others after 2012?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. Indeed, it gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) in this regard. Someone told me about a month or so on from the election that, in terms of the greater legacy, it is not that nothing is happening but that we have possibly not got it into the right sort of story that people can understand. We are looking at all the different components of the legacy. We are working out how best to bring them together, and we will certainly take on board the points that the hon. Lady raises.

T2. I welcome the recent speech given by the Secretary of State on improving internet access right across our country, especially in rural areas. That is particularly welcome to my constituents in Suffolk who suffer from not-spots and slow spots. Will he meet me particularly to discuss the fact that fibre optics are available across parts of our country, but they have been paid for by the state, and there are concerns that European state-aid rules are blocking access to something that could be used to the benefit of people right across our country? (3015)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I completely take on board the point that she makes. Indeed, I have raised it with officials. My understanding is that this is a grey area on which local authorities need some clarity.

Earlier, the Minister claimed that free swimming did not represent value for money, but in Wythenshawe, where many people are at the wrong end of health inequality, there has been a 56% increase in the use of the local pool by young people. Where is the value in cutting a scheme that helps to keep them healthy?

I think that I said, when the figures were announced at the end of last week, that the scheme was a luxury that we could no longer afford. The fact remains—[Interruption.] I could get political about this. [Interruption.] Okay; right. One might ask some questions about a Government who, as the main plank of their sports legacy, approve a scheme that, when independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is shown to have an 83% dead-weight figure.

T3. In the careful discussion of the summer time issue that the Minister mentioned, will he bear in mind not only the needs of northern Britain, but the unacceptability of a time zone boundary at Berwick, despite the potential advantage of my being able to arrive at my daughter’s house at a time before I had set out? (3016)

Such a thing would never do. I am happy to confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that the issue is not a delegated matter; it is therefore the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and we agree that it should stay that way.

Why did the Secretary of State not put in his manifesto that he was planning to axe free swimming for under-16s and pensioners?

We did not put that in our manifesto, but why did the hon. Gentleman’s party not put in its manifesto that it had £50 billion of uncosted spending commitments? If his party wants schemes such as free swimming, which in principle we like, the best thing that it could do is have a sustainable financial basis for this country.

T4. The Secretary of State was right to refer to the football World cup and the Wimbledon tennis tournament, which are taking place at the moment. May I remind him of the sport that attracts the second highest number of spectators in the country—horse racing? It continues to produce a magnificent sporting product, including the Cheltenham gold cup in my constituency and Royal Ascot, which was last week, but horse racing does not get the publicity that it deserves. Is there anything that the Secretary of State can do to help it to increase its profile, because it has many good— (3017)

Despite the fact that horse racing does not directly fall into my brief, I can answer my hon. Friend’s question, for the simple reason that many of the races that attract the largest television audiences are, of course, part of the listed events review. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we have called for an independent economic analysis and are looking through it at the moment, and we hope to make an announcement at the beginning of July.

MPs from all parts of the House attended a seminar convened by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on race hate and the internet. What is the next stage for the Department in this important initiative?

I understand that we are working closely with Home Office colleagues on the initiative. I read a letter from the hon. Gentleman to me only today, and I shall meet him shortly to discuss the next stages of his important initiative.

T5. As we seek to host the World cup, will the Minister ensure that FIFA focuses less on excluding women in orange dresses, and more on including ordinary spectators, who are increasingly priced out of watching the beautiful game? (3018)

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. He is absolutely right that the great opportunity in hosting an event such as the World cup is the opportunity for people to go to these hugely exciting events who may otherwise not have the opportunity to do so. We talked about that to FIFA, and the big strength of our bid is that it will mean that 4.5 million more people play football; that every girl in the country gets the opportunity to play it; and that we have a disability football centre set up. So there are huge strengths in getting more people involved in the game.

Order. May I gently say to Ministers that while it is absolutely understandable that they look behind them, they must face the House? Otherwise, they are not as widely heard as they might be.

Cycling fans like me will be glued to the television over the next few weeks, cheering on Britain’s competitors in the Tour de France. With more road races in this country being cancelled than ever before as a result of out-of-date regulations and other problems associated with police support and the rest of it, will the Secretary of State or the Minister with responsibility for sport, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), meet representatives from British Cycling and me, and make ironing out those problems their top priority?

Not only can I give the hon. Gentleman that undertaking now, but I have already given it; British Cycling wrote to me as soon as I was appointed—it was a very nice letter, as he would expect—and asked if it could come and meet me to discuss exactly that issue.

T6. Would the Secretary of State be good enough to update the House on plans and preparations for the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen in 2012? (3019)

I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that, after questions, I have a meeting with the Queen’s private secretary to progress discussions in that very area.

It is 15 years since the publication of the Bannister report, which looked at the vital role played by student sport in the Commonwealth games, which Glasgow will host, the London Olympics and the future World cup. What plan does the Secretary of State have for a second Bannister report to develop student sport?

I have not had the chance to do so since becoming Minister, but in the five years in which I shadowed this brief in opposition, I met a number of university sports groups, although none of them asked me for a new review. What they wanted was a higher profile for their sport and increased opportunities. With London 2012, we have a magnificent opportunity, when this country’s sport is in the eye of the world, to do precisely that.

T7. My constituency of Kingswood in Greater Bristol is excellently served by the Bristol Evening Post, whose local reporters are well established and can get into the issues that matter to the local community, particularly people who do not often use the internet to get their news. Will the Minister assure us that we can support local print media better? (3020)

The best way for us to support local print media is by not constraining them with regulations that prevent them from evolving new business models that work in the digital age. Those are exactly the plans on which my colleagues and I are working right now.

Will the Secretary of State commit his Government to pursuing the measures agreed in the Digital Economy Act 2010, or will he take advice from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who rejected the measure with his hon. Friends and now have it as Liberal Democrat policy to repeal large sections of it?

The Act remains on the statute books, and it will be implemented. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the next stage, when Ofcom may decide to suspend connections, requires a decision by the Government. Parliament has to be consulted in that process. We will look at the progress of the earlier measures before deciding whether to proceed to that critical next stage.