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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—

Impartiality Rules (Television News)

1. What representations he has received on broadcasting rules on political impartiality in television news. (10670)

I thank the Secretary of State for that precise and illuminating reply. He will know that the British public value the political neutrality of TV news in this country, so will he confirm that the Government have no plans to change the rules governing political impartiality on TV news, and that they will expect broadcasters on digital terrestrial television to conform to those rules in the future?

I can confirm that we have no plans to change the impartiality rules, but we will take no lessons on impartiality from the Opposition. There are two people responsible for impartiality in British broadcasting: the head of Ofcom and the head of the BBC Trust. One is a former Labour councillor and the other is a former Labour special adviser.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the BBC also needs to remain neutral on international politics, and that, if it is to be believed about its position on Israel, it needs to publish as a matter of urgency the internal report that it commissioned on its apparent anti-Israel bias?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that impartiality needs to apply across the board. I am well aware of his concerns about the issues surrounding the publication of the independent report into the BBC’s coverage of Israel, and I am very happy to raise those issues with the BBC Trust if he would like to supply me with any new information that he has about them.

I agree entirely with the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), but there is another matter on which news broadcasts are not neutral: they have a degree of imbalance on matters relating to the European Union. Will the Secretary of State seek to ensure that in future broadcasters reflect the nation’s view on Europe, not their view?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. The BBC Trust recognised in a report that it published, entitled “From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century”, that the BBC was behind public opinion on issues such as Europe and immigration, and the BBC recognises that it must ensure that that does not happen again. However, as Culture Secretary I have to be very careful not to direct the BBC in any way editorially, because in a free country that is a beacon for democracy it is very important that the national broadcaster be independent of the Government. However, that is not to say that the hon. Gentleman’s point should not be addressed in the appropriate way.

Sports Participation

Since taking office two months ago, the new coalition Government have already taken three steps that will increase participation by young people in sport. The first step is to increase sport’s share of national lottery funding to 20%, which was envisaged when the lottery was set up; the second is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced plans for a new Olympic-style school sport competition; and the third is that we have asked sport’s national governing bodies to increase to 30% the amount of money that they commit to grass-roots sport from their broadcasting deals.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for a positive answer. The borough of Lambeth and my local borough have an excellent sports action zone, promoting sport at all ages. Will the Minister take further steps both in the short term to ensure that, now the school holidays have started throughout the UK, all ages are encouraged to get used to doing some sport, and in the medium term to ensure that we train and recruit many more sports coaches throughout the UK?

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. A key part of the new whole-sport programme, which the previous Government introduced, was to ensure precisely that sports’ governing bodies devoted a far greater proportion of their funding to grass roots; that the funding was targeted at precisely the sort of voluntary schemes that he mentions; and that a crucial part of that was funding for extra coaches, who will be vital to drive any form of participation that we get off the back of the 2012 games.

I am glad to hear that the Minister has some ideas on increasing youth participation in sport, but, as someone who has coached young people in rugby for the past five-and-a-half years and as a parent of a sports-mad child, I have to say that the idea that over the past 10 years there has not been any encouragement for competitive sports always seems quite ridiculous. Does he agree that the tabloid myth that there is no support for competitive sports is an insult not just to the previous Government, but to all those PE teachers who give up so much of their time and to all those people who voluntarily coach young people in sport?

It would be fair to start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to grass-roots sport over many years as a rugby coach in his own area.

The question of competitive sport is a difficult one, and it is clearly something that, as a new Government, we put at the heart of our sports policy. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for competitive sport in schools, he will see that it is an area that needs attention and that everybody would agree we need to work on. We have highlighted that and put in place a plan to address it.

Last Friday, I had a meeting with people at the National Badminton Centre, which has its headquarters in my constituency in Milton Keynes. They have ambitious plans to extend participation in the sport, but a problem they often encounter is that sports halls built for sports use are increasingly rented out for non-sports uses. Will the Minister look into that as a matter of urgency?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In fact, the people there said the same thing to me when I went to visit about a year ago. When I looked into this, I found that the problem is that a village hall can be used for a variety of uses, so to try to screen it out for badminton means no dog show, no village fete, and none of the other things that take place in village halls. This is about the sensible division of time in the way that village halls are used. I can only promise my hon. Friend that I will look into it.

Over the past 13 years of a Labour Government, £5 billion was spent on sport, and that increased investment increased participation. After 10 weeks of this new Government, we have already seen the Building Schools for the Future programme cut, with 11% of that money due to be spent on new sports facilities; we have seen free swimming cut; and we are now seeing that they are prepared to drop the target of 2 million people participating in sport, which was one of the Olympic legacies. What discussions did the Minister have with the Department for Education before the decision was taken on Building Schools for the Future, and what is he going to do about the sports facilities that need to be improved and would have been improved under that scheme?

There are two obvious things to say in answer to that question. First, we are dealing with an economic inheritance that we did not create but that was left to us by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member. Secondly, the Secretary of State has a regular series of meetings with his counterpart in the Department for Education at which these matters are discussed. We have already increased the share of lottery funding to 20%, and that is a huge improvement. Under the hon. Gentleman’s stewardship, the amount of money that sport governing bodies were committed to giving to the grass roots in their broadcasting deals was 5%; in three or four months’ time, when our changes have gone through, it will be 30%—a huge increase.

Television Licence Fee

6. If he will bring forward proposals to reduce the television licence fee by 25% over the next four years. (10675)

8. What his plans are for the future level of the television licence fee; and if he will make a statement. (10677)

The Secretary of State has said that a huge number of things need to change at the BBC. Will he tell the House what he means by that and provide a list of the changes that he thinks are in order?

I have been very clear that in its use of licence fee payers’ money, the BBC needs to be on the same planet as everyone else. We are tackling a huge deficit as a result of the economic legacy left by the last Government. As we are having to be careful about every penny of taxpayers’ money we spend, so the BBC must be careful with every penny of licence fee payers’ money that it spends.

Government Departments are having to cut their expenditure by between 25% and 40%. Will the Secretary of State insist that the bloated nationalised state broadcasting service does exactly the same and passes on the savings to the licence fee payer?

My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to a strong BBC that focuses on producing great TV and high-quality news. He is absolutely right. There has been a trickle of stories about BBC pay and expenses, particularly BBC management pay; lots of people at the BBC do not have high salaries. The BBC must look at what happened to Parliament when we lost the trust of the public because we did not handle our own expenses correctly, and it must be careful not to make the same mistakes.

Licence fee payers will have found last night’s broadcast of “Sherlock”, produced by BBC Wales and written by the excellent Steven Moffat, first class and great value for money. Earlier, the Secretary of State took pains to name the chairman of the BBC Trust and his former political affiliations, along with the chairman of Ofcom. By doing that, was he trying to call into question their impartiality in the work that they do, and if not, why did he bother to say it?

I, too, watched “Sherlock” last night and thought that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch did a brilliant job. It was a very good example of the BBC at its best, investing in new programming.

I am not in any way calling into question the impartiality of the two gentlemen I mentioned earlier, but the Opposition should not preach lessons on impartiality when they were so careful to put people of their own political affiliation in charge of so many Government quangos.

Does the Secretary of State understand the concern of many of my constituents and others across the country following the report in The Daily Telegraph of his comments on the BBC? They feel that its high-quality programming is something to be supported and celebrated, not least the excellent independent news coverage that is free of the influence of commerce, or indeed Rupert Murdoch.

I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the BBC spending money on high-quality programming. That is what the coalition Government believe is one of the primary roles of the BBC. I also agree with her that one thing that has made British broadcasting some of the highest-quality broadcasting in the world is that we have a mix of funding streams, including the licence fee, advertising-funded programming and subscription-funded programming. That is why we are happy with that structure and intend to continue with it.

In the context of reducing the licence fee, what consideration has the Secretary of State given to encouraging the BBC to sell off some of its assets, possibly including Radio 1 and some of its other services?

We have no plans to ask the BBC to sell off Radio 1. There may be possibilities in the case of some of the BBC’s commercial assets, such as BBC Worldwide, and we await any proposals that the BBC may have. However, we are committed to a publicly funded, publicly owned national broadcaster as a benchmark of quality in the broadcasting system. We believe we are one of the few countries in the world to have competition at the quality end of the broadcasting market as well as the popular end, and we want that to continue.

Policy on broadband is a joint responsibility of the Secretary of State’s Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and he has indicated that he will dip into the licence fee to support the roll-out of high-speed broadband. Can he confirm that any new funding from that source will not be available until 2013 at the earliest, which is three years late, when Labour’s phone levy would have been generating £150 million a year in three months’ time, not in three years? Given his aim to reduce the licence fee, can he give any assurance that that level of funding will be available even three years late, and given the complete absence of significant new funding for high-speed broadband, is he embarrassed that his pre-election promises on high-speed broadband have so quickly turned to dust?

Let me confirm a few things that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be aware of, given that he was a Minister responsible for the matter. The first is that the money that his Government had allocated to ensure that everyone in this country could access broadband at a minimum speed of 2 megabits per second was less than half the total cost of doing that. That was why, when we examined the situation, we decided that we would honour the pledge but would not be able to do so by 2012 and extended it to 2015. As in so many areas, his Government simply did not leave enough money in the pot.

Digital Economy Act 2010

Ministers and officials have had recent meetings with copyright owners, consumer organisations and internet service providers, at which the matter has been raised.

Is the Minister aware of the deep concerns held about those sections of the Act among internet service providers such as BT and TalkTalk, among members of the public such as those who went to the Open Rights Group conference on Saturday, and among creative content providers? Given that the Act was rushed through in the dying days of the last Government, will he ensure that there is proper scrutiny of not just the details but the principle of those sections, which many of us oppose?

I am aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman mentions. It is important to emphasise that the technical measures in those sections would not come in until at least 2012, and that this House and the other place will have a chance to debate the matter in full under the super-affirmative procedure.

What representations has the Minister had directly from those who actually work in the creative industries—the 1.8 million people who depend on the sector for their jobs and the 250,000 whose jobs are at risk from illegal downloading? What does he have to say to them?

The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. There are two sides to the story. I have met many content owners in the past few months to discuss the matter, and they are keen to have measures in place to combat illegal downloading.

Media Ownership (Regulation)

If News Corp is successful in buying the remaining 61% shares of BSkyB, the control that it exercises over UK mass media will be greater than that of any individual in any other advanced industrial country, including Berlusconi’s Italy. The law in the US and Australia would prohibit such a takeover. Is the Secretary of State concerned about the lack of plurality of ownership in the UK media? What is the estimated tax loss if the merger takes place?

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what the estimated tax loss will be—I do not know whether there will be a tax loss. There are big tax gains from having a plurality of players in the British media market. The particular decision that he mentioned is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is responsible for determining whether to invoke the public interest clause about the merger. He will make a decision in due course.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the relatively low price for which Richard Desmond has acquired Channel Five is a further indication of the continuing difficulties affecting all traditional television companies, and that it also shows that successful companies are likely to have to operate across several different media in future? Given that, does he have any plans to look again at the current rules that govern cross-media ownership and cross-promotion?

I thank my hon. Friend for a thoughtful question, as ever, on the topic. He is absolutely right that media companies of the future will have to operate on different platforms. That is why one of my first decisions was to accept a recommendation by Ofcom to remove the regulations on cross-media ownership locally to allow local media operators to develop new business models that let them take product from newspapers to radio to TV to iPods to iPads and so on.

We do not currently have any plans to relax the rules on cross-promotion. Indeed, the regulations on taste, decency and political impartiality on Five remain extremely tight, but we are aware of the need to lighten regulations in general because, if we are to have a competitive broadcasting sector, we must have one in which independent players can also make a profit.

The Secretary of State knows that Richard Desmond and Rupert Murdoch have huge pornography empires. Does he share my concern that children have increasing access to pornography on television? What can he do about it? It is a curse, and I hope that he shares my desire to do something about it.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Our real concern on this side of the House is about the sexualisation of young people in particular; we take a liberal view of adults’ ability to make decisions about what they see on television. I do not want to pretend that there is an easy answer, because traditional linear viewing, which allowed the watershed, made it possible to be much more definite about what would be seen by children and what would be seen by adults. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, we have no plans to relax any of the taste and decency regulations for terrestrial broadcasts.

BBC Accounts

9. What progress has been made on implementation of the proposals set out in the coalition agreement to give the National Audit Office full access to the BBC’s accounts. (10678)

I had a brief meeting with the chair of the BBC Trust last month. My officials are now working with the BBC Trust to ensure that the commitment is achieved by November 2011, as announced in the Department’s structural reform plan, in a way that preserves the BBC’s editorial independence.

The move by part of the BBC from London to Salford has been good value for the licence payer, good for the north-west and will be good for the BBC. Does the Under-Secretary agree that it would be useful for the National Audit Office to consider moving further functions of the BBC from inside the M25 to the north-west, particularly Salford?

That is not a matter for the National Audit Office, which examines how the BBC spends its money, but for the BBC and the BBC Trust.

Is there any real justification for not opening up the BBC accounts to the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, especially given that one of the Secretary of State’s reasons for cutting the licence fee was deficit reduction? I am not sure whether the BBC accounts would rack up against the public finances in quite that way.

Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I am not quite sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. It is a coalition Government commitment that the National Audit Office should have full access to the BBC’s accounts by November 2011 in order to ensure value for money and public accountability.

Creative Partnerships

Creative Partnerships is funded by Arts Council England and as such, decisions on its future are a matter between that and Creativity, Culture and Education.

The Minister does not sound as enthusiastic as the teachers and head teachers in my constituency are about this wonderful programme. Can he do more to publicise the achievements of Creative Partnerships? The case report that his Department semi-released a week ago without any real promotion concluded not only that Creative Partnerships improves learning and achievement, but that through research, it improves the capacity of creativity to do more to help children to learn.

As the hon. Lady may know, I am a passionate supporter of both music and cultural education in the round. We could do more to make such programmes more coherent, so that they work in a more joined-up fashion, but as I said, the future of Creative Partnerships and how it works is very much a matter between it and Arts Council England.

Does the Minister agree that because Arts Council England set up a separate body to deliver that programme—Creative Partnerships—and even if much of the work on the ground and delivery is excellent, we need to be careful how many tiers of management are involved? Creative partnerships are possible through local authorities and some excellent private sector organisations that do a lot of work with the community, such as the Creative Foundation in my constituency.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his well-made point. As I said, I feel very strongly that we need to bring some coherence to the sector. Many very good initiatives are happening on the ground, and it is important that we join them up as much as possible to make them as effective as possible.

Successive Labour Culture Secretaries achieved settlements in every comprehensive spending review from 1997 onwards that were significantly better than the Whitehall average, arguing successfully that culture has a special role in our national life; that for every £1 we invest, we get £2 back; and that spending in any case is tiny—less than the annual underspend in the NHS. Are the Minister and his colleague the Secretary of State even bothering to make those arguments with the Treasury? What has happened to the Liberal Democrats manifesto pledge to protect spending on arts and culture? Is that just another example of the Lib Dems having no influence whatever on the Government?

We work very closely with our Liberal Democrat colleagues. As the shadow Secretary of State is aware, the economic state that the previous Government left us in has left us with some very tough decisions to make. I can assure him that the Secretary of State and I, and all colleagues in the Department, are making effective arguments. Since the right hon. Gentleman makes his point so effectively, could he now give a guarantee that the Opposition—

Order. The Minister’s answer is always of interest to hear, but it is not for him to be posing questions to the shadow Secretary of State.

I note that there is not even a Lib Dem Front-Bench spokesman in the Chamber at the moment, although I am partially reassured by what the Minister has to say, because of course his Government have been described by senior Conservatives as the “Brokeback Mountain” coalition. That happens to be one of my favourite films, but as I am sure he is aware, it does not end well. One of the cowboys is killed in a homophobic attack by backwoodsmen, and the other lives out a sad, lonely life on a trailer park. Which is which in this coalition?

Mr Speaker, you quite rightly upbraided me for asking questions of the Opposition, and I am sure that you would not want me to comment on general political matters during Culture, Media and Sport questions.

Licensing Act 2003

11. Whether he plans to bring forward proposals to exempt from the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003 live performances at small venues; and if he will make a statement. (10680)

I am delighted to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to the principle of trying to reduce the burden of red tape on live music performances. We are currently evaluating a series of options, and hope to bring forward whichever of them comes out best in the business case.

I wish to press my hon. Friend because I would like a date or time scale for the removal of these measures, which were introduced in the Licensing Act 2003 and which have been so detrimental to live music.

I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise date, if only because the devil is in the detail. I can only assure him that we are working through these measures as quickly as possible. A number of stakeholders—as the jargon has it—have to be consulted, and today I had meetings with people from the Local Government Association and Local Government Regulation in order to ensure that all the relevant people have been consulted. We will do it as fast as we can.

Coventry Market

12. What factors he took into account in reviewing English Heritage’s decision to list Coventry market. (10681)

In deciding to retain Coventry market on the statutory list, I took into account the architectural and historical interest of the building, as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

I am surprised by the Minister’s answer, because if architectural design were taken into consideration that building would not pass muster. Is he aware that that scheme means that hundreds of millions of pounds of modernisation money now cannot be spent in Coventry city centre? Will he meet a delegation to consider this further?

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, who took the trouble to write to me in advance laying out some of his concerns. My problem is that economic considerations are not part of the factors that I am allowed to consider under the 1990 Act. I can reassure him that the fact that the building is listed as grade II does not mean that it cannot be touched. In fact, there are many examples every year of listed buildings at grade II that are altered, and in some cases pulled down, for economic reasons, depending on the decision of the local planning authority.

Superfast Broadband (Cornwall)

Unlike the previous Government, this Government are committed to the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas as well as in cities, and not just at speeds as slow as 2 megabits, but at very fast speeds. Cornwall will be an important part of that process.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to roll out superfast broadband across the UK, but can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that we will not have a digital divide between roll-out in urban areas and roll-out in rural areas such as Cornwall?

We will do everything we can to avoid that digital divide. The importance of superfast broadband is not just economic; it is social. The reason for that is that every year 7 million jobs are advertised on line, and 90% require internet skills. So for remote, rural and deprived areas it is incredibly important that they are part of the revolution. That is why we are committed to tackling rural broadband provision at the same time as broadband provision in our cities.

2012 Olympics (North-west)

15. What recent discussions he has had on the legacy for the north-west of the London 2012 Olympics. (10684)

I have regular discussions on maximising the legacy benefits of the games for the UK as a whole. The north-west stands to gain from a wide range of opportunities created by the games through businesses winning games-related work, increased tourism and cultural events. For example G R Formby Heavy Transport Ltd, a firm in my hon. Friend’s constituency has won work in the Olympic Deliver Authority supply chain.

I am sure that the people of Fylde will be pleased by my hon. Friend’s answer. What measures is he taking to ensure that schools and youth groups in the north-west have affordable access to the games in London?

The first and obvious point is that 1,263 schools and colleges in the north-west are already registered for the London 2012 education programme. That is a process that will continue. It is part of highlighting the two years to go celebrations tomorrow and it is a process that we will continue as we move closer to the games.

Superfast Broadband (Isle of Wight)

16. If he will have discussions with industry representatives on promoting the use of superfast broadband on the Isle of Wight. (10686)

The economy of the Isle of Wight is markedly poorer than in the rest of the south-east because of our separation by sea. Access to superfast broadband would help. When is it likely to become comprehensively available everywhere on the island?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of superfast broadband and not just low-speed broadband for somewhere such as the Isle of Wight. We have said that we are committed to having the fastest superfast broadband network in Europe by the end of this Parliament, and we are doing everything possible both to stimulate private sector investment in our broadband network and to have a coherent strategy for dealing with rural and remote areas such as the Isle of Wight. We are happy to work closely with him to ensure that the Isle of Wight is part of that success story.

Licence Fee

The Secretary of State will be aware that there is an ongoing programme of savings totalling £1.9 billion in the current licence fee period. What impact will that have on the Government’s decision with regard to the level of the licence fee?

I am delighted that the BBC has started to talk about making savings, but it needs to go further. The BBC needs to understand that the world in which licence fee payers are living is one of severe and constrained finances. Licence fee payers would like that to be reflected in the BBC’s approach to matters such as executive pay and remuneration, executive pensions, and a whole range of other areas. We want a strong BBC, but a strong BBC is one that is in touch with the feelings and the mood of the people who pay for it, and they are the licence fee payers.

Topical Questions

I shall make a brief statement, if I may, to start proceedings. First, because of my Department’s responsibility to take its share of reducing the deficit inherited from the previous Government, we have announced today plans to rationalise or merge a number of arm’s length bodies for which we are responsible. As part of that, we have said that we are considering the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. That does not reflect our commitment to the Government’s or the lottery’s investing in UK film, or Government support for the sectors represented by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. However, in the constrained circumstances in which we find ourselves, we want to ensure that every penny is used on front-line services, not on back-office and bureaucracy.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I also want to mention that tomorrow marks the date from which there will be exactly two years till the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. I am happy to report to the House that the construction of the project is on track, and I believe that it will also be delivered within budget. It is because I want to maintain the cross-party support for that important project that I can today announce that there will be Liberal Democrat and Labour representation on the Olympic board, and the Labour representative will be the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell).

Order. Doubtless the Secretary of State was seeking to be helpful to the House, but in the light of the impromptu statement that he has just made, I will probably allow modest injury time.

We are all looking forward to the 2012 Olympics. However, this is a very difficult time for football fans—after the World cup and before the season starts—so what lobbying has the Secretary of State been doing and what action has he been taking to bring the World cup back to England?

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I have met five members of the FIFA executive committee to tell them personally that England is the best possible place to host the World cup in 2018. More than 1 million people watch or play football every week in this country, and we have the best football infrastructure in the world. There is no doubt at all that we would deliver the best World cup possible in 2018, so I thank my hon. Friend for his support.

T3. Will the Government’s Shott inquiry consider the media pressures in north Wales and, in particular, the failure of the BBC to provide any local radio in Wales or support the developing media network within the country? (10692)

The Shott inquiry will certainly be looking at that, but it will also look at the chronic failures in local media throughout the country. The situation is tough for local newspapers and local radio stations and, unlike many countries, we have virtually no local TV in this country. For rural areas such as north Wales, we believe that local media have an important role to play. That is why, unlike the previous Government, we are doing something about the problem.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising Brentford football club community sports trust for its work in the community, involving more than 27 sports and 30,000 children, and explain what plans he has for developing the big society model to create more opportunities for sport for young people across the country? (10691)

I am very happy to praise the work of that organisation, which I visited with my hon. Friend before the election. I can personally attest to what a brilliant job it is doing. I think that it involves more than 50,000 young people every year across four London boroughs, and it has a brilliant role to play. I hope that restoring the lottery to its original four pillars as one of my first acts as Secretary of State will make more funds available for such projects and for their important work.

T4. Guisborough and Skinningrove in my constituency suffer from bad TV reception, and certain channels are unobtainable. Both areas are served by relay transmitters rather than masts. Will the Minister confirm the date for digital switchover in both communities, and provide details of the funding of the switchover? Will he also give me a guarantee that the residents of those areas will be able to receive all Freeview channels once the process is complete? (10693)

By the time digital switchover ends in 2012, everyone in the country should be able to receive at least 15 Freeview channels, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss any particular problems in his constituency.

T5. Last week, Dr David Harrop, a dentist from Grassington in the heart of the Yorkshire dales, wrote to me to say that he felt completely left behind by all the advances in the internet. Does the Secretary of State agree that connecting rural communities with high-speed broadband is vital for setting up businesses and for work? Will he meet me and my North Yorkshire colleagues to work out how North Yorkshire can be at the forefront of his superfast broadband revolution? (10694)

I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Yorkshire; I have already met colleagues from Norfolk. I agree that superfast broadband can create jobs in fields that we cannot possibly predict, including home education and telemedicine, and we are anxious that those benefits should be shared throughout the country.

T6. The Government’s change of policy on regional development agencies required Yorkshire Forward to cancel an investment of £5 million in the refurbishment of the National Railway museum’s great hall and one of £1 million towards the restoration of York minster’s great east window. If the Government do not want Yorkshire Forward to invest in heritage, will the Secretary of State or the Minister responsible for culture come to York over the summer to discuss other ways of supporting those important institutions, and to meet people from other important heritage organisations in the city? (10695)

I was in York in April and it is a very fine city. I know that the museum is opening its extension this week. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss how we can help York to continue to move forward with its exciting cultural and heritage projects.

T7. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already mentioned the fact that the Olympics will be launched two years tomorrow. I am sure that he also enjoyed the various events that were held recently in constituencies across the country, including Xtremefest and the disability showcase in Ipswich. One concern that has been passed to me by many of the volunteers who help with sport across the country is that they are put off by the excessive health and safety regulations and the increasing requirements for insurance. Will he assure me that he will have words with his colleagues in the Cabinet about how we are preventing people from doing the right thing? (10696)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have already had a meeting with Lord Young to discuss how we can look at the burden of health and safety regulation on volunteering in general. A particular concern is the rule that requires two people to take children to sporting activities in minibuses. We are worried that that is putting off schools taking people to sports events in other places. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we are looking at that matter carefully.

I am sure that the Front-Bench team will agree that it is important to increase participation in sport at school, and that playing fields have an important role in that. During the review of capital expenditure on education, was the Secretary of State consulted on the proposal to review the regulations relating to school playing fields? If he was consulted, what did he say? If he was not consulted, why not?

We are working closely with the Department for Education on a number of projects to do with school sport. In particular, we want to ensure that proper protections are in place for school playing fields. That was a failing of the previous Conservative Government and of the previous Labour Government, and we want to put it right.

T8. May I praise my right hon. Friend for helping to expose some of the excessively large pay packages at the BBC, and ask him when something is actually going to be done about this matter? (10697)

There is a moment once every five years when a Secretary of State has a chance to influence the way in which the BBC spends money. That is when he has negotiations on the future of the licence fee, and that moment will come next year.

Given the Minister’s unilateral decision to close the UK Film Council, will he outline what discussions he had with the council and its members and when those discussions took place? Will he also outline what direct support and ambition the Government have for film making in the United Kingdom?

I think that that was a triple question, but I know that the Secretary of State is dextrous enough to provide a single reply.

We have not announced a decision, but we have said that we are considering such action because we want to hear everyone’s views. The UK Film Council spends £3 million per annum on administration. We want to ask whether that money could be better used to support film makers.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Parliamentary IT Equipment

1. What representations the House of Commons Commission has received from new hon. Members on Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology’s policy that ICT equipment is allocated only to the permanent office of an hon. Member. (10698)

It is a very serious matter when Members of the House are denied the tools to provide an efficient and effective service to their constituents, at home in their constituencies. Will the hon. Gentleman please consider removing that obstacle to Members, recognising that those such as me who did not rush into taking out office leases saved the taxpayer money and should be entitled to the IT provision available to other Members?

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. If there are special circumstances in any case PICT will be prepared to consider an alternative approach. Under its current approach, each and every Member ought to have a permanent office, either in Westminster or their constituency, before they order equipment. That ensures that the equipment ordered is suitable for the space being occupied, and it avoids the need to relocate often heavy equipment and to set it up twice.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Early-day Motions

The procedure for early-day motions is a matter for the House. Despite their variable quality, the opportunity provided by EDMs to raise any issue in the House is valued by many hon. Members. I understand that the House authorities are considering measures to reduce the associated costs.

I thank the Minister for his response. I and many colleagues are increasingly concerned that the EDM procedure is being abused by outside interests and lobbyists, at considerable cost to the taxpayer and to Members’ time. What steps is he taking to ensure that that does not continue?

I know that a number of hon. Members share the hon. Gentleman’s view. Ironically, perhaps, the concerns about early-day motions are expressed in early-day motion 432, which sets out a similar view to his. The problem is that many of our constituents are led to believe by campaigning organisations that EDMs have an efficacy well beyond what we in the House know to be the case. The matter will have to be considered by the House authorities and Committees, but he makes an important point.

Early-day motions are an important way for the House, and particularly Back Benchers, to show interest, concern and dedication to a particular cause. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to make it more difficult for Members to sign early-day motions—I know that there are difficulties deciding which to sign and which not to sign—but to make it easier. Currently, we can table a question online, but we cannot add our name to an early-day motion online. Surely that facility could be introduced.

In the past financial year, a total of 2,531 EDMs were tabled, with 120,158 names added. Clearly, the obstacles are not insuperable, but the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which he has raised with me previously and which I have taken up with the House authorities. I hope that we will soon make progress on the matter.

Had it not been for the availability of the EDM procedure, I would not have been able quickly to gather 249 signatures for an EDM that helped in considerable part to change the law so that the mad decision of three judges that our home addresses should be revealed to anyone who asked for them could be stultified and reversed. May I suggest gently to my hon. Friends and other hon. Members that if they are so shy about saying no when asked to sign an EDM, they have the option of simply informing the Table Office that they do not sign any EDMs, and informing their constituents of the same? Those of us who want to make use of the procedure can then continue to do so.

Policy Announcements

3. If he will take steps to ensure that no major Government policy announcements are made when the House is not sitting. (10700)

The Government make major policy announcements to the House in the first instance when it is sitting. However, the demands of modern government make it impossible to avoid making any announcements at all when the House is not sitting.

The Minister for Housing, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), made substantial policy announcements on Friday that could just as easily have been made on Thursday or today. What assurances can the Leader of the House give us that until Parliament returns in September there will be no announcements that can wait, especially given that it is returning early in September? The House needs to be able to scrutinise legislation properly.

It is precisely because the Government want to keep the House informed that there are 32 written ministerial statements on the Order Paper today. We have brought forward announcements that might otherwise have been made in August in order to keep the House fully in the picture. I am not aware that any substantial policy announcements are to be made during August.

Will my right hon. Friend look favourably on a request that when consultation is announced over the summer—as it is in one of today’s written ministerial statements—a certain amount of injury time will be allowed to enable those of us who wish to take soundings from our constituents to do so adequately, and subsequently to respond?

I think I am right in saying that the Government have set out guidelines in best practice to assist the consultation process, and I hope that the process to which my hon. Friend refers observes those guidelines, and that she will have an opportunity to consult her constituents in good time before it ends.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that when the Government have made up their mind about their policy on rape anonymity, it will be communicated when the House is sitting, especially given that there is another leak in today’s papers suggesting that the Government have reversed their stated position?

The right hon. Lady knows that no legislation on rape anonymity is planned for the current Session, but of course the Government will make their views on the issue known at the right time. Before she waxes too indignant, let me remind her that the then Prime Minister announced at last year’s party conference—when the House was not sitting—substantial changes of policy on a national care service and a referendum on the alternative vote.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Parliamentary Recording Unit

4. If the House of Commons Commission will bring forward proposals to reduce parliamentary recording unit charges for small independent broadcasters. (10701)

We have already taken action. In anticipating new licensing arrangements due to come into effect in August 2011, we have decided to stop charging copyright licence fees to broadcasters for the material that we hold.

It sounds as if I must be very grateful for that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now give me further information.

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has had discussions with the parliamentary recording unit. He has been very diligent, and I congratulate him on that. As he knows, the principles and level of charges were originally set out in 1993 by what was then the Select Committee on Broadcasting and have thereafter been reviewed at official level. The technical duplication charges, to which the hon. Gentleman did not refer but which I know he understands, will be reviewed during the business planning for the new broadcasting arrangements that will be introduced in August 2011.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

The Government will continue to publish Bills in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny as opportunities arise. We have already announced that three Bills—on parliamentary privilege, House of Lords reform and defamation—will be published in draft.

During last Thursday’s business questions, the Leader of the House told me that pre-legislative scrutiny was “not possible” for all constitutional Bills in the first term of a Parliament. Has the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to read the words of Professor Robert Blackburn, Professor Robert Hazell and Peter Riddell, who say that there is no justification for rushing through without pre-legislative scrutiny the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill when we return in September, other than the political expediency of the two coalition partners?

Well, that is their opinion. It is perfectly clear that it is not possible for Bills to be produced in time to allow full pre-legislative scrutiny in the first 10 weeks of a new Government when those Bills are to be debated in the very near future; I would have thought that that was obvious to any Member of this House. We are clearly committed to using pre-legislative scrutiny whenever possible, but I repeat that it is clear that, with a new Government and a new House of Commons, there will be new Bills that cannot go through that procedure.

The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that in the previous Parliament many Bills were almost totally rewritten during their passage through the House. In due course, after the Government have had time to write their Bills, will the Deputy Leader of the House be able to say that pre-legislative scrutiny will be the norm, and not the exception, for a Bill in this Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that what is most important is that Bills are written correctly and are made right first time, rather than having them rewritten, as was so often the case under the previous Administration. [Interruption.] We hear protestations from Opposition Members, but may I remind them that in the 2009-10 Session only five Bills were submitted for pre-legislative scrutiny and in the 2008-09 Session there were only four, whereas we have already announced three.

The Deputy Leader of the House referred to someone’s opinion about pre-legislative scrutiny. What does he think of the opinion that all Bills should be given 12 weeks of pre-legislative scrutiny? That was the opinion of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, writing to the Liaison Committee last week. Is it not a travesty of the processes of this House that my Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform has only been able to squeeze in a maximum of three sessions to look at two very important Bills? Will the Deputy Leader of the House not cite past precedent, but try to set future precedent to do this job properly?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee will do an excellent job in looking at those Bills as they are taken forward. The critical period is between Second Reading and Committee, when Members consider amendments that they may wish to table. I hope that his Committee will take full advantage of that period by having as many sittings as he requires in order to do that work.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Early-day Motions

The cost of publishing early-day motions, including printing, staff time and technical support, was approximately £1 million in the financial year 2009-10. Printing alone accounts for some £776,000.

Taxpayers will be shocked by the figures that the hon. Gentleman has just read out to the House. Should this not offer scope for huge cost savings and, hopefully, be another nail in the coffin of the wretched EDM system?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and he will be happy to know that from the start of this parliamentary Session older EDMs have not been reprinted weekly, saving 2.5 million sheets of paper and up to £300,000 in printing costs per year.

I confess that I have been here for only 18 years but I have not yet seen an EDM debated. Would it not be a good idea for us to pick four or five EDMs for debate in the course of a year and therefore, through the Backbench Business Committee or the Leader of the House, vent those issues and make the system better value for money?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot add to the points made by the Deputy Leader of the House and the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). As my right hon. Friend will no doubt know, this is a matter for the Procedure Committee or the Backbench Business Committee.

Would it not be a good way to save money to publish EDMs just on the internet and not print them on the Order Paper?

That is an interesting point. In 2007 the Procedure Committee said there should be no electronic tabling of EDMs without stronger authentication than that in place for questions.

My hon. Friend asks why. The Procedure Committee said there should not be such electronic tabling unless

“significantly stronger authentication than is currently required for parliamentary questions can be guaranteed”.

The Procedure Committee went on to say that it cannot therefore

“recommend the introduction of e-tabling for EDMs.”

I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, and my hon. Friend’s question from a sedentary position.

Running Costs

7. Whether the House of Commons Commission plans to seek the views of hon. Members on ways of reducing the running costs of the House. (10704)

The Commission will seek the view of Members in the normal way through the Finance and Services Committee and the Administration Committee. I am pleased to see on today’s Order Paper the submission of names to the will of the House for both those Committees. The Commission will also welcome the submission of views from individual Members, which should be sent to the secretary of the Commission.

I understand the need for the House to cut its costs, but I am worried about the size of the cut in respect of Select Committee travel, because it will undermine the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the Government. Will the Commission seek savings in other areas which do not have a direct impact on how Parliament does its job? For example, at a time of widespread public concern about public sector bonuses, will the Commission examine what impact the bonus scheme for senior staff of this House has had on their output and productivity?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. On the cuts in the Select Committee budgets, I am afraid that we are not able in this House to distinguish between one set of expenditure and another. The cuts announced recently are for this year only and are in response to the general financial stringency being applied to the public sector in the current year. Following scrutiny by the Finance and Services Committee last December, the Commission agreed to a reduction of 9% over three years and will consider the position for future years in the autumn. My hon. Friend’s point about bonuses will be included in that review.