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Topical Questions

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

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.