Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
Community Arts Projects
Future funding for particular arts projects is ultimately a matter for the Arts Council but, as part of its recent settlement, we have asked it to limit cuts to the overall budget for arts organisations to just 15%. When this is combined with an increase in income for the arts good cause from the national lottery, I am confident that community arts projects will continue to be successful.
Although the overall grant to the Arts Council has gone down by 29%, we have asked the Arts Council to limit the cut to arts organisations to just 15%, and when we take into account the significant increase in funds from the national lottery, the overall cut to the Arts Council will be below 12%. That is very good news, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will congratulate the Secretary of State on such a fine settlement.
I am pleased to say that last week I agreed with the Chancellor a package of cuts that will limit the cuts in funding for front-line arts organisations and museums to just 15%, a figure that compares very favourably with many other parts of the public sector.
We have had considerable discussions with the Department for Education, with which we share a belief in the importance of cultural education. However, the Secretary of State for Education has made it clear that the best way to secure that is not by ring-fencing money going to schools, but by giving heads the discretion to use the money as they fit. By doing that, we are confident that heads will understand the extreme importance and value of arts education.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when the amount of public money available for the arts has inevitably had to be reduced, it is all the more important that we should try to increase business sponsorship and philanthropy? Does he agree that Arts and Business has an exceptionally good record in that area, and that it would therefore be rather strange to cut the amount of money going to it at this time?
I thank my hon. Friend for his well-informed question. He is absolutely right that at a time like this, boosting philanthropy and other sources of income for the arts is extremely important. Arts and Business has done some valuable work. Obviously its funding is a matter for the Arts Council, which operates at arm’s length. However, I am pleased to be able to tell him that before the end of the year, we will be announcing a package of measures designed to boost philanthropy and help to strengthen the fundraising capacity of arts organisations—something that will be helpful to them in difficult times.
Does the Secretary of State recall saying in January of this year:
“I want people to say that on my watch the arts not just weathered a very, very difficult period, but also laid the foundations for a new golden age”?
Last week we saw a 30% cut in the Arts Council budget and a 15% cut to the British Film Institute. Does the Secretary of State understand that his role last week as Chancellor’s little helper, rather than the champion for the arts, makes his words seem pretty hollow? How many arts organisations does he think will go to the wall as a result of the cuts?
May I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position? She brings with her considerable showbiz panache—something that, despite his many other talents, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) tried but failed to do for many years when he was doing her job.
The hon. Lady has only been doing the job a short while—[Hon. Members: “So have you.”] Indeed. I will perhaps forgive her for not understanding how the figures work, because after the lottery changes introduced by this Government—changes that the Labour party opposed every step of the way—the actual cut in the arts budget is less than 12%. Perhaps this is a moment for the Opposition to review that policy; otherwise there will be two parties in British politics that want to throw a lifeline to the arts and one party that wants to take it away.
We have already heard that changes to the national lottery have meant more money for the arts, but does the Secretary of State agree that we could go even further, were we to change the taxation regime for the national lottery to a gross profits tax regime? That would bring in yet more money for the arts. Will he tell the House what progress is being made in that direction?
I am very happy to do so. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a big opportunity if we change the taxation regime for the national lottery. When we were in opposition, Camelot gave us undertakings that it was prepared to indemnify the Government against any reduction in Treasury revenues, were such a change to be made. If it were still prepared to do that, I am sure that we could make fast progress.
Tourism and Hospitality Sector
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman would expect, I have regular and extensive discussions with representatives from right the way across the tourism industry in all parts of the country, and I hope to continue to do so.
Will the Minister outline what plans the Department has to facilitate growth in tourism and hospitality in the north-east of England? Tourism North East and its successful and popular marketing programme, “Passionate people, passionate places”, have until recently been under the umbrella of the regional development agency, One NorthEast, which is soon to be abolished. Given that Tourism North East’s advisory board’s proposed alternative marketing strategy has been rejected by the Government, what does he envisage will fill the vacuum in order to support the highly important tourism industry in the north-east of England?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and we have already made representations within Government on the importance of continuing tourism marketing spend, to ensure that local tourism boards of all kinds have continuity of funding. I hope that he will also be pleased to know that I have tasked VisitEngland to ensure that, for any programmes that are halfway through, as much continuity as possible is maintained.
The Minister will understand that the tourism and hospitality sector in North Yorkshire benefits greatly from having so many race courses there. Will he ensure that the owners, trainers, jockeys and everyone else involved, including stable boys and girls, benefit from any changes to the levy to ensure that tourism and hospitality continue to flourish at race courses?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that racing is an important part of our tourism industry. Race meetings all round the country bring in many people from the domestic tourism market, but they are rightly internationally famed for bringing in foreign visitors too. She is right to point out that any changes to the levy will need to ensure that the existing important symbiotic relationship between racing and bookmaking is maintained, and that a fair solution is achieved for all. I am sure that we will endeavour to achieve just that.
This Government have little feel for the history and heritage of this country, although they are among the drivers of the tourism sector. Will the Minister explain why the Government are seeking to protect the overpaid panjandrums of the Olympic Development Agency while cutting English Heritage by 30%?
I think that that last comment was extraordinarily rich, coming from a member of a party that, within living memory, was going on about cool Britannia and that completely failed to fund heritage in the way that it should have been funded over the past 10 or 15 years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that the entire heritage sector feels that it has been undervalued and underfunded for a very long time, in stark contrast to what is now happening under the new Government. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, if we take into account the changes in the lottery, we can see that the total cut to heritage funding is minus 4%, and that is all.
Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme
I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his comprehensive spending review statement last week that the listed places of worship grant scheme is to continue. I am delighted, as I am sure all hon. Members are, that that is the case. We have had to make some small reductions, and it will now go back to its pre-2006 status, but other than that, it will continue. I hope that my hon. Friend and others will join me in praising that decision.
I would be delighted to. Basically, it means that local community groups raising money to repair the fabric of their church will continue effectively to be able to claim grants equivalent to the value of the VAT on the works that are done. The only difference will be that some categories of work—primarily, professional fees, bells, organs and the like—will be excluded in the way they were before 2006, but everything else will continue to be claimable.
No, I do not. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Department’s overall settlement, he will see that we did pretty well compared with many. As mentioned twice already, the increase in funding from the lottery will help to allay the effects of some cuts, so this means that, overall, we hope to have managed to focus the cuts away from the front line and protect as much as possible the nation’s culture and heritage.
We are making excellent progress in broadband roll-out. Last week, the Chancellor announced four superfast broadband pilots in rural locations in the Highlands and Islands, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Herefordshire. There will be further announcements before the end of the year on how we will roll this out to the whole country.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In view of the potential cuts to rural bus services on top of the disastrous cuts in rural post offices under the last Labour Government, does he agree that the roll-out of broadband to our rural communities is absolutely vital in the fight to prevent rural isolation?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Superfast broadband in rural areas offers huge opportunities for things such as telemedicine, home education and working from home. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts estimates that when this is done, it will have created about 600,000 jobs. The difference between Government and Opposition Members is that when Labour were in government they had secured £200 million for broadband roll-out, whereas we have secured £830 million. I think the public know who is doing better.
What my hon. Friend can say is that this Government have committed to this country having the best superfast broadband network in Europe. Labour Members promised 2 megabit access for the whole country, so they wanted us to be in the economic slow lane, whereas we want to be in the superfast lane.
I hope the rural broadband pilots will start in the middle of next year and that, by the end of that year, we will be in a position to see how successful they have been. The broader issue with these pilots is that we have managed to secure nearly £1 billion of investment for this project—a lot more than the Opposition ever did—but it is going to take a lot more money than that, so we need to use this money to catalyse private sector investment. The point of the pilots is to understand the best way to achieve that, so that we can roll it out to the whole country at minimum cost to the taxpayer.
I am sure the Secretary of State will be as delighted as I am to learn that Broadhempston primary school in my constituency has recently gained access to high-speed broadband. However, he will also be acutely aware that there are many other household businesses and schools across Devon that remain effectively broadband blackspots. It is important to act urgently to ensure no part of Devon is still struggling to get broadband as other parts of the UK move into the super-broadband age. I am particularly concerned because I believe we are not part of the pilot and I do not wish to wait two years for progress. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me in order to discuss this important matter further? What assurances can he give me that parts of Devon will have access sooner rather than later?
The assurance that I can give to my hon. Friend is that, having inherited a situation in which 250,000 homes have no access to broadband, we have developed a credible and affordable plan to deal with it; and that pledge applies to her constituency just as much as it applies to every other constituency in the country.
I welcome the expansion of broadband—although before too long there will be 250,000 people without homes, let alone in homes with access to broadband—but might the Secretary of State consider whether broadband is not slightly yesterday’s technology? There are now cities around the world that are wholly wi-fi, so that people are not dependent on bits of lead and copper. Will the Secretary of State consider an experiment, perhaps in Rotherham? Could it be turned into a wholly wi-fi town?
The broadband pilots that we have announced are not technology-specific. If the right hon. Gentleman had asked me what I thought the likely solution would be, I should have said that there was likely to be a mix of fibre, wi-fi and mobile technologies that deliver universal connection. However, we want to wait for the pilots to establish the most cost-effective way of achieving that.
When will this super-duper roll-out reach the 25 ex-pit villages in Bolsover? People keep asking me when that will happen. The Secretary of State has painted a wonderful picture, but will it be this year, next year, some time or never?
I have good news for the hon. Gentleman to take back to the villages of Bolsover. Our commitment is that we will achieve that during the present Parliament. We will have the best superfast broadband network in Europe. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that under us there will be no phone tax, no increase in the licence fee, and nearly £1 billion of investment. Who says that you cannot do more for less?
The last Government committed themselves to 2 megabit broadband for everyone by the end of 2012. You have committed yourself to vague promises to improve the broadband network. Can you say precisely when everyone in the country will have 2 megabit broadband?
The comprehensive spending review secured funding for S4C that will last throughout the next four years. We think that, in partnership with the BBC, we have a settlement that will be sustainable and also reduce the serious problems that S4C was facing in terms of its loss of audience share.
What hope is there for the Government’s respect agenda with the devolved Administrations if the Secretary of State did not even have the courtesy to consult Welsh viewers, the Welsh Assembly Government or even S4C itself over the handing of its funding to the BBC?
We faced severe challenges in regard to public spending. We managed to secure that public spending for the next four years, and at the same time we addressed something that the hon. Lady’s party did not address at all: the fact that over the past five years the weekly reach of S4C had halved. I think that what we have done is an achievement of which we can be proud.
The private sector of television production is very important as a generator of wealth and jobs in my constituency. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effects of his cuts on that vital sector—a sector that, if I may say so, only the stupidest of Governments would attack in the middle of a recession?
During my discussions on the future of S4C, I was very aware of the importance of the Welsh independent production sector. That is why I have made it an explicit part of our agreement with the BBC that it will continue to outsource 100% of S4C’s production to the sector. It is also why funding for S4C has been secured for the next four years—funding on which the Welsh production sector depends.
Before answering, may I pay tribute to Andy Holmes, the double Olympic rowing gold medallist who, sadly, has passed away at the age of just 51?
For reasons the hon. Gentleman will understand, my Department’s current priority is winning the 2018 football World cup bid. However, I will continue my discussions with the football authorities—and, indeed, Members on both sides of the House—in order to deliver on the coalition Government’s commitment.
The Minister has no doubt discovered by now that those at the top of football are as impotent as a room of eunuchs, that financially they have regimes that would make bankers blush, and that, with greedy footballers and parasitic agents, the game is being ruined. With that in mind, is it not time that the current Government—the last Government failed to do this—held a royal commission or some other inquiry, because the game is incapable of regulating itself?
As was clear in the debate in Westminster Hall a month or so ago, there is widespread cross-House agreement that the position we are in at present is not satisfactory. People know where we want to get to eventually, but the problem is that, because of the disparate nature of football club ownership, there is no one silver bullet that will deliver that. I have said that I will consult widely over the next six months. I will continue to do so, and during that consultation I will, of course, bear the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion in mind.
The Minister has always struck quite a helpful tone on the governance of football issue, but does he accept that resolving the recent situation at Liverpool football club, for example, owed nothing at all to the stewardship of either the premiership or the Football Association, and that, frankly, the regulatory bodies are now beyond redemption? By all means the Minister can consult, but will he make sure that he brings the regulatory bodies to order so that there is proper regulation that serves the interests of the supporters?
Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. As I think he knows, this process started some while before May—indeed, Ministers in the former Government were crucial in that. There is a clear cross-House will for this situation to be sorted out. As I have said, we all accept that the current situation is not satisfactory, and we know sort of where we want to get to, but there is no one single answer that gets us there. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I take this issue seriously and that I will do what I can.
As part of any consultation, will the Minister look very seriously at foreign investment particularly in our lower league clubs? That is leaving many clubs in situations such as Portsmouth found itself in last week, as the directors and owners are not fit to run a football club and are just asset-stripping them.
I absolutely take that point, although I remember that we looked into this issue when in opposition and it was clear both that there were as many examples of good as of bad overseas ownership, and that for a long time some of the worst excesses were committed by English owners. This is not necessarily a nationality problem, therefore, although my hon. Friend makes a good point.
Commonwealth Games 2014
Responsibility for staging Glasgow 2014 rests with the organising committee and its key partners including the Scottish Government, Glasgow city council and Commonwealth Games Scotland. I have already met my Scottish counterpart on two occasions, visited Scotland House during my trip to Delhi—the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that—and had initial meetings with the Glasgow 2014 team.
I rise with some trepidation as Glasgow is nowhere near Herefordshire. Notwithstanding that, however, will the Government be a bit clearer about the help they intend to provide over the coming years, in particular to Glasgow city council and the organising committee?
I can promise the hon. Gentleman that, given my name, I am very well aware that Herefordshire is nowhere near Scotland. I can also promise him that the Government have delivered on all the commitments they gave Glasgow 2014 as part of the bidding process and that we are examining ways in which we might help it further as the process moves forward.
The Minister will, of course, know that the BBC has pulled out of being the official broadcaster of the Glasgow games, which has the potential to cost the games millions of pounds in terms of the broadcasting infrastructure. Will he join me in making a case to the BBC about reconsidering that? When he does so, will he remind the BBC that it has obligations to the whole UK?
I will certainly do that. I just say to the hon. Gentleman that, as the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) will recall, a similar row occurred when the BBC did not secure the Paralympics rights for 2012 but, as things have worked out, I think that most people agree that the fact that those games will now be on a different broadcaster is to everybody’s benefit. This was not one of the issues raised with me in any of my meetings about the Commonwealth games in Delhi, but he has my word that if it becomes one, I will certainly take it up.
Halifax and Yorkshire stand to gain from a wide range of opportunities created by the games, through businesses winning games-related work, increased tourism and cultural events. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that the Olympic Delivery Authority has already awarded contracts to 39 suppliers in Yorkshire and Humberside.
Given that these Olympics are London-focused and that the capital missed out on the worst of the cuts announced last week, how will the Minister ensure that towns such as Halifax do benefit from the Olympic legacy in terms of much-needed grass-roots sports facilities?
I am delighted to tell the hon. Lady that the best possible news is that I have been to Halifax to deliver that message. On 20 July, I was able to visit the Ling Bob school in her constituency, where I attended a morning session connected with the Chance to Shine scheme. I saw the entire school playing cricket in the playground, and the school had clearly used this to shape its curriculum for the day. That is just one example of many that are brought about by the 2012 games.
The concern about the sporting legacy is shared not just in Halifax but, as I am sure the Minister is aware, right around the country, in view of last week’s announcement that the funding for the Youth Sport Trust and school sports partnerships would be ended. Today, we have seen statements from 442 head teachers, coaches and physical education teachers expressing their concern that this puts the legacy for the London 2012 games and the aspirations of young people at risk. This has taken 10 years to achieve for young people in state schools. What assurance can he give that those children will continue to enjoy sport in the way that they have been led to believe is their entitlement as part of the Olympic legacy?
The answer is in two halves. We have been able to do many things that have secured the sports legacy for the London 2012 games: a generation of new facilities is appearing in and around the Olympic park and our other venues; there will be a considerably increased profile as a result of the games; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has already announced our plans for a schools Olympics; we are bringing forward plans for community sport; and we were able, as part of last Wednesday’s settlement, to produce a new major events sports strategy, which will produce a tapestry of events post-2012.
The right hon. Lady’s point about the Youth Sport Trust is an interesting one. It is fair to say that it has performed extremely well in some places, but if she was honest about it, she would say that its performance has been less good in others. The fact remains that after 10 years and probably comfortably more than £1 billion of investment only one in five schoolchildren in this country is playing competitive sport—that is not a terribly good result.
UK Sport/Sport England
14. What discussions he has had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office on proposals to merge UK Sport and Sport England. (18956)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Francis Maude on 8 July to discuss the public bodies Bill—
My apologies, Mr Speaker. They discussed bringing together UK Sport and Sport England, and that was also discussed at an inter-ministerial meeting on 13 September. I also met my devolved counterparts to discuss the issue when I was in Delhi and I have, of course, discussed it with many others in sport and inside the two bodies.
Recent correspondence from the Scottish Executive somewhat complacently suggests that they are merely aware of the proposed merger. Given UK Sport’s responsibilities for the world-class performance programme across the United Kingdom, how will the Minister ensure that there is a fair distribution of financial support for our elite athletes?
That was one of the issues that we discussed in Delhi. I am sure that it will not have escaped the hon. Gentleman’s notice that part of the comprehensive spending review announced on Wednesday was framed by a decision to increase the amount of money going in to sport. We were able to announce not only that we would stick to the original spending limits envisaged for London 2012 and would honour those commitments in full, but that UK Sport would have the same level of funding, or slightly better, for the start of the Rio cycle than it is enjoying this year.
In addition to the merger, the Government are cutting the funding that the two organisations receive as well as cutting £160 million from school sports and axing funding for sports colleges. Before the election, the hon. Gentleman praised Labour’s support for sport and pledged that it would not be undermined by the Conservatives. Will he tell us what impact those decisions will have on his predecessor’s ambition to get 2 million people taking part in sport?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place and I hope that he enjoys the position as much as I did—and, if I might say so, spends as much time doing it as I did. I understand his point, but he must admit that the amount of debt interest this country pays out every single day is the same as the entire community sport budget each year, so it is a considerable job to tackle it. By increasing the lottery shares to UK Sport and Sport England, not only have we been able to shield in full UK Sport from the effects of this, preserving elite athlete funding through to 2012, but by the end of the four-year cycle of lottery funding Sport England will have more money going through its front door than it did at the beginning. That is, I believe, a considerable achievement.
During the summer, despite the pressures of the comprehensive spending review, we made good progress in our priority areas of tourism, philanthropy, broadband roll-out, local television and the schools Olympics. We will have announcements on all those areas before Christmas.
Many of my constituents have contacted me, concerned about the local independent BBC news that runs in East Yorkshire and Hull through Radio Humberside and programmes such as “Look North”. There is great concern that, because of the cuts to the BBC budget, areas such as East Yorkshire will lose that local independent news. What guarantee can the Minister give me that we will continue to have that?
There is no bigger supporter of local news than me. I made it one of the most important parts of our media policy, but if we are to have a thriving local media sector, people in the sector need an assurance that the BBC will not undertake more local activity than it does; otherwise, they simply will not take the risk of setting up newspapers, radio and television stations, and so on. We have come to a very good solution in this licence fee settlement, which is that the BBC has made a commitment that it will go no more local than it does currently. It is confident that it will be able to continue with its current obligations for the period of the settlement.
T7. Is it not quite wrong that somebody can be sent to jail for not paying their BBC television licence fee? Will the Secretary of State liaise with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the BBC, like every other utility, pursues its civil debts through the civil courts rather than using the force of criminal sanction? (18969)
The licence fee is a curious system, but it has delivered outstanding results for British broadcasting. Most British people, when they go abroad, find that one of the things they miss is the BBC. One reason the BBC has been successful is that it has had sustained income through this rather curious system. That is why we have said that we are on the side of the public on this. We have given the BBC a tough settlement—freezing the licence fee for six years—under which we will continue with the structure of the licence fee as it is.
We will work with the Government on issues where we agree, such as the Olympic games and England’s World cup bid. The Secretary of State will agree that the BBC is one of this country’s great institutions and its future a matter of public interest. Of course, the BBC cannot be exempt from cuts at this difficult time, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he can justify a negotiating process that rode roughshod over the independence of the BBC, crushed any serious prospect of reform and involved no consultation with licence fee payers or parliamentarians? Will he confirm that at one point in the negotiations the BBC Trust board considered mass resignation and that he now faces a judicial review sought by S4C? Is that not another example of the Secretary of State doing a dodgy deal for the Chancellor to further his own political ambitions, instead of providing responsible leadership on an issue of crucial importance to the future of this country?
May I start by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his post? I am delighted to talk to him about the BBC because the new licence fee settlement was announced last Wednesday and the silence of the Opposition’s response has been absolutely deafening. They have not been able to work out what to do because we have agreed a settlement that is acceptable to the BBC and is very popular with the public. Let me tell him the difference between what happened when his party negotiated the licence fee and when we did it. With his party, it took two years, it cost £3 million and we ended up with an above-inflation rise. With us, it took two weeks, it cost nothing and we got a freeze for six years.
Given Ministers’ helpful answers about the funding of regularly funded organisations in the arts, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that those organisations will be encouraged to do developmental and outreach work in such a way that all corners of the country are reached and that younger and smaller organisations are supported?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: we have given regularly funded organisations, with the agreement of the Arts Council, a settlement that is nothing like as bad as those in other parts of the public sector. I am very keen that on that basis—I have made this point to everyone I have spoken to about it—they should not cut outreach and education work, of which there are some outstanding examples in his constituency. On the basis of the conversations I have had, I am very reassured that those obligations will continue to be fulfilled.
T2. I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating all those involved in Newport’s successful staging of the Ryder cup last month, but does he understand that it is hard for the Government to talk about the long-term economic legacy of major sporting events such as the Ryder cup given that two days after that event they announced 300 job losses at the local passport office? (18964)
I went to the Ryder cup and I thought it was a fantastic example of how major sports events can make an incredible contribution to our wealth. Every year, 3.5 million people come to this country to watch or play in sports events, so they are big wealth generators. However, if we are to continue to support such events, we have to put the public finances on a sustainable footing, and that means using public funds much more efficiently than the hon. Lady’s party did in its 13 years in power.
Is the Secretary of State aware that Yorkshire’s tourism board, Welcome to Yorkshire, is the only tourism agency in Britain to be shortlisted for an award in the world travel awards? Will he join me and all other hon. Members in the House from God’s own county in wishing Welcome to Yorkshire the very best in its endeavours?
I should be delighted to do so. I spoke to the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, Gary Verity, last week, and he told me about its excellent progress. It is worth pointing out that the board is up against tourist boards that represent entire countries, rather than single counties, in having got this far. I am sure that everyone here is delighted by its progress thus far and of course we wish it luck in the final.
T3. Before the election, the Minister for Sport was keen to applaud Labour’s record on sport and pledged not to undermine it. With the massive cuts to funding for school sport, to local authorities and to Sport England, does he now feel that his Government are undermining the excellent progress that was made under the Labour Government? (18965)
Absolutely not, because, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he examines the figures, in every year for the next four, the amount of money going to UK Sport and Sport England, with the exception of that to Sport England next year, is greater than it was under the Labour Government—so, no.
Many Members on both sides of the House have been kind enough to share their sympathy with me and my constituents about the devastating fire that afflicted Hastings and its pier recently. However, the reports of its death are exaggerated: the sub-structure is intact, the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust is launching an appeal and we hope to rebuild on top of it. Will the Minister meet a group of us so that we can tell him more about it and learn from his experience?
I should be delighted to do so. I confess to some personal experience, in that two years ago Weston-super-Mare pier in my constituency went up in flames, and I am delighted to tell everyone that on Saturday just gone I had the honour of opening it. It was like the first day of the sales, as everybody dashed up to be first through the door. I should be delighted to meet representatives from Hastings and I hope only that they will have a similar renaissance of their pier.
T4. Will the Minister explain why the Government have decided to underwrite the 2015 rugby union world cup, but will not give the same guarantees to the 2013 rugby league world cup? To paraphrase a famous comedian, “Is it because we is northern”? (18966)
Tempting though it is, the answer is absolutely not. If the hon. Lady gets hold of a copy of the letter I wrote to the chief executive of the Rugby Football League when I took over, she will see that I said I was absolutely determined to ensure that precisely the same treatment was applied to both codes of rugby—for obvious reasons. The slight problem was that the RFL did not ask the then Government—of course, the hon. Lady’s Government—as the Rugby Football Union did when mounting the bid. My intention is to treat both similarly.
Before taking office, my right hon. Friend was keen to promote the subtitling of parliamentary coverage. He may be aware that the service often ends by 6 o’clock in the evening, long before our debates here conclude. Will he urge broadcasters to ensure that all our proceedings are accessible to the 1 million users of subtitles who are either deaf or hard of hearing?
We are obviously keen to make parliamentary proceedings accessible to everybody, particularly late-night Adjournment debates, which I take. We now have an e-accessibility forum that is progressing that agenda, and we have also increased the amount of subtitling by broadcasters on a voluntary basis.
T5. Last year, more than 2,500 athletes with learning disabilities took part in the Special Olympics in Leicester. Will the Minister agree to meet those involved, to learn lessons from the event and make sure that people with learning disabilities can play a full part in sports and athletics in this country? (18967)
Absolutely. I visited the event in Leicester last year, and, as the hon. Lady will be aware, the Special Olympics GB team has already been to No. 10 Downing street to meet the Prime Minister before going off to the games in Warsaw. I am absolutely behind the team and would be delighted to meet them. If the hon. Lady would just give me a month while we get the 2018 bid out of the way, I should be absolutely delighted to do anything I can to help.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s earlier comments on broadband. When will the BBC contribution from the licence fee come on stream? Will it form part of the £830 million commitment? Is it designated for a specific project or just part of the general fund?
I am happy to answer that question. As part of the licence fee negotiation that we concluded, the BBC has committed to put £150 million into broadband roll-out for every year of the new BBC licence fee settlement. That is how we shall get the nearly £1 billion of secured investment for the broadband roll-out, and I hope it will benefit my hon. Friend’s and everyone else’s constituency.
T8. How do Ministers intend to ensure that blind and partially sighted people, for whom radio is a vital lifeline, will not be disadvantaged if commercial pressures mount to switch from analogue to digital radio? (18970)
As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we now have an e-accessibility forum that is taking forward many of those issues. One of the vital functions of the forum is to make sure that manufacturers take on board the issues and ensure that partially sighted people and people with other difficulties have full access to programmes through technology.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The Government are committed to establishing a House business committee. The Backbench Business Committee, of which the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is a member, has got off to a good start, and we shall seek its views on how the House business Committee might operate.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. It is a fairly complex matter. If he re-reads the Wright Committee report, he will see that there is a degree of ambiguity about the precise interrelationship. I think the assumption is that the two Committees should sit alongside one another, with some common membership, but it is an area we need to discuss in detail with him and his hon. Friends on the Backbench Business Committee, and more widely in the House, so that we establish a system that will work for the whole House and make sure that both Back-Bench business and the interests of the House as a whole are protected.
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that I entirely agree with him on that point. The Backbench Business Committee has made a good start in ensuring that important matters are brought before the House in a timely way. My greatest regret is the fact that the previous Government took so long to accede to the very reasonable request from the Wright Committee and many Members on both sides of the House to make that happen.
I warmly congratulate the Government on introducing the Backbench Business Committee, but can the Deputy Leader of the House guarantee that in future—as there always was in the past—there will be a European affairs debate before a European Council meeting and a full statement from the Prime Minister afterwards? This week, a European Council meeting will decide things such as our relationship with Russia and whether there should be Europe-wide regulation of the financial services industry, but the House will have not a single debate on it.
I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that the arrangement of statements is, of course, a matter for the Government. Other debates, as the Wright Committee clearly sets out, are a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure that his comments were heard by the Committee.
One of the most important reasons for setting up a House business Committee is to protect the rights of Members. Such a committee will not be set up in time to deal with the fiasco of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, but will the Deputy Leader of the House assure us that he will protect the rights of Members of this House by ensuring that the statutory instruments relating to the Bill are debated before Report, and that he will place a record of the Government’s discussions with the devolved Assemblies in the Library? Is it not right that matters concerning elections to this House should be debated first here and not in the unelected House?
The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that he does recognise the word “fiasco”, but the only fiasco I have come across in the course of our debates is the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) speaking for 50 minutes without mentioning his amendments. That may have been part of the problem of timing in relation to the Bill.
Select Committee Reports
Select Committees have been strengthened by the introduction of election procedures for members and Chairs. Powers to set the agenda of the House have also been given to the Backbench Business Committee, which with the Liaison Committee is providing opportunities to debate Select Committee reports in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House. Those two measures have increased the ability of the House effectively to hold the Government to account.
The Wright Committee recommended that there should be more opportunities to debate Select Committee reports on the Floor of the House. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to make that a reality, or is he just leaving that to the Backbench Business Committee?
With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, he is in a much better position than I am to ensure that more Select Committee reports are debated on the Floor of the House, because following the implementation of the Wright Committee, the days for those debates have been handed over to the Backbench Business Committee, on which he sits. The Committee has the freedom to decide whether to debate Select Committee reports or other matters; that power no longer rests with the Government.
If more Select Committee reports are debated on the Floor of the House, can we avoid situations such as the one that occurred recently, when a Treasury Minister told the Public Administration Committee that he could not give the figure for compensation to Equitable Life policyholders because it had to be announced the following week in the comprehensive spending review, before leaking the information to the press that weekend? Could that be one way around this problem?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the proposed parliamentary calendar until the end of 2011 last Thursday at the commencement of business questions, and I hope right hon. and hon. Members will have had the opportunity to pick up a copy.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer, which will allow me and many colleagues in the House to plan our next few months in our constituencies. Can he help me plan the next four and a half years in my constituency, by giving the House an update on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had the Second Reading of that Bill. It should go into Committee shortly. I hope it will be able to make speedy progress, given the degree of consensus that exists across the House, and we hope it will receive Royal Assent at the earliest opportunity.
It is important that the House has the fullest possible opportunity to hold the Government to account. One of the difficulties that we had previously when the House did not sit in September was that there was a large part of the year when the actions of Ministers could not be scrutinised by the House. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, I do think that is the case, but we can still do better. That is why I am convinced that we should continue the discussion about how we can best organise the parliamentary calendar to enable the House to do its job as effectively as possible.
I agree entirely. If we can make sure that plenty of days are allocated for, for instance, the Committee and Report stages of Bills, which the Government have been committed to doing, and if we can ensure that the House uses that time sensibly and adopts a rational approach to the important things that need to be debated at length and those that may not need to be debated at quite such length, the House can start to look like a grown-up legislature able to do its job effectively.
But is it not the case that even in the timetable that has been announced, we still have an extremely long summer recess in which Ministers will not be held to account in the House? Would it not be sensible if, instead of running days on unpredictably until late at night, we used more days during the summer to hold the Government to account, rather than holding them to account between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock at night?
The hon. Lady has expressed that view before. I do not entirely agree that we have an overlong summer recess, with the September sittings. That makes a huge difference to the way in which the House does its business. I also do not entirely agree that sittings are unpredictable. Where we have provided additional time, it has been in response to expected statements, to make sure that the House has protected time to do its business. We are constantly responding to the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench team demanding more time and longer sittings to scrutinise Bills effectively. We must get the right balance. We will look at the matter in more detail. The Procedure Committee has said that it will look at the calendar in the round, and she may want to give evidence to the Committee on her views.
We have announced the publication of our four draft Bills in this Session. That is the same as in four of the five Sessions of the previous Parliament. More draft Bills are being prepared and I hope we will have a more impressive total by the end of the Session.
Is not the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill a lesson in how not to legislate? Despite it being a major constitutional change in this country, there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny. As I understand it, the Government are tabling hundreds of Government amendments while it is on the Floor of the House. Should not the Government rethink this, abandon the Bill and bring back one that has been properly thought through?
The hon. Lady is pursuing this argument. Early in the lifetime of a Government, there will, of course, be some Bills that are not available for pre-legislative scrutiny, simply because—apart from anything else—otherwise the House would be sitting here with nothing to do. That is why we have ensured that these important Bills are debated on the Floor of the House, where they can receive the longest possible scrutiny. I hope that, by the completion of all its parliamentary stages, every part of the Bill she mentioned will have been available for scrutiny, if hon. Members wish to pick up any specific points. I simply do not believe that there is an alternative way of doing business. Having said that, our normal practice will be to introduce important Bills in draft, as has been clearly stated. There are more Bills in the pipeline, and she will find that, by the end of the Session, considerably more Bills will have been considered in draft than in the previous Session.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the House business Committee, allied with the Backbench Business Committee and the elections to Select Committees, has restored the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive? What other steps is he taking to redress that balance?
We have already introduced quite a hefty group of reforms. I place on the record again my gratitude to the Wright Committee for its work, although I do not think that its proposals are necessarily the end of the story. I hope that the work of the Procedure Committee and the work that we will continue to do in bringing forward suggestions from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and myself will give us the opportunity to ratchet up steadily the involvement of individual Members of the House, to enable them to do the job that they were sent here to do on behalf of their constituents, which is to represent their constituents properly and to hold the Government to account in both their legislative and executive functions. The previous Parliament was incapable of doing that simply because of the restrictions placed on it. I hope that we can now make steady progress in improving the reputation of the House.
But is not part of the job of an MP to introduce private Members’ Bills when they come first, or even ninth, in the ballot? It is vital that the House looks closely at private Members’ Bills and at the Committee stages to ensure that we are able to bring measures to the House and get them enacted?
We need to consider urgently how we scrutinise private Members’ legislation. The Procedure Committee is currently looking at that, and I hope that it will make proposals in the near future. Meanwhile, we will have to consider—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is considering this—how we best use the time made available by the slightly longer Session than usual to enable greater scrutiny and greater opportunities for private Members’ legislation already in the pipeline.
Will the hon. Gentleman assure me that the House business committee will be a Committee of the whole of the House, not just the Government parties and the Labour Opposition? What is he and the Leader of the House doing personally to ensure that smaller parties are properly represented on the new Committee?
The hon. Gentleman knows, because we discussed the matter very early in this Parliament, that the Wright Committee was not terribly helpful in its proposals to him and his colleagues. Having committed ourselves to implementing the Wright Committee, we were left in some difficulties. However, we need to ensure that the voices of smaller parties in the House are clearly heard. I hope that he will take part in the necessary discussions about the establishment of the House business committee to ensure that that is done in good order and in a way that is consistent with the Wright Committee proposals while reflecting best practice in the House.