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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 519: debated on Monday 29 November 2010

Culture, Media and Sport

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

Local Media

We have announced radical plans to secure the future of the local newspaper industry, and have ambitious hopes to turn this country from one of the least well served by local television to one of the best served.

Many local newspapers have struggled with the recession, but the East Kent Mercury and the Dover Express in my constituency have done really well. Do Ministers think it right to praise successful local newspaper groups?

Yes, especially when they are in one’s own constituency. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best way in which we can help local newspaper groups is by making it commercially viable for them to turn into multi-media operations which offer their news product over radio, television, iPods, iPads and mobiles. I do not know what the broadcast footprint of Dover television might be, but I have no doubt that it would extend my hon. Friend’s reputation as a campaigning Member of Parliament across the channel to the north coast of France.

In the light of the uncertainty facing local radio operators such as Spire FM in my constituency over the path for migration to DAB, can the Minister tell us when the owners and operators of such stations will know whether they can secure a future beyond Ofcom’s seven-year licensing strategy?

I thank my hon. Friend for his important question. We greatly value the role of local radio, and we are also very committed to the transition to a digital future. We want to ensure that the timing is such that it does not force people to jettison their analogue radios in huge quantities. Our discussions are progressing rapidly. Last week I had a discussion with the managing director of one of the largest commercial radio groups, and we hope that our discussions will progress further in the next month.

There is a great deal of anger in Wales about the way in which the Minister and his Department have treated our local media. ITV Wales will probably not be able to sustain its public service requirements, and S4C has been treated appallingly. There has been no consultation with the people of Wales. There will be a single monopolistic presence in broadcasting in Wales, and the Minister is doing a great disservice to the people of Wales by the way in which he is advancing his cause.

The mess in local broadcasting in Wales was not created by this Government. It was the hon. Gentleman’s party under which audiences for S4C halved over the last decade, and which did absolutely nothing about it. We have sought to find a secure future for S4C that will maintain its independent identity but will also give it the support of our largest broadcaster. We have actually done something about the problem; the hon. Gentleman’s party did nothing about it whatsoever.

When the Minister does consult on the future of local media, will he speak to elected representatives? I note that he has completely ignored the views of all party leaders in Wales on S4C, including the leader of the Conservatives in Wales. Is not the way in which he is ignoring elected representatives from Wales an absolute disgrace? Will he start talking to people about something which is very keenly felt in Wales, and which he does not understand?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have talked to many elected representatives, but in particular elected representatives from this House, about the best way forward for S4C. We have put a solution on the table which secures S4C’s finances for the whole comprehensive spending review. If the hon. Gentleman has a better solution, perhaps he should put something forward, because we have heard nothing from the Labour party.

Fibre-optic Broadband

2. If he will discuss with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills steps to ensure that the roll-out of fibre-optic broadband is available on an equal basis to all customers in a single community. (26731)

I am lucky enough to be a Minister in both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I intend to discuss the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, who leads on it.

Constituents of mine tell me that on a new housing estate consisting of 900 homes, about 800 are about to receive the new BT Infinity fibre-optic service, but 100 will be left with a poor 0.5 to 1.5 megabit supply. Working professionals rely on an efficient service. Will the Minister make representations to ensure that all users in a community receive the same excellent service?

My hon. Friend speaks up very well for his constituents in regard to this problem, which is connected with the placing of exchanges. One community is often served by two different exchanges. However, I intend to speak to the relevant operator about the issue and report back to him.

London Olympics (Sporting Legacy)

I have asked Sport England to develop its £135 million places people play strategy, which along with the investment in the Olympic park will mean a new generation of iconic facilities, protection for our local playing fields and the gold challenge, which will both raise money for charity and get more people playing Olympic sports. The school Olympic-style competition will get competitive sport back in our schools, and all of this is, of course, supported by protecting both the whole sport plans and elite athlete funding in the spending review.

I am sure the Minister is aware that Ipswich has some fantastic sporting facilities, and we are greatly looking forward to hosting the Azerbaijan team during the 2012 Olympics, but may I invite him to visit Ipswich to help us in our aspirations to develop a sports village and a lasting sporting legacy for young people, and to improve healthy lifestyles in Ipswich?

I thank my hon. Friend for that invitation, and I have indeed visited Ipswich on a number of occasions—and watched his football team win a couple of years ago. [Interruption.] I do not sound surprised at all. The scheme my hon. Friend mentions is precisely the sort of project that will benefit from the type of funding Sport England is now looking at, and I wish him every success with it.

But will not the decision to scrap school sport partnerships do great damage to the most important part of the Olympics legacy, which is the health and fitness of our young people? What has the Minister said to the Education Secretary to try to persuade him to reverse this disastrous decision?

I think it is fair to say that nobody who is involved in sports issues—as the right hon. Gentleman was in his previous job, of course—would want sports funding to be cut in any way, but we have to realise that this is a decision—[Interruption.] It is all very well moaning about it, but it is a decision taken against the backdrop of the fact that this country pays out £120 million in debt interest every day. Schools funding has been ring-fenced and handed over to head teachers, and I would challenge them to continue this funding where it is proving important and showing benefits, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman would support them in that.

Further to that answer, I greatly welcome the proposal for the new school Olympics to improve competition between schools, but does the Minister recognise that for that to be successful it is important that schools receive a wide range of support, which was previously provided by the school sports partnership? Will he confirm that although the ring-fencing for the funding has gone, the money is still available in schools, and therefore will he confirm that he will continue to work with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure there continues to be a partnership into which schools—

Order. We have got the drift of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and I am grateful to him for it.

The short answer to that is yes of course I will. The key thing to remember is that the funding has, of course, been handed over to the schools—[Hon. Members: “No, it hasn’t.”] The schools budgets have been handed over to head teachers and it is entirely up to them to make decisions on it as they please. The head teachers of every single secondary school that I have visited during my time as a Member of Parliament have always asked me for greater control of their budgets; they have now got it.

The Olympics are a national project beyond party politics, and I join the hon. Gentleman in his support for that principle, which I have always maintained, so will he now stand with the coaches, the teachers, the young people and the volunteers who are bewildered and outraged by the decision to dismantle the partnerships that have seen nine out of 10 children play sport regularly? I ask him to do so in the spirit not of party politics, but of respecting that this second Olympic promise is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those young people?

I will absolutely stand behind those people. That is precisely why we changed the amount of money that sport gets from the national lottery, which enabled us to preserve both the whole sport plans and elite athlete funding. No money whatsoever has been cut from the coaching system that comes through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—indeed, it has been increased. Those are precisely the measures that were opposed by the Labour party. I just say to the right hon. Lady, cross-party co-operation being what it is, that she has to recognise the scale of the financial problem we face: the amount of debt interest that we pay out every day is larger than the entire Exchequer contribution to Sport England in a year. That is the scale of the challenge we face.

The Minister will be aware of the enormous value that sport plays in the economy of Loughborough. Not only will it host Team GB and Team Japan before the Olympics, but a number of elite athletes are based at its university and college. What plans does he have to continue elite athletics funding after 2012 as part of the Olympics legacy?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Of course Loughborough is right at the forefront of our plans for London 2012 and the development of sport beyond then. All the elite athlete funding has been not only confirmed for London 2012, but set at precisely the same level for the start of the Rio cycle, framed by our decision on the lottery and the money that UK Sport is getting this year. That is very good news for elite athletes in this country and it means that we will avoid the trap that the Australians fell into after the Sydney games—they front-loaded the funding for their home games and it fell off dramatically afterwards.

Regional Theatre (CSR)

4. What assessment he has made of the effects on financial support for theatres in regions outside the south-east of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review; and if he will make a statement. (26733)

Funding decisions from central Government are the responsibility of the Arts Council. I am delighted to say, however, that as part of the spending review the Arts Council has limited cuts to the budget for arts organisations to just 15%. We have also reformed the lottery money and that will boost the arts by £50 million each year from 2012.

For nearly 40 years, the Hull Truck theatre has been a huge success for the city of Hull. The theatre now employs 93 staff and is located in its new £15 million building at Ferensway. Following the £100,000 cut made by Hull city council last week and the £40,000 reduction made by the Arts Council, will the Minister look at this again, taking into account the fact that it is much easier to find private sector investment and jobs on the south bank of the Thames than on the north bank of the Humber? Will he particularly examine the regional funding for theatre in the most disadvantaged communities, such as my own?

I absolutely hear what the hon. Lady has to say, and I pay tribute to that theatre and its reliance on a mix of different elements of arts funding. I would remind her that theatres in Yorkshire received almost £7 million in grant in aid via the Arts Council this year and will continue to be funded by the Arts Council in future.

Tourism Industry (Eastbourne)

The Government aim to attract new tourist visitors from around the world through the activities of VisitBritain and to promote local destinations within the UK through the activities of VisitEngland. I noted that Eastbourne featured as destination of the month according to VisitEngland’s June newsletter; the heading was “Visit England’s sunniest resort”.

The Minister mentioned that Eastbourne is famed for its record amount of sunshine. Is he aware that it was also ranked No. 1 in a survey of the friendliest holiday towns in the UK? Will he join me in praising those who work in Eastbourne’s hospitality industry, and will he and his ministerial colleagues accept my invitation to take their next summer holiday in the sunniest town in Britain?

I would be delighted to spend my holiday in Eastbourne were it not for the fact that I represent Weston-super-Mare, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept is an equally wonderful seaside resort. I do, however, join him in congratulating the welcomers in Eastbourne and other parts of the visitor economy, because the welcome accorded to visitors is a tremendously important part of the value that any tourist perceives when they visit any part of the UK.

Does the Minister accept that there is now a lot of evidence to suggest that tourism in Eastbourne and in other parts of the country would receive a substantial boost if we moved to daylight saving? Will he therefore consider giving whatever fair wind he can to the Daylight Saving Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), which is to be debated in this House on Friday?

I am on the record from previous oral questions as saying that the potential benefits to the tourism industry are extremely well documented and are widely held to be substantial. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also accept that there are other factors to consider, notably the concerns of many people in northern Scotland and Northern Ireland about the effect on other parts of the economy. Therefore, we want to try to ensure that we are not leaving any part of the UK behind or imposing a decision without consent. I suspect that, with any luck, that will be part of the debate on Friday.

Philanthropy (Arts)

Boosting philanthropy is central to our strategy to help the arts weather an extremely difficult economic storm. We will announce a package of measures to do that before Christmas.

Smaller organisations often lack the skills and experience to raise money from private sources. What can my right hon. Friend do to help smaller arts organisations, such as the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in my constituency, to raise even more money through philanthropy?

I commend my hon. Friend on his work for small arts organisations in his constituency. They are the lifeblood of the arts world. Organisations such as The Factory, an amateur arts group that puts on productions of “Hamlet” all over the country in church halls, are the kinds of organisations that nurture the acting talent of the future. They do not always have the fundraising capacity, however, to raise money from private donors. That is why, with the Arts Council, we will announce a series of measures to help rectify that. I hope that that will please my hon. Friend.

In his Department’s structural reform plan, the Secretary of State made clear his support for philanthropic giving to supplement funding to arts and cultural organisations. Will he therefore join me in raising money for institutions in Liverpool? If I promise to get my mates to have a whip-round and to donate a few bob each, will he ask his 22 millionaire friends in the Cabinet to match our donations in proportion with their wealth?

I will happily give the hon. Gentleman any support I can in his attempts to boost philanthropy in Liverpool, as I will to attempts in the rest of the country. He is absolutely right—one of the best ways to boost philanthropy is to find a rich person and ask them to chair the fundraising committee.

What progress has the Minister made in ensuring that national museums financially support their offspring in the regions, such as the National Maritime museum in Falmouth in my constituency?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the settlement letter that we gave to all the national museums, which protected their funding to a much greater extent than was possible for many other parts of the public sector, we asked them to come forward with proposals through which they would mentor and help smaller arts organisations in the regions with their fundraising. We hope to announce progress on that front in the next few weeks.

The Department’s business plan states, intriguingly, that the Secretary of State’s philanthropy strategy will incorporate “insights from behavioural science”. Does he accept that if such a strategy is built solely on a nudge and a wink, or advice from a psychologist, it will be a damp squib in exactly the same way as a nudge and a wink, rather than the coalition’s promised tax break, is doing nothing to support the growth of the UK video games industry?

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to carp from the sidelines, but where are his proposals to boost philanthropy? Where are his proposals to help increase the money going to the front line? We are doing things to try to boost the amount of private giving to deal with the economic crisis that we inherited from his Government. He should help us, support us and contribute constructively. I am happy to nudge him to do so.

Library Provision (CSR)

7. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on library provision of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review. (26736)

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. I shall be writing to all local authorities this week to remind them of that. We have put in place a plan through the future libraries programme to help local authorities take forward their library service.

Libraries play an important role in adult literacy programmes. Will the Minister guarantee that those programmes will be kept in any future Government plans?

As I said, the library service is a local authority service so it is up to local authority services to deliver it. I can also tell the hon. Gentleman with my BIS hat on that the excellent Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has preserved a substantial amount of funding for adult literacy programmes.

In my county of Leicestershire we are seeing increased use of our libraries. Will the Minister reaffirm his commitment to support the important services they provide?

I would certainly support the important services that Leicestershire libraries provide. I have visited Leicestershire libraries. May I also take this opportunity to praise Leicestershire’s excellent music service, which I hope the county will preserve?

How does the Minister square what he has just said about preserving libraries with the effects of the comprehensive spending review and the cuts in financing to local government, given that one of the first areas to face closure will be local library provision?

As I have said, libraries are a statutory service, so local authorities must provide them, and providing that they have a far-seeing and imaginative plan, they can do so. There are many excellent local library services up and down the country, and the future libraries programme is making sure that that knowledge is widely disseminated.

Transport (London Olympics)

8. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the use of the surface rail route between Liverpool Street and Stratford as part of the transport network for the London 2012 Olympics. (26737)

Although I have regular discussions with the Transport Secretary on a variety of Olympic transport issues, I have had no detailed discussions with him about the particular use of this route.

I encourage the Minister to do just that. The eyes of the world will be on east London in 2012 and I pray that very few people cast their eyes on the trackside wasteland and derelict buildings between London Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green. Will he, in the spirit of joined-up government and of involving the Mayor of London, bring people together to ensure that that stretch of the line matches what is attractive in Stratford?

The simple answer to that question is yes, of course I can. About 200,000 people use Liverpool Street station every morning and we anticipate that there will be about 45,000 to 50,000 extra during the games, many of whom will not be going in and out at peak time and will be going in the opposite direction to the normal commuter flow, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and will see what I can do about it.

Universal Broadband Service

9. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on the likely effects on competitiveness of the change in the time scale for the delivery of a universal broadband service. (26738)

I have not discussed this with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I have discussed it with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport and we both agree that the new target of having the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015 is the best way to proceed on broadband. I have also praised my right hon. Friend for having secured substantial funding for broadband roll-out.

This matter is very important for competitiveness, especially at a time when we need many new jobs to be created by companies in rural areas as well as in urban areas. Before the election, the Minister’s right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport described the plan to secure 2 megabits per second broadband access universally by 2012 as woefully unambitious, but since the election he has simply deferred the deadline by three years to 2015. What became of his ambition?

Our ambition doubled, tripled and became superfast. We learned from broadband providers that they were already in a position to implement superfast broadband, so why should we push them down the slow channel when we could push them down the fast channel? That is why the pilots announced by the Secretary of State will implement superfast broadband for rural areas. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that given his experience in the previous Government.

Even with impressive progress, some communities such as Atworth in my constituency still face being left out, but nearly all the schools in my constituency have access to broadband speeds of at least 9 megabits per second. Will the Minister consider opening the various grids for learning so that people can pay to piggyback on broadband access from their schools out of hours?

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We will be publishing a broadband strategy document at the beginning of the month which will address this specific issue. There are technical difficulties with achieving that, but if they can be overcome, it should certainly be done.

Tourism Industry (Wells)

As I said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), the Government are investing through VisitBritain both by trying to attract more foreign visitors to the UK and by attempting to refocus VisitEngland to make sure that it is promoting English destinations of all kinds, such as those in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), to we Brits.

In common with many of the tourism and leisure businesses along the Somerset coastline, including the thousands of small bed-and-breakfast businesses, many of which have diversified from farming, I support the suggested trial of double summertime, about which the House will hear more in Friday’s debate on the Daylight Saving Bill. Given the importance of this matter to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to leisure and tourism businesses in Somerset, including north Somerset, will the Minister give assurances that he will work with his colleagues in BIS, that the Bill will not be talked out and that the matter will proceed to a vote?

I am afraid that the hon. Lady will have to wait for Friday to see who wants to speak for how long during the debate, but I can assure her that I have already engaged in substantial discussions with my colleagues in BIS on this. My earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, stands: this proposal could be tremendously valuable to the tourism industry as a whole, but that is not the only factor to be considered. There are issues for people who live north of border that need to be taken into account as well.

Has the Minister made any impact assessment on increasing VAT to 20% on the tourism industry in Wells and elsewhere in Britain?

As I am sure everybody here knows, taxation matters are for the Treasury not for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. However, I am sure that the hon. Lady realises that any attempt to try to reduce VAT in any one sector will need to come with a fully costed proposal about the impact on this country’s large deficit, which we are trying to bring down. Given the impact of deficits in other countries in Europe, it will be very difficult for anybody, in the short to medium term at least, to advance plans of that kind—without a fully costed proposal—without seeming to be extremely fiscally dangerous to this country’s economy.

Philanthropy (Arts)

Our plans to boost philanthropy include boosting corporate philanthropy, incentivising individual giving and boosting giving in the regions as well as in London.

Has the Secretary of State considered more specifically how organisations outside London might attract support for their businesses or their charitable organisations, such as Gizmo in my constituency, which provides creative workshops for young people? How can they attract financial support outside London?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We want to do everything possible to help organisations such as Gizmo, and indeed to help people raise money to support the reconstruction of Hastings pier. The truth is that there is a lot of regional philanthropy; we can look at what Roger de Haan has done in Folkestone, what Sir John Zochonis has done at the Lowry and what Sir Harry Djanogly has done to support the Nottingham Playhouse. But it is not enough. It is much tougher than raising money in London, which is why the package of measures we shall be announcing will aim to make it much easier.

The Secretary of State knows, as I do, that fundraising and finding philanthropists for the arts and culture is a difficult, although rewarding, job. It is being made much harder by the turbulence caused by Government arts cuts; for example, English Heritage looks set to close its outreach department. Does the Secretary of State think it is realistic to ask even more from a demoralised and decreasing body of staff who are working to save the arts?

The hon. Lady is right: this is a very tough period for arts and heritage organisations, and we are doing everything we can to help them weather the storm. In this country, philanthropic giving to culture is £6 per head of population; in America, it is £37 per head of population. We are not America, but we would be neglecting our duty if we did not ask if there were things we could do to boost private giving, and that is what we are doing.

2018 FIFA World Cup

14. What role the Government has played in supporting the Football Association’s bid for the 2018 FIFA World cup. (26746)

I briefed the Cabinet this morning on our chances for the 2018 World cup bid, and I know the whole House will want to wish the bid team the very best of luck in Zurich this week. I shall be going with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and the Olympics. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the whole Government are wholeheartedly behind the bid.

A successful World cup bid would boost support for football right through to local divisions and local clubs. The coalition agreement sets out a commitment to co-operative-run football clubs. Supporters of Ilkeston Town football club in my constituency recently submitted a bid to run the club. Although the bid itself was unsuccessful, the club is now secured under new ownership, but what plans do the Government have to promote community-run football clubs?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to see whether it is possible to create an easier pathway for supporters to build up the capital to enable them to take ownership of clubs in a way that does not threaten the investment by other people which has also been so important for the world of football. Obviously, the week before the World cup bid is not the time to bring forward football governance proposals, but we will be looking at the situation very carefully and bringing other measures to the House shortly afterwards.

We are right behind the Government’s campaign to bring the World cup to this country, because it would do a huge amount to boost children’s interest in sport. It is important that youngsters have good facilities and the right coaching, too. The Government claim that the money for specialist sports colleges is going into un-ring-fenced schools budgets, but is it not the case that the £162 million for the Youth Sport Trust, which funds school sport partnerships, is not being passed over to schools? That money is just being cut.

It is not the case. We are committed to a sporting legacy for 2012 for every single child, no matter what their background or what school they go to. The legacy that we had from the hon. Gentleman’s Government was four out of five older children not doing any sport at all, and an Olympic-sized hole in the Budget.

Creative Industries

15. What recent representations he has received on his Department’s programmes to assist the creative industries. (26748)

I receive regular representations from across the creative industries—[Interruption] I think debate on the previous question is still going on, but I shall try and talk across it—on all aspects of my Department’s support. I also work closely with other Government Departments, because I am lucky enough to be a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as well.

May I ask the Minister again to look at the issue of tax relief for the computer games industry?

Topical Questions

As well as wishing every success to the England 2018 bid team this week, we wish every success to Andrew Strauss and the English cricket team in Australia and congratulate him, Jonathan Trott and particularly Alastair Cook on their outstanding performances over the weekend.

The Government’s commitment to rural broadband is laudable, but does the Secretary of State agree that providers make a large profit out of urban provision of broadband, but that in rural areas such as my own they make a large loss? What will he do, therefore, to make sure that the £500-odd million that he is committing to broadband will be spread not equally between urban and rural areas, but especially towards rural areas to help businesses and homes which so badly need it?

The money that we have secured from the licence fee settlement is for the part of the country that we believe the market will not satisfy—that is to say, approximately a third of homes including, I believe, homes in his constituency, where we think that left to its own, the market would not provide broadband. We have every confidence that we will have a solution that is not just 2 meg per home, as was the limit of the ambitions of the previous Government, but the best superfast broadband network in Europe.

I start by wishing the Secretary of State and Team England all the best with their mission this week to secure the 2018 World cup. On that, he and the Government will have our full support.

In relation to youth sport, the Secretary of State must come clean. He has overall responsibility for the future of sport in this country. He briefs the press that he is against the decision to dismantle support for school sport, yet on the record he is silent. Does he support the ending of all funding for the Youth Sport Trust and the dismantling of school sport partnerships—yes or no? Was he personally involved in the decision to transfer two questions on youth sport to the Department for Education so as to limit debate on the issue today? Does he accept that 95% of young people are participating in sport for two hours a week in schools, rather than the figure that he inaccurately quoted just a few moments ago and misled the House?

Order. The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) must not accuse a Minister of misleading the House. I assume that he meant to include the word “inadvertently” and I will insert it for him. I think we are clear about that.

I thank the shadow Culture Secretary for his fourth question. Let me answer plainly. School sport partnerships are not being dismantled. We are committed to competitive sport, and the legacy of the previous Government was only one in five children regularly playing inter-school sport. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question about older children, yes, in year 7, four in five children are not playing sport at all. We want to do something about it. That is what we want our legacy to be, and that means that we have to do things differently.

T3. Following the disappointing decision by the BBC to screen “The Accused”, denigrating our British Army, and the subsequent criticism by the head of the armed forces, does the Secretary of State agree that it is time to democratise the licence fee and give licence fee payers a real say over our programming? (26752)

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns about the issue in question. He will agree with me that in a free country, it is important that the Government should not dictate to our national broadcaster what it says or broadcasts. However, he is right to say that we need to look at governance of the BBC. There is cross-party agreement that the BBC Trust set up by the previous Government has not worked in the way that was intended, and as we come up to the renewal of the BBC charter, we will be looking closely at ways to improve the democratic accountability of the BBC.

T4. Can I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to Chesterfield high school in my constituency, a specialist sports college which has been told that it has lost its £180,000 grant, and that the money will not go into its main grant? It was something that the Secretary of State for Education did not deny last week when I put a similar point to him about the situation throughout the country. Does the Culture Secretary agree that a cut in specialist sports grants will lead to a reduction in the number of young people taking part in sport? (26753)

First, although I do not know exactly what happens in Chesterfield, I have no reason to believe that the work done by school sport partnerships is not excellent there as well. School sport partnerships can continue; however, the philosophy of this Government is to devolve responsibility for budgets to heads, because we think that they are best placed to know how their money should be spent. In Chesterfield, as, I am sure, in large parts of the country, I have every confidence that heads will decide to continue to support their school sports partnerships.

T5. With a number of countries already considering basing their camps in Southend for the Olympic games, and with our new diving facility opening tomorrow, does my right hon. Friend agree that Southend pier, the longest in the world, should, via a fireworks display, be included in the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics? (26754)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything being achieved in his constituency to promote sport and, indeed, the London Olympics, and I am absolutely delighted that the local authority is going to lay on a fireworks display. I have no doubt that it will be the equal of anything we saw in Beijing a couple of years ago, and I wish him every good fortune with that.

T6. Is the Minister aware that cuts in central Government support disproportionately hurt areas such as Barnsley, where council tax receipts are low and needs are higher? That is why the local authority is being forced by this Government to look at library closures. Meanwhile, in Surrey, council tax receipts are very high, so local authorities are less reliant on central Government and are not looking at library closures. Is that fair, and why are the Government creating a postcode lottery in library provision? (26755)

The Government are not creating a postcode lottery. Many excellent local authorities throughout the country—regardless of their relative wealth—provide absolutely fantastic libraries, and with a little imagination and, perhaps, by participating in our future libraries programme Barnsley, too, can provide a 21st-century library service for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no change to the chairmanship of S4C? Does he recognise the insecurity that some S4C authority members are causing staff, and can he confirm the Government’s commitment to an S4C that is operationally and editorially independent?

I can absolutely confirm this Government’s wholehearted commitment to an S4C with its own distinct identity, operational independence and the support and expertise of our most important and largest national broadcaster. I urge the authority to clear up the confusion over the leadership at S4C as soon as possible, because it owes nothing less to the people of Wales.

T7. Given the Secretary of State for Education’s disgraceful announcement that £160 million will be cut from school sports funding, what plan does the Sports Minister have to compensate children in my constituency whose health and well-being will suffer as a result of his Government’s policy? (26756)

Our plan for the children in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, as for the children in every constituency, is that more of them will do sport, more of them will do competitive sport, and we will have stronger, more effective, bottom-up school sports partnerships.

Top Commonwealth games officials are meeting in Glasgow today to discuss the preparations for the 2014 games, including how to avoid the dreadful problems that we saw in the run-up to Delhi. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the 2012 Olympics team is similarly learning the lessons from Delhi, and that his Department will give the teams for 2012, 2014 and, if things go well, 2018 every possible support?

The simple answer is yes. It is fair to say, and I will always say, that the Commonwealth games in Delhi were always going to be pretty tricky, because they were up against a very tight construction timetable, the security situation was extremely oppressive and the monsoon was unusually heavy and ran late. I am glad to say that none of those problems affects the delivery of the London 2012 Olympics, nor I am sure—even though it rains quite a lot in Glasgow—will they affect the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games.

T8. Is the Secretary of State aware that people, certainly those in Coventry and the rest of the west midlands, will be dismayed that the Youth Sport Trust and school youth services are going to be wound up? Have the Government not got form on that? I do not want to get the answer that it is all the fault of the previous Government; in the ’80s and ’90s, the right hon. Gentleman’s Government sold off school fields and the youth service as well. (26757)

With respect to the selling of school playing fields, both the last Conservative Government and the last Labour Government were at fault. We are doing something to put the situation right, which is why my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and the Olympics announced a £10 million fund to put playing fields into trust. We have done something; the other side talked about it.

With respect to competitive sport in schools, it is our ambition and determination to increase the number of children who do competitive support from the woefully low levels that we inherited.

Will the Minister encourage local authorities to explore shared services and facilities to help protect and enhance community libraries?

Absolutely. I commend Swindon borough council, which has moved one of its libraries into an arts centre and seen attendances rise. Perhaps the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) can take that experience back to his council.

It is known that a proportion of girls and young women dislike competitive sport, and that reduces their participation levels compared with boys and young men. If we are to ensure that the Olympic legacy meets the needs of all young people, what is the Government’s policy to increase participation among young people who just do not like competitive sport?

I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that precisely those plans are contained in the Sport England plan “People, Places, Play”. It is also worth mentioning that at schools benefiting from the pupil premium, precisely those groups will be able to benefit. Indeed, the early evidence is that schools that have had extra money from the academies programme have spent it on sports equipment.

Points of order come after Question Time and statements, so there will be an opportunity for them later.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—


1. If he will assess the effectiveness of (a) oral questions to the Leader of the House and (b) the weekly Business Question as an opportunity for scrutiny. (26722)

I believe that both procedures provide an effective opportunity for hon. Members to hold the Government to account for their management of the business of the House.

My right hon. Friend is open to more parliamentary scrutiny on the Floor of the House than any other Minister of the Crown. Will he support my proposals for this present Question Time slot to be merged with his business questions? Together with other consequential changes in the oral questions timetable, that would lead to more time being available for questions to the Department for Transport.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. If this slot was moved from where it is at the moment, it would not advantage the Department for Transport but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, from which we have just heard. The answer to my hon. Friend is this. Within three years, we will be moving towards a House business Committee. At that point, it will make sense to look at how we deal with the whole issue of business questions in the light of new arrangements for that responsibility.

Private Members’ Bills

3. What assessment he has made of proposals for proceedings on private Members’ Bills to take place on days other than Fridays. (26724)

The Procedure Committee has recently announced that it will conduct an inquiry into the parliamentary calendar that could consider the issue of private Members’ Bills taking place on a day other than Friday. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) has indicated, right hon. and hon. Members will have an opportunity to make representations on the issue.

I have written to the Chair of that Committee accordingly. Without a sufficient number of Members on Fridays, private Members’ Bills are at the mercy of obfuscation, filibusters and even poetry—tactics that only damage the reputation of the House. Will the Leader of the House explore ways to protect private Members’ Bills from such antisocial behaviour?

I am quite sure, Mr Speaker, that in your capable hands and those of your deputies there is no question of filibustering on Fridays. Poetry, however, there may be. Whether that is antisocial or otherwise is for Members to judge. Clearly, procedural devices are sometimes used on Fridays. Any move to remove some of those devices would be a matter for the House rather than for the Government.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that whatever day is chosen for private Members’ Bills, it is important that opinion on those Bills is tested in the Lobby, not talked out by dubious practices such as speaking for an hour and 39 minutes on a two-clause Bill or quoting what was very bad poetry? What can he do to protect the rights of Back-Bench Members with regard to their private Members’ Bills? Will he give the House an assurance that the Government will not use these tactics to block debate on the Gangmasters Licensing (Extension to Construction Industry) Bill, which is of vital importance for safety in the construction industry?

I remember a very frustrating period of my life in the last Session of Parliament when I had a private Member’s Bill—a very important one about fuel poverty—and it seemed to me that some Members on the Government side, including the Minister, spoke at rather greater length than I had expected to avoid its making further progress. I therefore understand the point that the hon. Lady is making. I repeat, however, that this is a matter for the Procedure Committee to look at, and I am sure that she will make her observations known to that Committee.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House accept that a precedent for this arose during the passage of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill, when the then Government used regularly to split business during a Monday or Tuesday evening to leave three hours for discussion of that Bill? It was a private Bill rather than a private Member’s Bill. Personally, I think it was a rotten Bill, and I would rather have hacked my head off than vote for it. Nevertheless, it established a precedent, and surely private Members’ Bills could be treated in the same way.

I really cannot support the process of head hacking as a way of expressing dissent with what was, I think, a Bill supported by the Government of the party of which the hon. Gentleman is a member. There is a slightly different procedure for private Bills as opposed to private Members’ Bills. Again, the points that he makes should be made to the Procedure Committee, which can then take them into account when coming back to the House with recommendations.

Orientation Programmes (General Election)

4. What discussions he has had with the House of Commons Commission on the effectiveness of orientation programmes for hon. Members after the May 2010 general election. (26725)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has had no specific discussion with the Commission on this subject, but I am sure that the whole House, particularly hon. Members elected for the first time in May this year, will wish to join me in thanking the staff of the House for the considerable effort that went into delivering the induction programme.

My hon. Friend has spoken about the great successes of the programme earlier this year for new Members, but surely he must agree that existing Members should not be overlooked. I note that there is one Member who has spoken here only once since the election, has tabled no questions, and has made only five of the 131 votes that he might have made. Will my hon. Friend agree to have a word with the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), assuming that he can be found, and perhaps suggest that some orientation might be needed?

I am sure, Mr Speaker, that it would be invidious to discuss the attendance record of any individual Member. It does worry me, I have to say, if some Members have problems reconciling the competing pressures of writing books and making well-paid speeches with their duties in this House. However, I hope that in the context of the present economic situation, those with particular experience of, say, ending boom and bust will feel able to contribute to our debates.

Standing Orders (Affirmative Resolution)

5. What recent discussions he has had on the adequacy of the provisions in Standing Orders for debates on the Floor of the House on instruments subject to affirmative resolution. (26726)

Standing Order No. 118 provides that an instrument subject to affirmative resolution shall not be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee if a Minister has given notice of a motion to that effect. I believe that this is adequate to ensure that an instrument can be debated on the Floor of the House when there is agreement to do so.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his answer. Does he agree, however, that we will putting the cart before the horse if we debate the statutory instrument on university funding before the publication of the Government’s White Paper on higher education, simply to alleviate the discomfort of Liberal Democrat MPs?

That puts me in some difficulty, because I understood that the Opposition had tabled a motion on this very subject for next week, before the White Paper is published, so Opposition Front Benchers obviously do not agree with the hon. Gentleman.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Speaker’s Conference

6. What progress the House of Commons Commission has made in implementing the recommendations made to it by the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation. (26727)

I will answer for the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). The House authorities have continued to work on those recommendations that fall within the remit of the House administration. For instance, new educational resources for schools have been produced to reflect changes in the new Parliament and are available free to Members and schools in hard copy and online.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role on the House of Commons Commission. It is excellent news that since the Speaker’s Conference, the parliamentary nursery has opened. The Speaker’s Conference recommended action on another barrier to MPs who are parents of young children, which was to consider allowing young babies to accompany their MP parent into the voting Lobby. Surely that small, sensible change is preferable to the current situation, whereby babies are left in Whips’ offices during votes.

A proposal on that issue is being considered by the Speaker and by the Commission, and that will be pursued.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Welsh Grand Committee

7. What recent representations he has received on the Welsh Grand Committee’s effectiveness as a forum for discussing Government policy as it relates to Wales. (26728)

Hon. and right hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman, have made recent representations to me on this issue. I believe that the Welsh Grand Committee provides an effective forum for Members representing constituencies in Wales to debate matters that relate exclusively to Wales.

I agree with the Leader of the House, but the Committee cannot be effective if it does not meet. He has always shown enormous respect for the conventions of the House. As a former Secretary of State for Wales, I think that previous Conservative and Labour Secretaries of State for Wales have shown respect to the convention of working consensually with all parties to arrange meetings and topics for debate. Will the Leader of the House have a gentle word with the current Secretary of State for Wales to persuade her of the benefits of such a consensual approach?

No one is more in favour of consensus than myself. The Welsh Grand Committee will have its second meeting of the Session this week. That makes two meetings in six months. In 2005, it met once in the Session, in 2006, it met twice and in 2007, it met once. Our record is better than that of our predecessors.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Network Services (Regional News)

8. What progress has been made on upgrading network services to enable access by hon. Members to regional televisions news programmes on the Parliamentary Estate. (26758)

It is already possible to view the regional television news content and services that broadcasters make available on their websites, via the internet. In addition, the annunciator screens carry national and international television news.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It seems strange that Members can watch subscription sports channels on the network, but cannot access our regional news programmes. Can this matter be considered again, because most of my constituents expect me to be up to date with regional as well as national news.

As a Scot, I understand the hon. Lady’s problem. We have two systems. One is the television system, the main function of which is to provide annunciator services and the feed from the two Chambers. The second is the internet. The television system has only 23 channels. I am not sure how many regional news programmes there are, but it would not be possible to have them all on the system. However, they are all on the internet, which is part of the House service.