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Topical Questions

Volume 519: debated on Monday 29 November 2010

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.