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Topical Questions

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 3 March 2011

In January I published our local media action plan. I am pleased to announce that, by the deadline of 1 March, we had 30 expressions of interest from people who wanted to run local media services, 21 expressions of interest from people interested in running a new local TV network and five expressions of interest from people interested in running local TV services in the devolved nations.

Is the decision to remove funding for Creative Partnerships not further evidence of a deliberate strategy by this Tory-led Government to remove funding from the poorest and most disadvantaged children in our society?

Absolutely not. I recognise that Creative Partnerships has done some excellent work, and I commend in particular the leadership of Paul Collard, but the decision to remove its funding was directly caused by the enormous budget deficit that we inherited—the economic crisis from which we and the whole country now have to pick up the pieces.

T2. I know that the Minister is aware of the importance of high-speed broadband to predominantly rural counties, such as Suffolk, and in particular to the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. Is he encouraged by the fact that in Suffolk we are developing a public-private partnership that will see local authorities committing almost £500,000 to the revenue funding of any future successful broadband bid? (43650)

I am certainly encouraged by what my hon. Friend tells me, and I am further encouraged, having met Suffolk county council with local Conservative MPs, who are taking a strong leadership position on that important issue.

T4. In my relatively short time in the House, what has struck me as being extremely helpful has been the time given to statements. Can the Minister explain why a statement on BSkyB, which has been widely trailed in the press this morning and all over the radio, appears to have been postponed until such a late time in the day? Will he also comment on the statement that placing independent directors on The Times newspaper in the past has proved wholly ineffective? (43652)

You, Mr Speaker, very kindly gave me permission to make my statement to the House at 3 o’clock. I did not have any control over the time. I actually have the statement with me, and I would be happy to deliver it right away, but Mr Speaker has generously given me a slot at 3 o’clock, and that is when I intend to address the issues that the hon. Lady raises.

T3. Is my right hon. Friend as pleased as I am that that great symbol of Cornish culture, the Cornish pasty, has been awarded protected geographical indication status? Will he join me and my Cornish colleagues in wishing my constituents in South East Cornwall, and indeed all the people of Cornwall, a happy St Piran’s day for Saturday? (43651)

I have great pleasure in wishing my hon. Friend and her constituents a happy St Piran’s day. I was in South East Cornwall on holiday the weekend before last, and the highlight of that weekend was an absolutely delicious Cornish pasty.

Is the real reason the Secretary of State is not delivering the statement on BSkyB until the unusually late hour of 3 o’clock that Rupert Murdoch has not written it yet?

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to my earlier response, he would have heard me say that I have the statement here and am happy to deliver it at any time, but Mr Speaker has generously given me a slot at 3 o’clock, when I will address all the issues that he and other hon. Members wish to raise.

T5. May I add my congratulations to everyone involved in the success of “The King’s Speech”? It has also been a major commercial success, and it was funded partly by lottery funding. Can the Secretary of State give us an idea of how much revenue that will bring in to the UK taxpayer? (43654)

As I understand it, the commercial deal around “The King’s Speech”, which could gross up to £200 million worldwide, means that 34% of the money that it may generate that came from financiers will come back to the UK to invest in future film production, which is an excellent thing.

At the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, many exciting new mobile applications and devices were unveiled. However, consumers and businesses across the country are being left behind because of this Government’s delay in making mobile spectrum available. What is the Minister doing to speed up the availability of spectrum for innovative applications?

We expect Ofcom to publish its auction rules towards the end of this month. Any delay was caused by the fact that the previous Government did not bring forward the statutory instrument in time. By the time that they did, substantial changes had taken place in the mobile telecoms landscape that necessitated a review.

T6. My right hon. Friend will be aware of BBC Worldwide’s bid for the remaining stake in “Lonely Planet” travel guides. Will he undertake to have a word with BBC Worldwide about the history sections in some of these travel guides? The one for England, for example, has a rather partial view of the 1980s. It says:“Trade unions archaic? She”—Margaret Thatcher—“smashed them. British industry inefficient? She shut it down. Nationalised companies a mistake? She sold them off”.Can he make sure that there is a slightly more nuanced and balanced section in these travel guides? Having said that, the section ends by saying that“her repeated electoral victories were helped considerably by the Labour Party’s total incompetence”. (43655)

I am a huge fan of the “Lonely Planet” travel guides, but I am not a great fan of its guides to the UK. The most important thing that it needs to update is the fact that there is an outstanding new tourism Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), who has taken charge of the British tourism industry and is ringing the changes to make Britain a better tourism destination.

Britain is rightly renowned for the creativity of its independent music sector, but musicians seeking to go and tour in the US face huge bureaucracy and costs when they try to get visas, whereas it is far easier for musicians from the US to come and tour here. May I urge the Minister to take action on this?

It is the first time that that issue has been raised with me, and I would be delighted to sit down with the hon. Lady and discuss it further.

As currently drafted, the Localism Bill would allow local development plans to circumvent the existing rules on listed buildings. Does the Minister agree that this could play havoc with our current built heritage? What discussions is he having with the Department for Communities and Local Government to avoid that problem?

I am glad to reassure my hon. Friend that at no stage has any DCLG Minister come to me and said that they wish to drive a coach and horses through the listed buildings regulations; I am sure that he was not implying that anyway. I am happy to reassure him that, as we speak, officials from DCMS are in close consultation on this very issue with the authors of the Localism Bill.

Further to that question, two weekends ago, I spent a very cold evening trying to protect the former EMD cinema in Walthamstow from an illegal rave, during the course of which I discovered that that beautiful listed building had been flooded with water. Similarly, whenever I pass the Walthamstow dog track and see the derelict state it is now in, I fear for its future. Will the Minister agree to an urgent meeting with me to discuss what more can be done to protect such heritage buildings from unscrupulous landlords such as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and London & Quadrant, given their listed status?

I would of course be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss those issues. I assure her that, by and large, individual structures spend between two and four years on the buildings at risk register. In most cases, solutions are found but there is a small but real nub of cases that have longer-term problems. If the two cases that she describes are part of that nub, I would be delighted to talk them through with her.

Heart radio has more than halved the number of local stations for which it was granted licences. Those lost include the one in Colchester. If Heart is not prepared to reopen that station, surely the frequency should be offered to the local community to run its own radio station—Radio Big Society Colchester.

If Radio Big Society Colchester does get off the ground, we all know who the breakfast presenter should be.

I welcome the decision by colleagues in the Department for Education to award £82 million to music education. In the past, the cultural sector has worked closely with music education. Will Ministers ensure that that progress continues?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that question. In the spirit in which he asked it, I pay tribute to the work of the previous Government in establishing the music standards fund and taking music education so seriously. The Henley review has enabled the close co-operation between the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to continue.

The Liverpool city region is a cultural hub, and that was cemented when it won the capital of culture. It is imperative that the area has a local television station. Will the Secretary of State work with the city region to ensure that a bid is taken up in this area?

I would be delighted to do so. Liverpool presents a fantastic opportunity and would benefit hugely from having its own TV station. It has a fantastic cultural heritage, an amazing sporting tradition and tremendous civic pride. Not least, I am sure that such a station would be an excellent platform for my hon. Friend to say what a brilliant job she is doing for her constituents.