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Topical Questions

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

This House has already expressed its good wishes to the royal couple for tomorrow’s events. I know that we would also wish to express our good wishes to the 500,000 people planning to go to street parties who are anxiously looking at the clouds. After my earlier slap on the wrist I hesitate to crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker, but as Culture Secretary, I would like to read a couple of lines from the nation’s greatest playwright to honour the happy couple. These come from sonnet 136 by Shakespeare:

“Make but my name thy love, and love that still,

And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will’.”

I am not sure that I can follow that quite so elegantly. I understand the argument for controls on ambush marketing in the forthcoming Olympic games, but what assurances can the Secretary of State give the House and the general public that they will be treated sensitively and that people will not be dealt with heavy handedly if they happen to wear clothing with the wrong label, eat food of the wrong brand, or try to pay for things with the wrong credit card?

I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that we will apply the rules sensitively. Everyone wants the Olympics to be a success, as they want the royal wedding tomorrow to be a success. Peer pressure from crowds is one of the best ways of ensuring that people behave sensibly on such occasions, although I fully take on board his points.

When we are cutting spending on everything outside the House of Commons, will the Minister consider freezing spending on the House of Commons and Government art collection for the lifetime of this Parliament? Surely what money there is would be better spent on struggling libraries, theatre groups, galleries and other cultural organisations across Britain that are enjoyed by millions.

We have frozen spending on the Government art collection for two years. However, let me take this opportunity to say that the Government art collection is a great jewel in the crown of this nation, and I would urge the hon. Lady to go and see it. It is inimitably British, and was set up in the 19th century because the Clerk of the Works decided that it was cheaper to buy paintings to cover the damp on the walls than to replace the wallpaper.

T6. What is the Secretary of State’s initial assessment of the success or otherwise of the ticket application process for the London Olympics? (52649)

The ticket application process has been an outstanding success. More than 20 million Olympic tickets have been applied for, with more than 1.8 million people applying.

T3. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that more people have broadband access at home? Thousands of my constituents still do not have access, despite the Government’s warm words. (52646)

I hear what the hon. Lady says. The Government have set aside £530 million of funding to increase the roll-out of broadband. We have four pilots already announced that are up and running, and we have received, I think, 25 applications for a second wave of pilots, which we are due to announce at the end of May.

I am sorry to say that many colleagues and Members may have missed the extraordinary sight of nearly 100 Morris dancers, Green men and Bogies up from Hastings to make the point that we do not want to move our bank holiday, because it is so important to tourism and the commercial reality of Hastings. Does the Minister agree that this strength of feeling demonstrates that he should reflect carefully on whether to move that bank holiday?

I was delighted to accept a petition from the assembled throng of Morris men, Green men and everyone else from Hastings, and I made the point to them at the time that the Government are determinedly neutral on this issue. We want to consult on the various options. The country has not had a proper debate about this for decades, if not longer, and we are therefore consulting from a neutral position, rather than with a preferred option at this point.

T4. The Secretary of State mentioned that the Olympics were going to help the whole country. May I ask what is going to happen to the surplus tickets for Olympic events and suggest that he look towards the state secondary schools, so that children who might not normally have access to such events can have a chance to go to them? This could help with the legacy that he hopes to create. (52647)

Providing tickets for children is a key priority of the ticketing process. There is a pay-your-age scheme, and I tried it myself on Sunday night. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old who will shortly be four, so I paid £4 for his ticket. There is provision within the process. A ballot will take place, and anyone who is unsuccessful will get preferential treatment in the next round.

During the recess, I met Mr Owen Taylor, the owner and operator of a number of family amusement arcades in Cleethorpes and other east coast arcades. He is concerned about the changing face of those resorts, with higher stake money and larger prizes creating a risk of drawing young, vulnerable people into the gambling habit. Will the Minister agree to meet a delegation consisting of Mr Taylor, myself and others to discuss this matter? During such a meeting, we could perhaps discuss other initiatives that the Government have in mind for resorts such as Cleethorpes.

We take any concerns about gambling, particularly problem gambling, very seriously. When considered on an international basis, British levels of problem gambling are comparatively low, although there is obviously no room for complacency. I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents as necessary.

T5. The current BBC experiment to have all the local radio stations in Yorkshire carrying the same programme at lunchtimes is not local, and we already have regional television. Does the Minister agree that the licence fee should be used for programming that would not otherwise be broadcast, and that that should include BBC local radio? (52648)

Hon. Members have made their concerns very clear about reforms to local radio by the BBC, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks will be heard. I am afraid I do not know the specifics of what is happening in Yorkshire. At the beginning of April, I made a very interesting visit to BBC Radio Norfolk in Norwich, and the working of a local news operation was a wonder to behold.

Will the Secretary of State join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field)—and, no doubt, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis)—in congratulating Bury FC on its promotion at the weekend, and in wishing it well in division one?

There is significant support among players and supporters in Wales for the creation of a Welsh national cricket team to compete in the one-day world cup and the Twenty20 world cup. A Welsh national team competed in the 1979 International Cricket Council trophy, so there is a precedent for this. Will the Minister raise this matter with the England and Wales Cricket Board to see whether this ambition can be achieved without endangering Glamorgan’s first-class status or the SWALEC stadium’s status as a test venue?

The answer to that lay in the question. We have an England and Wales Cricket Board, and it would also be extraordinarily difficult to do that without endangering Glamorgan’s first-class status or the ability of the ground to compete for test matches. Traditionally, for many years, Welsh players have competed for England, although there are none at the moment. I imagine that Robert Croft was the last one to do so, and I hope that there will be many more in the future. Hugh Morris, the director of cricket at the ECB, was a Glamorgan player.

The Minister will be aware that the London Mozart Players, one of the finest chamber orchestras in the country, is facing closure. Will he agree to meet Hilary Davan Wetton, the associate conductor, whom I know through his connection with the equally fine Milton Keynes City Orchestra, to see whether a short-term solution can be found to allow the orchestra to survive while we work out a long-term solution?

I know Hilary Davan Wetton of old, and have the utmost respect for him, but I have to say that I do not think it would be appropriate for me to have such a meeting. These decisions are taken by the Arts Council at arm’s length from the Government, and the right people for Mr Davan Wetton to meet would be representatives of the Arts Council.

T7. In the light of the considerable concerns arising from the ongoing criminal investigations into phone hacking in the News International stable, is the Secretary of State now minded to postpone his decision on the future of BSkyB until such time as those criminal investigations have been concluded? (52650)

The decision I have to take about the Sky merger relates to media plurality, and we are in the process of taking that decision. I am very concerned about the news about phone hacking. It is a criminal offence. Two people have already gone to prison and three people have been arrested. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the police must follow their investigations wherever they lead because the public must have confidence that, with a free press, the press use that freedom responsibly.