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Topical Questions

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 16 June 2011

Over the next few weeks, I will have much progress to report on all our five priority areas, including broadband allocations for local authorities, next steps for the awarding of local TV licences, inaugural pilots of the school games, a 2012 tourism marketing strategy and a policy to promote financial resilience for the arts.

The House will want to congratulate Andy Murray on his success at Queen’s on Monday, and wish him success for another tournament about to start a few stops further down the District line.

I am sure the Secretary of State supports the idea of there eventually being independent licences for all four parts of the United Kingdom, but at present how can he possibly justify the fact that STV is not recognised as an independent producer, and is therefore denied access to 25% of the production available through the system, as it is treated like other small independents? Surely this must be taken on, and STV must become a qualified independent producer?

I am very well aware of the case STV is making. The only point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that the outstanding success of our broadcasting industry has been based on the division between broadcasters and producers and that has benefits for Scotland, as it does for the whole of the United Kingdom. Under our local TV programme, we hope to award many more licences for much smaller areas.

T5. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have been allocated some 9,000 tickets for the 2012 Olympic games. Will he reassure the House that none of them will be provided as free perks either to Government employees in general or, in particular, to UK politicians? (59883)

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend about the details of those tickets: 3,000 tickets have been allocated to staff associated with the project—they will be purchased and are available through a ballot; 2,400 are being made available to host towns and cities, and they, too, will be purchased; 2,900 will be made available to guests of the Government, including international business guests and dignitaries, to make sure that we secure an economic legacy to the Olympics; and 450 tickets will be allocated as prizes in the school games, to which 6,000 schools have signed up.

The House is grateful for the Secretary of State’s clear exposition, and I hope that this is widely publicised.

I hope that the House will join me in welcoming to our proceedings a delegation from the Dutch Olympic committee. As London prepares to welcome the world to our Olympic games next year, will the Secretary of State recognise the limited scope for the International Olympic Committee to do more than issue invitations to the national Olympic committees of countries around the world? Given the sensitivity about what we would describe as pariah regimes, will he assure the House that all necessary and relevant diplomatic intervention will be taken at the appropriate time to prevent their participation?

The short answer is that I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady. What was very apparent yesterday in dealing with the Libyan regime was how much easier it is to deal with these situations if the regime is the subject of European Union banning orders. With all such regimes it is a huge help if they are the subject of the relevant international sanctions. Like her, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to the delegation from the Dutch Olympic committee. They are close allies of ours in the cause of football reform, an issue close to the heart of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), and I hope that they have a successful trip.

Further to my correspondence with the Minister over the past two and half months following the Public Accounts Committee hearing on Ofcom and the notice I gave him that I would be raising this issue, will he confirm whether Ofcom will use present value estimates on net returns of long-term investments in its 2010-11 annual accounts? Would that comply with Treasury principles?

T2. Supporters Direct has not just been helping fan involvement in football clubs; it has also been advising on the bid for the Walthamstow dog track and helping to involve the community in that. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can help to promote fan involvement, not only in football but in a range of other sports? (59880)

That is the first question I have ever had on dog racing, but it will not be the last. In the circumstances, probably the best thing to say is that I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to hear more about this.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s earlier comments about the importance of mobile broadband and the role it can play. Does he recognise the current imbalance in the market, with some providers having access to better bandwidth or a better spectrum on the bandwidth? What plans does he have to use the 4G auction to correct the imbalance?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in and commitment to this subject. We recognise that there has to be a competitive market in broadband and that it would be very damaging for the broadband market if we did not have a competitive market in mobile provision. I know that Ofcom is working very hard to structure the spectrum auctions to make sure that we do.

T3. Does the Secretary of State still believe in localism? If so, why is he undermining local radio up and down the country, reducing morale? Why is he attacking all those third sector arts organisations that are collapsing up and down the country because of a lack of funding? (59881)

We are not, and I do not know where the hon. Gentleman gets his information from. We have published the most ambitious local media strategy for many years, providing a way forward for local radio stations. We are continuing to support many community radio stations. On local arts groups, we have put in place a big package to try to encourage and help arts organisations to be resilient in difficult financial times.

The Crewe Alexandra girls centre of excellence in my constituency has a proud and enviable record of producing first-class international players and it has built a strong reputation, over many years, across the whole of the footballing community and beyond. The Football Association has rewarded that success by deciding to close the centre, leaving many gifted players and their parents dumbfounded and devastated. Can my right hon. Friend look into the matter urgently and take it up personally with David Bernstein, the chairman of the Football Association?

I think that question gives me the opportunity, which I am sure everybody across the House will want to take, to wish the England women’s football team good luck in the forthcoming world cup. In response to hon. Friend, I will of course take the case up if he sends me the details.

T6. In his response to the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), the Secretary of State spoke about his efforts to persuade internet service providers to create an opt-in system so that families can be protected from porn on their computers. Is it not time to abandon his charm and start using the stick of regulation so we can protect families from porn flowing into the home? (59884)

That is precisely what we are doing. We are telling people that if they do not co-operate in bringing forward measures that will deal with this issue fast, we will legislate and regulate.

I welcome yesterday’s announcement that 10,000 tickets for the Olympics will be made available free of charge to members of our armed forces. Will the Minister update the House on who else will benefit from the ticket share scheme and, specifically, on whether it will help school children in my constituency?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced, a number of tickets will be available to winners of the school games. A further tranche of tickets are available to Sport England through the Places People Play initiative that will go to local sports champions.

T7. I want to thank the Minister responsible for the creative industries for having a productive meeting with me and a delegation this week to discuss the problems that UK musicians are having getting visas to tour the USA. Will he confirm that the Department is behind our efforts to smooth the path for musicians wishing to tour in the US and that he will do all he can to help us? (59885)

I thank the hon. Lady. I thought it was a very productive meeting and my Department will certainly do all it can to facilitate relationships with the US Administration and to iron out some of the bumps in the road for musicians as regards obtaining appropriate visas.

Does the Minister for Sport and the Olympics agree that the Olympics are a celebration of world sport and host countries should be very careful about trying to ban people from coming to this country for the Olympics?

I certainly agree that the games are a celebration of world sport. We touched on this issue with the question from the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell). It is really important that when there are regimes that we do not wish to invite to this country, the relevant international sanctions should be in place to back that up. One of the ironies of the current process is that the ban put in place for the 1980 Olympics produced results for two people who did not abide by that ban, Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan, who are, of course, central to the delivery of the current games.

T8. The BBC is in discussions with DCMS over changes to the public value test. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that, notwithstanding the freeze in the licence fee and the cuts that the BBC is having to make, no services or TV channels will be allowed to close? (59886)

I cannot give that guarantee, because the BBC operates at arm’s length from the Government and, quite rightly, has editorial discretion about what it does or does not do. What I can say, however, is that when we negotiated the licence fee last October, it was on the understanding that the 16% saving in the licence fee in real terms, to be implemented over six years, was an efficiency saving and that we would not expect the BBC to be unable to deliver any of its core services within the agreed budget.