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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 532: debated on Thursday 8 September 2011

Culture, Media and Sport

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

Sports Projects (Nottinghamshire)

1. What estimate he has made of the level of revenue and capital funding for sports projects in Nottinghamshire in 2011-12; and if he will make a statement. (70588)

Before answering, on behalf of the whole House may I congratulate the England and Wales cricket team on becoming the No. 1 test playing nation in the world? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] That was a popular one. I also congratulate our rowing and athletics squads on winning 14 and 17[Official Report, 12 September 2011, Vol. 532, c. 5-6MC.] medals respectively at their world championships last weekend, and William Fox-Pitt on a record sixth victory at the Burghley horse trials.

The figures for the 2011-12 funding period are not yet available, but I am pleased to report that Nu2Sport, in conjunction with the university of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent university and Sport Nottinghamshire, secured a grant of just under £250,000 in national lottery funding from Sport England to help more students participate in sport. Nottingham will also benefit from funding invested throughout the country by the national governing bodies of sport. I will write to the hon. Gentleman once the full figures are available.

We hear a lot about the legacy of the Olympics. Can the Minister reconcile talking up the legacy of the Olympics with the whole sport plans, which will at the same time reduce expenditure across 46 sports by about £70 million, including in deprived constituencies such as mine? Will he look again at the future funding to maintain what we do at the Olympic level?

Yes, certainly. I would need to look at the figure that the hon. Gentleman has produced and understand how he has got to it. One thing that we have used the increase in lottery funding to do is to preserve funding through the whole sport plans. I need to understand exactly what is behind his figure. We have also produced Places People Play, which includes the iconic and inspired facility funds that are designed specifically to invest in facilities to draw more people into sport. I hope that any clubs in his constituency that are affected will apply to those funds, but I will certainly look at his figures.

Women’s Football

I spoke at the launch of the Football Association’s new women’s super league in April. In June, I attended a reception at Downing street for the England women’s team ahead of the World cup in Germany. At the junior level, we made strong representations to the FA to increase the age at which girls can play in mixed teams from 11 to 13. I am delighted that that will happen from next year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he join me in congratulating all the teams, especially my own team, Lincoln Ladies, on the successful first season of the FA WSL? Lincoln Ladies’ attendance rose on average by more than 400% compared with the previous year. Does he agree that the first season laid an excellent marker for future seasons and that it highlights the continuing growth of the women’s game in Lincoln and throughout England?

Of course I do. My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that I had the opportunity to meet a number of the Lincoln Ladies players during a visit to the city on 14 June. There is no doubt that the new league has been a fantastic success and I hope it will be a great driver of more women playing football.

Will the Minister raise with the FA its girls’ talent development programme, which has meant that my constituent, Jaime Gotch, who used to go to the Watford centre, is now left without any support for her very talented football career?

I know; that was my point. If the hon. Lady wishes to write to me or directly to the FA, I will see what we can do to help.

Women and girl’s football is a growing sport and is one of the fastest growing sports among girls. As I am sure the Minister is aware, it is enormously important to have women in coaching and being trained as coaches. What is being done to get more women into coaching?

I am glad to say that there is a very simple answer to that question: the development of St George’s Park, the FA’s new centre of excellence in the midlands. Its specific remit is to drive up the number of coaches, both male and female, across the community game. Many football writers, who have been urging this for a long time, think that it will be the single biggest seminal change to English football over the next decade. I hope that it will make a huge contribution to sorting out this situation.

Broadcasting (Commonwealth Games)

3. Whether he has had discussions with (a) the BBC Trust and (b) Ministers in the Scottish Government about the broadcasting rights for the 2014 Commonwealth games. (70590)

We have had no discussions with the BBC Trust or Ministers in the Scottish Government on this issue, which is a matter for the rights holders and broadcasters, but we welcome the recent announcement that the games will be broadcast on BBC television.

I am obviously disappointed that the Government do not think it important that the BBC lives up to its responsibilities to all nations and regions and acts as the host broadcaster. Will he explain why he has had no such meetings? Does he not accept that we are losing millions of pounds of training opportunities through the Government’s failure to act?

The BBC does not always act as host broadcaster for the sports events that it covers. As I say, given that the BBC is covering the Commonwealth games, I am not sure what the issue is.

Local Television

4. What recent progress his Department has made on implementing the recommendations of the Shott review into local television; and if he will make a statement. (70591)

Last month I announced that 65 locations in the country could be pioneer locations for a new generation of local TV services, and we will be laying three orders before Parliament before Christmas to make that happen.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply and for driving forward local TV with such belief; that is all credit to him. May I draw his attention to a bid for a local TV licence that is being put together in my constituency, which places the media and journalist facility at the university of Winchester and Southampton Solent university in Southampton at its heart? Does he agree that if local TV is to work this time around, and the next generation of Dimblebys is to be found, we must draw on the technical expertise within our universities and the students and what they have to offer?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He of course knows about this as a former journalist. Those at universities have been among the most enthusiastic people about local TV, not least at Birmingham City university, which has hosted two events on local TV in the past year. The reason is that they see this as an opportunity to found a new sector in the creative industries, which employ more than 50,000 people in the United States. That makes the opposition of the Labour party all the more extraordinary.

But the shadow Secretary of State wrote to me in July saying that this was a waste of ministerial time. I hope that he might review that position, because this is a big opportunity for jobs.

May I give the Secretary of State half a cheer for his proposals? The town of Mold in my constituency has been chosen as a potential hub, but it is the same town where a BBC TV and radio studio has closed, in part because of financial pressures. What guarantees can he give that the capital and revenue streams will be there to develop that network of local television services, and that any advertising will not diminish the ability of local print media to have such advertising and make them viable as well?

All the evidence from other countries shows that having local TV stations actually grows the local advertising markets. I am sure that the Flintshire Chronicle and The Leader will continue to thrive in Mold. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman appearing on Mold TV, but for reasons of consistency we expect the shadow Culture Secretary to boycott his own local TV station.

Channel 7, a local TV station based in Immingham in my constituency, is, I believe, the sole surviving local station from the initial batch, and it has been a success due to forging its partnerships with institutions such as the Grimsby institute of further and higher education. People at Channel 7 have asked me to convey an invitation to one of the ministerial team to visit them and benefit from the success they have had. May I pass that invitation on and look forward to a visit?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that enticing offer. I travelled to Birmingham and Manchester, and tomorrow I am going to Belfast and Glasgow. I will certainly see whether I can put his constituency on the list as well.

In response to the Secretary of State’s plans for local TV in Wales, a senior BBC source was quoted in The Western Mail as saying that he is

“an advertisement for the devolution of every aspect of broadcasting policy to Wales without exception”.

Will he unburden himself and agree to such a sensible proposal?

Very unusually, this is an issue on which I find myself in disagreement with the BBC. I want to encourage local broadcasting, of course, but broadcasting should remain an issue for the national Government at Westminster.

London Olympics

5. What estimate he has made of the likely change in the level of participation in sport as a result of the London 2012 Olympics. (70592)

Over the past year, we have increased the share of lottery funding for sport across the United Kingdom and invested £135 million in a mass participation legacy programme and more than £100 million to increase competitive sport through the school games. Increasing participation will be a challenge, and it is one that no previous host city has achieved, but it is our aim to deliver on the pledges made at the time of the bid.

I welcome what the Minister has said. I am delighted to hear that the Secretary of State is going to Belfast tomorrow; I am sure that he will be warmly welcomed there. I hope that he has discussions, along with his colleagues, on the issue of increasing participation in sport across the regions and in Northern Ireland. I would be grateful if he could say what discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive specifically on increasing participation in Northern Ireland in sport as a result of the Olympics.

I am delighted to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I visited Belfast on 9 March. I visited the university of Belfast and Sport Northern Ireland and saw a number of participation schemes that I thought were being well run and had every chance of increasing participation across the Province. Indeed, it is the first time that I have been there since I was a soldier 20 years previously, and the change in the whole place was remarkable. He absolutely has that commitment and I will do everything possible to help.

Does the Minister agree that in increasing participation in sport post-2012, it is essential that we protect our playing fields?

Yes, I absolutely do, and there is now a really effective triple lock on playing fields: all planning applications have to go before Sport England; under the Localism Bill people will have the opportunity to designate playing fields as local community facilities; and there is now a specific fund, administered by Sport England, for the improvement of local playing fields.

The Minister knows that no one measure can increase participation in sport. Does he accept that what has happened in London, and the leadership shown by the Mayor of London in ensuring that money gets down to the grass roots, is crucial? If we really want to increase participation, we all have to work together in partnership across the whole of sport.

I could not agree more, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has done in London to bring that about. London is an extremely good example of what can be done at community level to meet the policies coming down from Government. Without real inspiration in different areas to meet different needs, we will not achieve that.

Let me add my congratulations to the sports teams and British sportsmen and women whom the Minister listed earlier.

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the decision by his colleagues to withdraw the funding for school sport partnerships, which have led to more than 90% of children doing at least two hours a week of sport in school, compared with less than 25% eight years ago? Is it not the case that sports facilities across the country are being closed, that fees and charges are being increased and that, despite the Olympics, the risk is that the outcome of his Government’s decisions will be fewer youngsters and adults taking part in sport across the UK?

Let me say at the outset that the reason why the funding decisions were taken was to tackle the deficit, which would have had to happen whoever was in power. There is a political argument about the scale and speed of it, but the fact is that there would have been cuts under any Government. To mitigate that, we have increased the amount of money that sport gets through the lottery and put in place a specific mass participation programme under Sport England. I have been watching the matter very carefully, and there is as yet—I do not say it will not happen—no evidence that there are mass closures across the country. There is a dichotomy between local authorities that hold facilities in leisure trusts, which are not affected, and those that hold them directly, where they are under threat. We will watch the situation closely.

Brighton Digital Festival

Very sadly, neither the Secretary of State nor I will be able to attend the festival this month. I must say, it looks absolutely fantastic and we wish it well, and I am delighted that the Arts Council is giving it £50,000.

I am disappointed that the Minister cannot make the festival this time, and I hope very much that he will next year. Will he give a boost to the city’s growing digital sector by using his good offices and those of other Ministers to support a move towards all public sector contracts of less than £100,000 being given to small and medium-sized enterprises, and larger public sector contracts being broken down so that SMEs, particularly in the digital sector, have a much better chance of getting them?

If I am still in this job, I will certainly try to attend next year—and even if I am not, I will try to attend. I will be in Brighton at the beginning of October for the Museums Association conference, at which the hon. Lady is the keynote speaker. I heartily endorse what she says, because we must do all we can to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises can get Government contracts.

High-speed Broadband Scorecard

We published our initial proposals for a broadband scorecard just before Christmas. We are absolutely committed to having an objective way of measuring how to get the best superfast broadband network in Europe, and we will continue work to ensure that we can do that.

But the right hon. Gentleman did say, I think, that the scorecard would be published in the summer, and we have not seen it yet. Will it cover progress towards universal broadband as well as high-speed broadband? It has been reported that the 4G spectrum auctions, which should have taken place early this year, are now going to be delayed further beyond their revised date of the beginning of next year. Is that correct, and is he dismayed, as many of us are, by what looks like a yet further delay?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, as a former broadband Minister, will know that we have committed ourselves to universal broadband coverage, which will be one of the things measured in the broadband scorecard. However, before he criticises this Government’s progress he should show a little humility. He might like to know that the first thing that broadband officials told me was that the amount of money that had been allocated for universal broadband roll-out was half what was necessary.

Does the Secretary of State recognise the strength of feeling that exists for a 98% coverage clause in the 4G auction that is to come? Will he urge the mobile operators to think long and hard before launching any legal challenge that would merely delay the process and affect the economy?

I am very keen to get on with this auction, because it is clear that the high-speed broadband revolution that we need must also be a mobile revolution—we must assume that most people will access the internet through mobile devices going forward. We are looking very carefully at the possibility of increasing the coverage requirement to 97% and will await Ofcom’s findings, which we expect shortly.

Digital Transmitter Sites

9. What recent discussions he has had with television distribution companies on the variation of digital transmitter sites across the UK. (70596)

I meet the main parties of the digital switchover programme regularly to review progress. The distribution of digital transmitter sites is part of the digital TV switchover process, which is progressing well and is on track.

I thank the Minister for his correspondence with me on this matter, but the fact remains that following the digital switchover, my constituents who receive their television signal from the Milburn Muir transmitter get an inferior TV service. Will he please commit to looking at ways to incentivise companies to provide an equitable service? Alternatively, will he consider a grant scheme for my constituents, who would have to fork out something in the region of £200 to get the same service?

The hon. Lady and I have been in extensive correspondence on this issue, and she is a formidable advocate for her constituents. I hope she will come to the video relay service conference on 15 September. Perhaps we could talk about this issue there and arrange a meeting to discuss it further.

I am looking forward to switching from having four channels to having 15 channels to view in two months’ time, when the Tacolneston transmitter switches over. One thing that concerns me, however, is that ITV3 will not be available on the relay transmitter from Aldeburgh, which is a great shame. Licence fee payers should be the ones who choose the channels they receive if they are not to have the full range of services.

I am afraid that about 10% of the population does not get the full range of services, but the core 15 channels. As I have said, that is a commercial issue for the people who operate the transmitters in this country. That issue certainly concerns some Members of Parliament, and if my hon. Friend wishes to join the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle) and me for a meeting to discuss this further, I would be happy for her to do so.

Broadband (Rural Communities)

In August, I announced indicative funding for all parts of the UK for our ambition to have not just universal 2 megabit coverage, but 90% coverage of superfast broadband.

North Yorkshire is grateful for the Secretary of State’s Department’s support, and we are getting on with our project, but may I press him further on the 4G auction? It seems that the auction is a Treasury as much as an Ofcom issue, and I would be grateful for any update on any discussions that he is having with the Treasury. I believe that we must nail that issue for north Yorkshire to get the broadband that it needs.

I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend, because north Yorkshire and Cumbria are two of the regions of the UK that have made most progress—they have pretty much moved to tender stage on the 90% superfast broadband ambition. I have a lot of sympathy with his view on coverage, and we are having many discussions inside the Government about how best to handle that. That matters because on all the projections that we see at the moment, the amount of mobile internet data will triple every year, and over the next four years we expect it to increase twenty-sixfold.

The unfortunate truth is that many rural areas, including Kirkliston, South Queensferry and Ratho in my constituency, are still crippled by poor broadband services, with speeds significantly lower than the 2 megabits per second minimum target. Will the Secretary of State update the House on any discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on matching the £68.8 million investment recently announced by his Department?

We had what can best be described as a rather curmudgeonly response from the Scottish Government about our broadband allocation. That is not a total surprise, but given that the amount of money allocated to Scotland took account of the additional costs of rolling out broadband in sparsely populated rural areas, and that the amount was much greater than it would have been under the Barnett formula, we were expecting a little more enthusiasm. However, now the challenge is on for the Scottish Government to match what the UK Government have contributed, and to ensure that we deliver universal broadband access to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and 90% superfast broadband access as well.

I accept that the Secretary of State has gone some way to providing resources, including to the Scottish Government, but does he agree that to ensure universal broadband coverage some of the most rural communities will require access to affordable satellite broadband? Will he consider bringing forward some of the unallocated money currently in his budget to operate a pilot project in Scotland—in conjunction, I hope, with the Scottish Government—on that very issue?

I am a localist. That is why our broadband strategy does not prescribe how local authorities and devolved Administrations meet their targets. However, we have calculated the costs and provided half the money, and we expect them to match-fund. I am pleased to say therefore that in all the areas on which we have had discussions so far there has been a willingness to provide that match funding. If satellite is the right solution in Scotland, we will support that, but we want to leave it to the Scottish Government to come up with the right solution.

Public Service Broadcasting

I do not know whether the Minister is a physics graduate, like I am, but does he expect a slimmed-down BBC to maintain excellent science programmes, such as those presented by Professor Brian Cox, which have been credited in part for the 20% increase in the number of students taking physics A-levels?

It is not for me to tell the BBC what programmes it should make, but I know that Brian Cox’s programmes, which I have seen, have been enormously successful. The BBC’s power to make a difference in this area is significant, and I hope now that it will find a charismatic presenter for a history of computer science, so that we can increase interest in computer science education.

Does the Minister remember when, two years ago at the Edinburgh festival, James Murdoch said that he wanted Sky to replace the BBC as the most trusted broadcaster? He might well recall that. Given the events of the recent weeks and months, can this ministerial team and Government start embracing and supporting the BBC, both at home and abroad, as so many viewers in my constituency do by listening to it?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Edinburgh festival, which reminds me that I should have said how pleased all the festival organisers were with the extensive coverage that the BBC gave them. They were full of praise for it. May I also take this opportunity to praise BBC Radio Oxford, which I praised last night in the House and which incorporated my remarks in its breakfast programme jingle this morning?

On public service broadcasting, will my hon. Friend condemn the decision by the BBC to stop broadcasting the Israel Philharmonic orchestra at the Proms? Will he also take this opportunity to condemn those extremists who disrupted the Proms and attacked the orchestra?

I was present at the Israel Philharmonic orchestra’s performance at the Proms. It was an occasion when one realised how wonderful the Proms and the promenaders are. It is salutary to remember that even in 1968, when the orchestra from the USSR was playing at the Proms and the USSR had invaded Czechoslovakia, the music was not disrupted. There should be a separation between art and politics, particularly in this case given the astonishing history of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra, which saved so many Jews from death at the hands of their Nazi oppressors.

What representations has the Minister received from Scottish Ministers about setting up a Scottish digital channel, and what resources and support does his Department intend to give to this fantastic cross-party initiative?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Scottish digital network, I discussed the matter with the Scottish Culture Minister at the Edinburgh festival. I know that she is a strong advocate for it. However, I also know that our plans for local television are as exciting for Scotland as they are for England.


12. What recent representations he has received on the implications for the broadcasting sector of the decision by News Corporation not to proceed with its proposed acquisition of BSkyB. (70599)

It will not surprise the House to know that I received a number of representations over the News Corp BSkyB bid during its progress and considered them all carefully.

Does the Secretary of State now agree with the Opposition that one of the lessons of the phone hacking scandal and the attempted takeover of BSkyB is that new, tougher cross-media ownership laws are required in this country and that no one media organisation should have such a concentration of power again?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to look carefully at cross-media ownership laws. I agree with him as well that this needs to be done on a cross-media basis; it is not about the dominance of any individual platform any more. We also need to look at whether the merger rules for media takeovers work as effectively as they might. We will listen very carefully to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson before taking action.

Let me say to the Secretary of State that I may have included the words “Ministers” and “waste of time” in the same sentence, but not in the context of local television. I appeared on Channel M, the example of my local TV station, but the project ended in tears because it was simply not viable.

Throughout the BSkyB process, the Secretary of State maintained that he could consider only plurality and that allegations about phone hacking and other illegal practices were not covered by the relevant legislation. Is he now willing to work with me and the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) to introduce amendments to the current legislation on an all-party basis to include a wider public interest test and to allow regulators to apply a “fit and proper person” test? That would close loopholes in advance of the longer-term reform of media ownership that will come as a result of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations. Is the Secretary of State willing to work with me and the right hon. Gentleman on an all-party basis to bring forward those amendments?

Of course I will listen to all representations made, but I do not think that the shadow Culture Secretary quite understands the way the law works. If the bid were re-presented, under the Enterprise Act 2002 it would count as a new bid and, as Secretary of State, I would have the power to refer it to Ofcom on the basis of broadcasting standards, media plurality or, indeed, national security, so safeguards exist. However, if what the hon. Gentleman is really trying to say is that Rupert Murdoch and his children are evil and must be stopped at all costs, just wait until he sees “The Godfather”.

I think the Secretary of State should speak for himself on those issues. It is absolutely clear that if there were to be a new bid, the only basis on which he could consider it would be plurality and broadcasting standards. He could not ask regulators to look at the wider public interest, nor could he insist that they apply a “fit and proper person” test. That is why we urgently need action now.

Let me turn quickly to a related issue. Can the Secretary of State clear up once and for all whether he discussed News Corp’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB with the Prime Minister at any stage during the quasi-judicial process? To be clear: I am not asking whether he consulted the Prime Minister on any decision that he had to make, but whether they discussed it during that period.

As I have told the shadow Culture Secretary, the decision was mine and mine alone, and I did not consult the Prime Minister about that decision. Not only that, but I consulted Ofcom and got independent advice, which I followed. However, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that he still does not appreciate that section 3 of the Communications Act 2003, which was passed by his Government, gives Ofcom the duty to ensure that all holders of broadcast licences are fit and proper at all times and the duty to remove them at any time, so these powers exist. We want to strengthen them in specific areas, and we are working hard to ensure that we make the right changes to avoid what happened before happening again.

Human Trafficking

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Government’s policy on human trafficking in respect of major sporting events. (70600)

Regular Olympic briefings take place between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, me, Home Office Ministers and the Olympic intelligence centre to discuss threats to the games, including human trafficking. Although there is currently no evidence of an increase in human trafficking linked to the games, the Government are aware of the threat, which is real, and will remain vigilant.

I thank the Minister for that full response. The danger of modern-day slavery at the Olympics is great. I appreciate that the Government have recognised that in their new strategy on human trafficking, which talks about the intelligence leading up to the games, but can he tell us a little more about how that works?

Yes, of course I can. We have a bespoke Olympics intelligence centre, which looks specifically at intelligence leads surrounding information of all sorts feeding into the Olympics. As my hon. Friend correctly says, there is evidence that hosting world-class sports competitions can, in certain circumstances, lead to an increase in human trafficking. As yet there is no hard evidence that that is happening, but the threat remains and we will remain vigilant.

Just to remind the House, today is Paralympics day—a day of celebration up in Trafalgar square of the extraordinary achievements of Paralympians and of achievements to come.

The Minister will have seen the March 2010 report published by London Councils which examined the potential impact of the games on trafficking. I know that he shares my long-standing concern that the games should be safe for women and that London should be a no-go area for evil exploitation by traffickers. The London Councils report suggested that there was a particular risk that the number of Roma people trafficked for begging would increase. Have there been discussions with the Romanian Government and others to ensure that this risk does not materialise?

That is a good question. I have not myself had discussions with the Romanian Government because the information I receive is channelled through the Olympic intelligence centre. I can give the right hon. Lady my absolute assurance—I believe she will get a security briefing within the next couple of weeks, so she will have the opportunity to ask that question herself—that I, too, will ask that specific question. As I say, there is no hard evidence to date that anything of this sort is occurring. As I said earlier, the threat is there and we will remain vigilant.

Formula 1

I regularly receive representations on sports broadcasting—I doubt whether that will surprise anybody—including on Formula 1 races.

The whole House will be aware that Formula 1 and motor sport more generally in this country is a multi-billion pound industry, with household names such as Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta, McLaren-Mercedes and Red Bull effectively becoming great British brands. Following the shameful decision of the BBC to sell out to Sky, may I ask what the Minister will do to protect this industry so that it is not sold out in the same way that the many fans who will have poor-quality coverage for the next decade are being sold out?

The decisions taken by the BBC about how to spend its own sports budget are, of course, matters for the BBC alone. The Government’s remit extends to the free-to-air television regime. Formula 1 has never been on that list. I was the Minister in charge of looking at the matter last time it came up, just after the election. There was no significant pressure at that point to put it on the list. At this time, therefore, it remains a matter for the BBC, which has to decide how to spend its sports budget, but we will, of course, review all these matters when the list is next reviewed in 2013.

Topical Questions

I should like to echo what the shadow Olympics Minister said about today being international Paralympic day. The Paralympics have a special place in our nation’s heart because it started here in Stoke Mandeville in 1948. We want to welcome more than 100 chefs de mission from Paralympic teams to London this week, wish the organisers success and, particularly, wish our brilliant Team GB Paralympian success next year. At the Beijing Olympics, they thrashed Australia; they thrashed America; they thrashed Russia; they thrashed every single country in Europe and came second in the world only to China.

I add my own congratulations to our Paralympians and would like to return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) about why the Scottish Government have not matched the UK Government’s broadband funding? Does the Minister agree that this is a short-sighted decision, which is inimical to Scotland’s long-term prosperity?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman because all the evidence on economic growth shows that it is the more remote, dispersed communities that benefit most from having a good broadband connection. This can stop villages losing their economic lifeblood; it allows people to work from home; and it helps disadvantaged, elderly and disabled people to gain access to services that they would not otherwise be able to receive. I strongly encourage the Scottish Government to respond positively to the extraordinary generosity of the UK Government and to get Scotland connected.

T2. I was pleased to see Members of all parties and of the other place take part in the parliamentary archery competition on Monday afternoon on Speaker’s Green, courtesy of you, Mr Speaker. Thank you. I was certainly all of aquiver that I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), managed to win the competition. Will the Secretary of State or one of his Ministers tell us what plans are in place to ensure that British archery and other less well-known sports receive adequate funding and, perhaps, media coverage in the run-up to and beyond the 2012 Olympics, thus giving Team GB the best chance of medal success across a plethora of events? (70609)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I strongly agree that we need to support all Olympic events, which is why we are preserving the funding for the whole United Kingdom elite sport budget for the training of Olympians and Paralympians despite a very difficult spending round. I have been to see our Olympic and Paralympic archers train at Lilleshall, and I know that we all wish every success to gold medallist Dani Brown and bronze medallist Alison Williamson, who are our big medal hopes for next year.

I have asked the United Kingdom national lottery operator, Camelot, to give me a constituency breakdown showing where lottery tickets are purchased, but it has refused to do so. Does the Minister agree that, for reasons of transparency, it is important for such information to be in the public domain, and will he help me to put it there?

It is not quite clear why this information is so important, but I am very happy to try to understand why. The destination of lottery funding has long been readily and transparently available, and can be found in the Library. However, I do not see why there should be a direct correlation between potentially richer constituencies where a large number of lottery tickets are bought, and constituencies that are in more need and receive a large amount of lottery funding. If the hon. Lady can explain why that direct connection is important, I shall of course be delighted to help if I can.

T3. In the light of the digital radio action plan, can the Secretary of State or a Minister assure us that the Government will specifically support local commercial radio stations before the switchover? (70610)

T6. There is a world of difference between a journalist who bribes a police officer for information and a journalist who gets information from a police officer, freely given. The former corrodes our democracy, while the latter protects it. In that light, is the Secretary of State concerned about the recent arrest of The Guardian journalist Amelia Hill? (70613)

As I know the hon. Gentleman will understand, it would not be right for me to comment on a police matter, but I agree with him that there is an important difference between off-the-record briefing and the payment of money by or to the police in return for information. Journalists must operate within the law, but, as the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee, as we go through this entire process we must be careful not to overreact in a way that would undermine the foundations of a free society.

T4. Pendle Leisure Trust sport development manager Joe Cooney is working closely with Colne football club in helping it to apply for iconic facilities funding for new changing rooms at its stadium, which is currently in a poor state of repair. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that bids are encouraged from other groups in Pendle and east Lancashire? (70611)

Part of Sport England’s Places People Play initiative involves investment in inspired and iconic facilities. In a sense my hon. Friend has answered his own question: the fact that the club is making the application suggests that the promotion is about right. However, I will certainly ensure that Sport England takes every possible measure—indeed, I know that it has done so—to enable everyone to benefit from this £135 million investment opportunity.

T7. At the last reckoning, some five companies from Northern Ireland have been successful in first-tier contracts with the Olympic Delivery Authority, and some 43 have won contracts with the supply chain of tier 1 contractors. However, there is grave disappointment in the Province about the level of contracts won by Northern Ireland companies, and also about the failure properly to allocate Barnett consequentials to Northern Ireland and the other regions. Will the Minister undertake to work with the Northern Ireland authorities and with the Treasury to try to increase the number of contracts won, even in the run-up to next year’s Olympics? (70614)

Yes, of course I will. When I was in Northern Ireland earlier this year I visited a number of the businesses that have won contracts, Ulster Weavers being a good example. As the ODA has to award the contracts on a commercial basis there must be a good value-for-money case, but I will certainly do all that I can.

T10. My constituent Bethany Gutcher-Dunn is fascinated by England’s heritage, and is now studying the reign of Henry VIII at Aloeric primary school in Melksham. She has entered into correspondence with Her Majesty the Queen about the prohibitive cost of visiting the historic royal palaces. Will the Minister consider extending his support for the free museum entry policy to enable educational visits to these historic palaces? (70617)

The Historic Royal Palaces organisation is very successful at popularising its various buildings around the country and encouraging people to visit them, and I know that it makes every effort to reach out to educational organisations. Unfortunately, if we start to introduce additional subsidies, that would require additional money, and, as my hon. Friend will know, there is not much money available given the awful financial position we inherited. I will, however, be delighted to discuss this matter with him.

T8. I welcome the earlier comments of the Minister for Sport and the Olympics about the state of football governance. When considering the Select Committee’s welcome report, will the Department work with not only the football authorities but Supporters Direct and other football supporters’ organisations to ensure that football supporters have a role in the future governance of football? (70615)

We greatly welcome the Select Committee’s comments, and we will publish our official response in due course. We recognise that now is the time for change in football governance, and one important issue we want to look at is what can be done to boost the role of supporters. I note the Select Committee’s comments on changes to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to make it easier and less bureaucratic for supporters to build up stakes in clubs so that they can have real ownership.

As the sun is setting earlier every day over the beautiful beaches of Thanet and my seasonal businesses are closing down, what representations will the Department make to the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about the Daylight Saving Bill and the impact it will have on tourism and jobs?

As I said before, the essential point is that while many people, especially in the tourism industry and in the south of the country, are enthusiastic about this move, it is important that we take the entire country with us. In particular, it is important that we do not seek to impose a situation on, for instance, people and businesses in the north of Scotland unfairly and without their consent. We will therefore take great care not to proceed without the consent of all parts of the UK.

T9. I thank the Secretary of State for his recent letter to me regarding tourism ahead of the Olympics. I was concerned, however, that he listed the Lake district as a local treasure of the Wirral, until I realised that the same letter had been sent to all the north-west MPs. So that he can learn a bit more about the geography of north-west England, will he visit one of our actual treasures in the Wirral with me: Port Sunlight village, whose festival in July attracted 20,000 visitors? (70616)

I will be delighted to do so as soon as my diary permits. A key part of our tourism strategy is promoting regional tourism and encouraging people to visit what is on their regional doorstep. It was in that spirit that we sent the hon. Lady that letter.

The position of channels on the television electronic programme guide influences what we watch. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why we allow some EPGs to list American cartoons way above the British content, given that we want our children to watch more UK-originated content than American cartoons?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Position on the EPG will probably be the Government’s single most important lever in protecting our tradition of public service broadcasting. We are actively looking at how to make that situation better, if necessary using legislation.

House of Commons Commission

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

Savings Programme

1. What progress the House of Commons Commission has made in its savings programme in the financial year to date; and if he will make a statement. (70618)

Preliminary estimates for the first quarter of 2011 suggest that we are well on track to achieve the initial savings of some £12 million which were identified this time last year. The HOCC is committed to reducing spending by at least 17% by 2014-15, and the detailed work on that stage of the savings programme is currently under way, with a consultation taking place during the autumn of Members, Members’ staff, House staff and others.

I am most grateful for that answer, and I know that both you, Mr Speaker, and the hon. Gentleman are committed to the House doing our bit. Has the HOCC had a chance to study the Administration Committee’s report on catering and retail services, and does the hon. Gentleman agree it is vital that we not only raise more revenue where we can but save costs by, perhaps, trying to merge those services from the two Houses?

I have indeed had an opportunity to look at the report, which contains many good proposals. On the two specific points, I can tell the hon. Gentleman, first, that raising income will be a vital part of our future plans. Secondly, on shared services, this already happens in respect of both Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology—PICT—and estate services. I am sure that the authorities of both Houses will be looking to maximise this, as it is a sensible way to save money.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Grand Committees

The Welsh Grand Committee and the Northern Ireland Grand Committee have a valuable contribution to make to the work of the House, and I am pleased that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee will be meeting again in November, following the agreement of the House on Tuesday.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his answer. Given the advent of devolution, opportunities for Members from Northern Ireland—I can speak only for them—are somewhat limited, so it is important that meetings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee take place. Will he ensure that there are more frequent meetings at which matters of relevance to the Province can be debated in more time than is available on the Floor of the House?

I certainly hear what the right hon. Gentleman says and I am happy to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to see what arrangements can be made. Obviously, there are limits to the number of times that any Grand Committee can sensibly meet, but I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Earlier this week, my excellent Whip informed me that on 20 October the Welsh Grand Committee will be meeting in my constituency. Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that it was extremely discourteous of the Government not even to have told me about the meeting and for that information to have been conveyed to me by my Whip rather than by somebody acting on behalf of the Government?

I am sure that no discourtesy was intended. Of course the decisions of Grand Committees to meet are presented to the House, and so the hon. Gentleman would be aware of it by that means. I would have thought that any discourtesy was more than outweighed by the convenience to him of having the Grand Committee meet in his constituency.

Parliamentary Questions

3. What recent estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of parliamentary questions for written answer. (70620)

The average cost to the taxpayer of a question for written answer is estimated at £239. In the financial year 2010-11, a total of 46,825 written answers were published, at an estimated total cost of about £11.2 million.

We would all agree that written parliamentary questions are an important way of holding the Government to account, but what steps is the Deputy Leader of the House proposing to take to limit exposure to the public purse? Should hon. Members be in more control of this process?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, but I really do not think it is for the Government to limit or try to ration the supply of questions, because, as he says, it is very important that hon. Members have that opportunity to hold the Government to account. However, I do think that hon. Members, like other public servants, should consider the impact of their activities on the public purse. It is particularly important to recognise that the right to table questions belongs to hon. Members, and hon. Members alone.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that if he is to fulfil the Prime Minister’s pledge to

“increase the power of Parliament”,

he should be worrying less about the quantity of questions and more about the quality of the answers? What is he going to do to ensure that Ministers give full and timely responses to Members, and that they end the increasing practice of giving holding answers to named day questions and transferring orals at very little notice? Or is this going to go the way of other prime ministerial pledges, such as those for more free votes on Bill Committees and text updates on the progress of Bills?

The hon. Lady has a very short memory span if she really thinks that this Government are performing worse than the Government of whom she was a member. I recall that many times her Government were quite incapable of providing timely, or indeed adequate, responses to questions. We always try very hard within the Departments to make sure that people get their questions answered properly and on time. If Departments fall short of those ideals, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I are very happy to chase up those Departments to see whether we can improve the performance. However, I have to say that I do not think the performance is lacking at the moment.

Lobbying (Transparency)

As my hon. Friend the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform announced on 18 January, the Government remain committed to creating a statutory register of lobbyists and are working towards developing proposals for that register. The Government hope to hold the consultation exercise later this year before bringing forward any necessary legislation in due course.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Given the erosion of trust among the public in politics and politicians over the past few years, will he ensure that that process proceeds as quickly as possible and tell the House precisely when the register will be in place?

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman and I entirely agree with him. This is a priority issue and we need such a degree of transparency in the arrangements for lobbyists. As I said, we have a consultation exercise and it would be wrong for me to prejudge it, but it is certainly our hope and intention that we will be in a position to introduce legislation on this matter in the next Session of Parliament, as has been indicated by my hon. Friend the Minister.

House of Commons Reform

6. When he plans to implement the remaining recommendations of the House of Commons Reform Committee’s report “Rebuilding the House”. (70623)

This Government successfully implemented the recommendation to establish a Backbench Business Committee, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomed. The majority of the remaining recommendations of the Wright Committee are a matter for the House rather than Government. The Government will be bringing forward a Green Paper on intelligence and security later this year in which we will make initial proposals on how to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee. As set out in the coalition agreement, the Government are committed to establishing a House business committee in 2013.

I congratulate the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House on the swift way in which they brought before the House for decision the Wright Committee proposals on the election of Select Committee Chairs by the whole House and the election of Select Committee members by their parties as well as on the speedy creation of the Backbench Business Committee. Will they sustain this great record by bringing forward the pledge to create a proper business committee for this House so that we in this Chamber control the business in future rather than the Government we are meant to be holding to account?

I am happy to repeat the assurance I have already given. It is in the coalition agreement that we are committed to establishing a House business committee in 2013. We look forward to wide consultations with the hon. Gentleman and others about the best way of delivering on that commitment.

Westminster Hall

7. If he will take steps to encourage Secretaries of State to participate in debates in Westminster Hall pertaining to their Department. (70624)

Westminster Hall debates are an important mechanism for holding the Government to account. Secretaries of State do participate in debates in Westminster Hall, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development did recently.

May I make the Leader of the House aware that the Backbench Business Committee is keen to allocate as many days to Backbench business in Westminster Hall as he will give the Committee? That task would be made easier were he to encourage his fellow Secretaries of State to attend, listen to and respond to those debates.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government have no ownership of the days in Westminster Hall—that falls between the Liaison Committee and the Backbench Business Committee—but I take to heart what he has said. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, who attends Cabinet, will be speaking in a debate in Westminster Hall next Thursday.

Following on from that, if Secretaries of State attended Westminster Hall, perhaps Monday afternoon could be opened up for Westminster Hall debates, and the general debates we used to have in this Chamber on defence and Europe could be held there?

That is a helpful suggestion from my hon. Friend. He will know that the Procedure Committee is at the moment undertaking an inquiry into the calendar. Whether or not we open up Westminster Hall on a Monday afternoon is a proposition that my hon. Friend could usefully share with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), who chairs that Committee.

Ministerial Statements

8. What assessment he has made of the process for using ministerial statements to make major Government announcements. (70625)

10. What assessment he has made of the process for using ministerial statements to make major Government announcements. (70627)

So far this Session, there have been 139 oral ministerial statements and more than 1,500 written ministerial statements made to the House. My assessment is that this Government have a much better record than the previous Government.

The right hon. Gentleman has something of a reputation as a parliamentary reformer. Is he not concerned that that reputation is now under threat given his churlish and I have to say uncharacteristic response to the Procedure Committee regarding ministerial statements?

I presume that the hon. Lady is referring to the response from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I can remember not a single occasion on which he has even hinted at churlishness, let alone expressed it in response to a Select Committee. Of course we look carefully at what is proposed by Select Committees, and there will be times when we do not entirely agree with them for very good reasons, but that does not mean that we do not respect what they say, while being prepared to argue our case in due course when relevant matters are debated in the Chamber.

Why is the hon. Gentleman so against using Westminster Hall to ease the burden on this Chamber and allow us fully to scrutinise the misguided legislation that his Government are pushing through the House?

I am not sure that I entirely understand the hon. Gentleman. He is a new Member of the House and I hope he will not consider it patronising when I say that he may not know why Westminster Hall sittings were first proposed, which was to allow for non-legislative and non-contentious business to be taken in a parallel Chamber while the House was sitting. It was not meant to create impossible dilemmas for Members in having to attend two important venues at the same time. Having said that, if we can make better use of Westminster Hall we are certainly open to doing so. If we can find other ways of reducing the pressures on this Chamber then it is better that we do so. The biggest difficulty that we have is the huge appetite that the House understandably has for hearing Ministers make statements and its proper appetite for scrutinising legislation fully and properly.


The Leader of the House’s office is constantly monitoring the effectiveness of the e-petitions site. Following its launch, the site now hosts more than 6,500 petitions, which have received more than 1.5 million signatures. This unprecedented interest in the site is a useful indicator of its effectiveness. For the first time, the e-petitions website is not just graffiti, but offers the public an effective route for engaging with Parliament.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer—I was going to ask him about the overall visitor numbers to the site and the number of petitions already hosted on there. Will he comment on the decision of the Backbench Business Committee about the most popular two petitions not being discussed until we reconvene in October?

I think it would be entirely improper for me to answer on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, but let me make it clear that we have provided a way for the public to engage with Parliament. What the petitioners want, presumably, is for the topic they have raised either to be dealt with effectively by the Government or to be debated in due course by the House when the opportunity arises. The idea that when a petition reached the threshold there would be an immediate debate is not the purpose of the site, but it does mean that proper consideration is given to whether the matter has been debated or will be debated in another form or whether the Government have changed their policy to meet the concerns, which may be the case in relation to at least one of the petitions that has already reached the required threshold.

But does the Minister agree with the Daily Mail, which says that this amounts to an e-petition con? The Government said to the public, “If 100,000 of you sign one of these petitions, there’ll be a debate.” What discussion did the Government have with the Backbench Business Committee about how the time for those debates would be allocated?

May I caution the hon. Lady, first against reading the Daily Mail, and secondly against agreeing with what it says? The Government have never said that when a petition reaches the threshold it will have an automatic right of debate. It will be considered with a view to seeing whether the matter raised has already been debated or is already going to be debated in a different context or whether the request has already been met by the Government. If there is then a need to debate something that the public have registered as an interest, the Backbench Business Committee will respond to that request. That seems to me an entirely proper way of doing things and it is a huge improvement on the old No. 10 petition site on which the petitions went precisely nowhere.