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Topical Questions

Volume 532: debated on Thursday 8 September 2011

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.