Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
Local Radio Franchises
We have made no assessment of the potential for radio franchises because radio licensing is a matter for Ofcom, which awards licences via a “beauty parade” mechanism, assessing individual applicants’ ability to deliver services for the local area.
Follow that, Mr Speaker!
BBC Radio Merseyside is the most popular radio station on Merseyside and is a lifeline for many elderly and disabled people. Rather than setting up local radio franchises, would the Government not do better to support much-loved existing local BBC radio such as Radio Merseyside?
The latest version of the Gambling Commission’s six-monthly industry statistics was published in December 2011. It showed that the number of category B2 gaming machines—fixed odds betting terminals, or FOBTs, as they are sometimes known—in operation in Great Britain as at 31 March 2011 was 32,007.
I am most grateful to the Minister for that answer. The FOBTs he refers to, through which punters can lose £100 a spin or £18,000 a year, have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling. As he said, numbers are exploding: some 32,000 such machines are in easily accessed high street betting shops, yet the evidence shows that they are causing real damage to individuals and families, including some of the poorest people in our communities. Does the Minister therefore not agree that a responsible Government should be taking urgent action to address this problem, including looking at the recommendations in early-day motion 2634, such as cutting the stakes and prize levels of these machines so that they are more akin to those in other adult centres?
I completely share my right hon. Friend’s concern about gambling addiction. Although it affects only a small number of people, it can ruin lives and is a very serious issue. Many colleagues on both sides of the House have raised it, as did Mary Portas in her recent review of the health of high streets throughout the country. However, my right hon. Friend will agree that we have to ensure that any policy or regulatory changes that might be considered are based not just on concern and anecdote, but on firm evidence and factual foundation. Therefore, my invitation to him and any other colleagues concerned about this issue—on either side of the House—is that if they can bring me hard evidence and facts, I will of course consider them extremely carefully.
Despite what the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) says, does my hon. Friend the Minister not accept that the percentage of problem gamblers using FOBTs declined from 11.2% in 2007 to 8.8% last year, and that the availability of gambling on the internet drives a coach and horses through the ridiculous limits we now have on the use of betting shop terminals? Given that people can use only one at a time—or perhaps two at best if they are particularly proficient—whether there are four, six or eight in a betting shop makes absolutely no difference at all to an individual’s problem gambling.
I accept that the causal link between FOBTs and problem gambling is poorly understood, which is why I asked for better evidence and facts to back up any suggested changes in regulation. I also agree with my hon. Friend that remote gambling is changing how people gamble. We need to make sure that such gambling is properly controlled and regulated, which is why we propose to introduce new regulations on it in due course.
3. What recent progress he has made on the roll-out of superfast broadband to rural communities. (94332)
Our plans for the roll-out of superfast broadband mean that—
With your humble permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to take this Question with Questions 5 and 6.
I wanted to say that our plans for the roll-out of superfast broadband will mean that conditions such as the common cold, even when held by Ministers, will be able to be diagnosed online. The roll-out continues apace, and broadband plans have now been approved for a third of local authorities.
I am going to Pembrokeshire next week on holiday, when I will personally be inspecting the rural broadband facilities and mobile coverage in my hon. Friend’s constituency, although I cannot promise to do the same for all hon. Members. He makes an important point, and we have made good progress this year. Our plans for superfast broadband will cover 90% of the country, but Ofcom’s plans, as announced in January, for the 4G spectrum auctions mean that the new 4G coverage will reach 97% of the country, and that will offer a broadband signal. That still leaves 3% to go, and we must work very hard to make sure that everyone is included in the broadband revolution.
With such a massive budget deficit, we cannot rely on extra Government spending for ever more, so it seems to me that we have no choice: we have to rely on innovation—both innovative industries and the innovation of our people—to bring economic growth to every region. Today’s satellites can beam high-speed internet access to every region of Britain, instantly opening up remote areas to economic activity. Does the Secretary of State share my vision for a connected Britain in which satellites bring jobs and the power of online public services to every region of our nation?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the Thames Valley local enterprise partnership, which covers his constituency, the broadband plans are still at amber, rather than green, and I would be most grateful for his help in getting the three unitary authorities to work together to get those plans into a state where they can be approved. He rightly says that we need to be technology-neutral about this; fixed-line fibre will go into the ground in some areas, but for the more remote areas we will definitely need wireless solutions, be they mobile, wi-fi or satellite, and we will keep all options open.
Residents of villages such as Hockliffe, Stanbridge, Tilsworth and Eggington often have to make do with broadband speeds of only 1.5 megabits per second, which is very restrictive for local people and severely limits the ability of local businesses to grow. So when can residents in these villages expect things to get better for them?
Again, I ask for my hon. Friend’s help, because the plans for Bedfordshire are also amber-rated, rather than green-rated. We have said that we want all local authorities not only to start procurement for their broadband plans, but to complete procurement by this Christmas, otherwise we will consider taking back the funds that we have allocated and putting them in a national contract. We are very keen to ensure that roads start to be dug up and solutions actually happen by the start of next year.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I think that the impact will be huge. The iPlayer is already a very big source of demand for broadband, and as YouView arrives many more people will use the iPlayer and other such services. I am pleased to say that Wales is making excellent progress. Its broadband plans have been given the green light and we have had a good partnership with the Welsh Government. I hope that his constituents will benefit from that.
We have had very good discussions. There is good news and bad news as far as Northern Ireland is concerned. The funding allocation has been quite small for Northern Ireland, but that is because it has one of the best superfast broadband networks in the UK and, in many ways, is a model for the rest of the country.
I would like to bring a little reality to this debate. My constituency covers rural Teesdale, so I know that farmers are being required to communicate online with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs even when they have no broadband. Given that the problem is in rural areas, why did the Secretary of State earmark £150 million of new money for cities? What is he going to do for people whose local authorities do not come forward with viable plans?
The hon. Lady ought to have a bit of humility, because when her Government left office, a quarter of a million homes still had no broadband whatsoever. We are going to sort that out. We have massively increased the investment in rural broadband. It is five times more than the amount that is going into urban broadband. Her party makes a big song and dance about opposing cuts, but in the interests of consistency, it might like to support increases in spending, particularly when they are much more than her Government ever promised.
Electronic Communications (Privacy)
We are very good Europeans on the Government Benches and we are one of the first countries to have implemented the e-privacy directive. Naturally, we are engaged in ongoing discussions with our EU colleagues. Several member states, including France and Germany, have had discussions with us about the best way to implement it.
This measure contains a number of sensible dimensions, as does the related data protection directive, but does the Minister agree that we should reject the idea of a freedom to be forgotten, which is what is being proposed by the European Justice Commissioner?
Does the Minister agree that things such as cookies and targeted behavioural advertising are of great benefit for both businesses and consumers, and that a lot of the fear of them is based on ignorance? What is his Department doing to try to increase understanding of these technologies so that decisions can genuinely be made as a result of informed choice?
When we implemented the e-privacy directive we made sure that we worked closely with business. There is a balance to be struck between implementing the law and ensuring that business still has the freedom to innovate. The e-privacy directive is about transparency. So long as consumers know what is happening to data, they should be comfortable with what is being done with them.
Olympics (Domestic Tourism)
In March VisitEngland will launch a new £4 million domestic marketing campaign to promote UK tourism throughout 2012. We are encouraging the tourism industry to sign up to a scheme that offers 20.12% off all sorts of different accommodation and attractions. The promotion will be supported by a high-profile TV campaign.
I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear the Minister’s enthusiasm, and to hear of the worldwide advertising campaign to encourage people to come to London. Will he also publicise the fact that many Olympic venues are outside London, such as the excellent white water centre in Waltham Abbey in my constituency? Will he encourage people to enjoy the wonders of the Lee valley park, the ancient town of Waltham Abbey, its beautiful church and, of course, the wonders of the beautiful Epping forest?
I would be delighted to do that. In fact, that is one of the central aims of the campaign. We will use the torch relay, which I believe will go to my hon. Friend’s constituency on 7 July, as a way of promoting the different parts of the country that it will visit and all the things that can be done there, including, in her case, the Lee valley white water centre, as well as the Waltham Abbey church and its links with King Harold.
One of the great tourist attractions for 2012 visitors to the west midlands and north Staffordshire is the Wedgwood museum. It is facing the loss of its UNESCO-listed collection because of loopholes in pension protection fund legislation. The museum has had great assistance from the arts Minister, so will the heritage Minister now commit the Government to do everything possible to save this world-class museum?
I agree completely that it is a world-class museum. I am pleased to say that my colleague the culture Minister has already had close, detailed meetings with the administrators, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman has been closely involved as well. We will continue to help in any way we can.
Will the Minister cast his eye over the availability of reasonably priced hotel rooms during the Olympics? A number of my constituents have told me that they have been unable to book rooms. There seems to be a block-booking, or blocked-out, period during which these reasonably priced rooms are unavailable. The feeling is that they will be released late and charged at great expense to the punters.
My hon. Friend is right that there has been concern. I am pleased to say that the LOCOG—London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games—block booking, which was instigated some time ago, has released a tranche of rooms so there is now more supply on the market. The marketing campaign that I just mentioned is aimed at producing good value “20.12% off or better” accommodation offers not just in London, but in the London travel-to-work area and other parts of the country, so that people can get into London to view Olympic events if they want to. If they do not want to attend the Olympics but want to visit other parts of Britain instead, there will still be great offers for them to use.
There is a big problem here, and although I welcome the Government’s £4 million to encourage domestic tourism and yield the potential £2.5 billion Olympic tourism premium, does the Minister agree that the Government should act to address this scandal of extortionate price rises in London hotels during the Olympic and Paralympic games? We could take the case of Mrs Aileen Hamer from Exeter, for example. Having to pay £1,000 a night for a room with a track hoist to be able to take a disabled daughter to the Paralympics—a room which at Easter costs £375—would represent a 167% increase. Our research shows that the increase in prices across London is averaging at 315%, so will he act on behalf of those already struggling families across the UK who want to be able to afford to come to London and enjoy the Olympic and Paralympic games?
I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is vital that we have properly accessible attractions and accommodation. Indeed, a great deal of work has been done to make sure that the important legal obligations, as well as commercial opportunities, in respect of making accommodation available to people with disabilities are well understood and the opportunity is grasped. However, it has always been the case that prices alter during the season, as is entirely natural. What has happened in London is that the LOCOG block booking—she will be aware of it, as it was part of the original Olympics deal—meant there was a restriction in supply. That has now been eased as a result of the additional rooms that LOCOG has just released.
Sport England/UK Sport
The project board set up at the request of UK Sport and Sport England, which is chaired by Sir Keith Mills, has identified four key benefits: shared resources to reduce costs, co-location, increased commercial income and enhanced strategic co-ordination. We will discuss the future governance arrangements after the 2012 games.
I thank the Minister for his response. These two organisations have different articles of association and different objectives. It is almost like one of them services a Lotus and the other encourages Ford Fiestas to become Lotuses. Other than sharing back-office functions, can he say what the cost savings are?
Yes. The cost savings are considerable. The bodies both have entirely separate back-office operations, and they both live in central London offices for which they signed leases at the height of the market without any break clauses at £57 a square foot and £35 a square foot, I think. There is no co-ordination of commercial strategy to drive success at the elite end alongside the mass market and their strategies operate in completely different spheres. There are many different savings and a lot of possible synergies.
When the Secretary of State was the shadow Secretary of State he respected the different roles of UK Sport and Sport England. In a press release that is still on the Conservative website, he said he would retain
“the current split between UK Sport and Sport England”.
He said one thing before the general election and something completely different—that these organisers should merge—after it. No one opposes economies of scale such as sharing offices and back-office services, or co-ordination where it is necessary, but these two bodies serve two very different functions. UK Sport has taken us from 36th to fourth in the Olympic medal tables. Will he say something now so that we can end the speculation about a merger of governance, not dither until after the general election and allow these organisations to get on with their jobs?
Nobody has ever said that the two organisations are merging. I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what is on the table—probably because the briefing has led him to do so. There has never been any question but that the new body will contain two separate organisations, one of which looks after elite and high-performance sport and one that looks after community sport. I simply want central governance arrangements over the top so that we do not end up with boards all over the place. Actually, the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when she was in the chair, was well known for having described the organisation of British sport—she will correct me if I am wrong—as a nightmare.
Mountaineering, Hill Walking and Climbing
Sport England has awarded £1.3 million under the whole sport plan to the British Mountaineering Council between 2009 and 2013 to grow and sustain participation in mountaineering, hill walking and climbing.
As one of the co-chairmen of the all-party parliamentary group on mountaineering—we like to think of it as the pinnacle of APPGs—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”]—I thank the Minister for Sport for his ongoing support of mountain-related activities and of the British climbing team. As part of the Olympic legacy, the Outdoor Industry Association, supported by the BMC, is planning to launch a major new campaign, Britain on foot, to promote outdoor activities and to get people outdoors and keep them fit and healthy. Does my hon. Friend support those objectives, and could one of the ministerial team meet the organisers in the months ahead?
I am having one of those days.
May I start by paying tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) both in the all-party group and as the parliamentary sports fellow? One of the key opportunities for mountaineering and hill walking lies in the tourism initiative launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and guided by the tourism Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). Many people will want the chance not only to take part in the activity of hill walking but to see some of our fabulous countryside.
10. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the findings of the Woolf Review. (94340)
We welcome the International Cricket Council’s commitment to an independent review of its governance. It is a key Government priority to improve the governance of all sports, including those operating internationally—it does not say FIFA in my notes but it probably ought to—so we look forward to the ICC’s response.
The Woolf review offers a damning critique of the current governance structure of cricket and, to its credit, mentions aspirations for a national one-day Twenty20 cricket side in Wales, backed by 81% of those responding to a recent Western Mail poll. Will the Minister engage with the Woolf report findings and work towards reforming the global game?
Yes, I shall certainly work towards reforming the global game. The points the hon. Gentleman makes about the structure of the ICC are indeed correct. As far as Wales is concerned—I think Wales lies under his question—it is worth recording the very real contribution that many Welshmen have made to English cricket. At a time like the present, when independence is very much the political currency, it is worth noting that one of the men most closely associated with England’s rise to the top of the test rankings is Hugh Morris, who is of course Welsh.
11. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of new financing arrangements on the editorial and operational independence of S4C. (94341)
I agree with the assessment of the new independent chairman of S4C that financial and governance arrangements agreed between the BBC and S4C will
“safeguard the Welsh language services provided by S4C for the foreseeable future”
“allow S4C to maintain its editorial and managerial independence.”
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but why have he and the BBC explicitly ruled out operational independence? The cut in grant is 24% over four years, but the cut against anticipated income is some 32%, which is really challenging. Is it not important for S4C to be able to manage its own business and have operational independence?
We do want S4C to learn from what the BBC does as a much larger broadcaster—it is one of the most successful public service broadcasters in the world, if not the most successful—in how it runs its operations, because S4C has been through a very difficult period. The most important thing is editorial independence, so that there is a choice of Welsh language services and plurality of news provision in Wales. I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the new agreement between the BBC and S4C is supported not just by peers from his party but also by Plaid Cymru in the other place.
Sport England/UK Sport
Ministerial and Sports Council colleagues from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been closely involved and the issue was formally discussed at the last sports cabinet. We all agree that the restructuring should be implemented in a way that maintains and improves the links that currently exist between the sports councils, and increases available funding for athletes across the UK, as a result of reduced administrative costs and increased commercial revenue. Everyone has agreed to move forward on the four key points I mentioned.
I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. We all recognise how important sport is in people’s lives, especially young people. Has he taken any specific action to ensure that young people in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland can continue to participate in school games, which are so vital to their development?
This is my first chance to welcome the hon. Lady to the House following her by-election victory.
We are of course supporting the creative industries. We have established the Creative Industries Council, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Creative England is supporting the creative industries throughout England. We have created one home for British film, with increased lottery funding, and established the film policy review, which has been widely welcomed. The computer science curriculum is being revolutionised as a result of the Livingstone-Hope review.
I thank the Minister for that answer. The global games industry is likely to see more than £50 billion a year in software sales alone by 2014. Having worked with much of Britain’s developer and publisher talent, it is clear that there is great potential for our interactive entertainment industry to provide much-needed growth to the UK economy. What assessment have the Government made of the needs of the interactive entertainment industry and how we need to respond?
The UK has a thriving video games sector; it is fair to say that we are probably the European leaders. As I mentioned earlier, we have conducted the skills review to ensure that kids can learn about computer science in school and be ready for the industry. We engage regularly with the industry on a whole range of issues.
In the last year of the Labour Government, UK television exports grew by 13%, which is further evidence of our creative industries’ global appeal and potential for jobs and growth. Can the Minister tell the House when we can expect a comprehensive strategy for increasing our international business with developing economies, especially Brazil, Russia, India and China?
We have regular discussions with the BRIC countries. I have been to Beijing to represent the creative industries and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been to Brazil. We obviously engage with India and Russia, and this week we met a delegation from Mexico to talk about the creative industries, so we are engaging around the globe on the creative industries and their huge success, which is admired around the world. As the House will be aware, last year the UK topped the US singles chart at Nos. 1, 2 and 3, more than 50% of the top albums in the UK were by British artists, and British films topped the UK box office for 20 weeks. We are doing extremely well in the creative industries, and the world recognises it, and 2012 will put the spotlight on that.
Broadband (Greater Manchester)
We are doing a great deal to promote the roll-out of broadband in Manchester, including a £100 million urban broadband fund, which has been warmly welcomed by Labour-controlled Manchester city council, if not by Opposition Front Benchers.
For residents in small villages such as Affetside in my constituency, the length and complexity of the procurement process for the delivery of high-speed broadband inevitably means that they are being prevented from enjoying the benefits of the internet that many of us take for granted. Is there anything my right hon. Friend can do to speed up the process?
Absolutely. We are doing everything we can, including insisting that all local authorities complete their broadband plans and have contracts signed by the end of this year, which is much faster than normal procurement processes. We want to ensure that we are able to deliver for my hon. Friend’s constituents well before the next election.
Football Club Licensing
15. What recent discussions he has had with the Premier League, Football Association and Football League on the licensing of football clubs. (94345)
The Secretary of State and I have had several discussions with the Football Association, the premier league and the Football League since we published our response to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s football governance inquiry last October. The football authorities are due to respond with their proposals to the reforms that we have called for, including a new licensing model for clubs, by 29 February.
We will have the opportunity to debate the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on football governance this afternoon in Westminster Hall, although, ideally, we would have wanted to have debated the report after the FA had responded. The Minister says that he still expects the FA to respond by the end of February, but that is not our understanding, so when does he really expect a response from the football authorities?
Child Protection (Internet)
The previous Government set up the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which works very well in bringing together industry stakeholders to promote the safety of children online. This week we had safer internet day, and UKCCIS launched its advice on child internet safety. I am also delighted by the industry agreement to introduce active choice controls on websites.
Will the Minister look at the very good report that is out this week from the commission on stalking, of which I had the privilege of being a member? Cyber-stalking, like cyber-bullying, originates in schools, but there is not enough action to control the way in which children are exposed to danger, and if one visits schools, as I do, one finds that the number of children who are exposed to pornography, as well as to manipulation, is growing not diminishing.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and that is a very real problem. It is important that the Government work with industry and look at self-regulatory solutions first, because the answers will best come from industry, but there should be no doubt on the industry’s part that this is a very real problem, and we expect action from it to help parents to protect their children from every kind of inappropriate content, whether pornography or inappropriate behaviour, on the internet.
As my Department is proudly responsible for the diamond jubilee celebrations, I wish to add my congratulations to those of the Prime Minister yesterday to Her Majesty the Queen. All Departments are of course at the disposal of Her Majesty, but this Department is at her personal disposal in order to make sure that we mark this wonderful moment for the nation in the best way possible.
Two Sundays ago I rode 45 miles around Cannock Chase in a charity bike ride known locally as the Tour de Nock, a race only slightly less famous than the Tour de France. The event was organised by a local man, John Hibbs, and sponsored by Cycle Shack, Cannock, and it raised thousands of pounds for a local charity, the Hibbs Lupus Trust, which raises funds to support people with that incurable condition. In this Olympic year, what are the Government doing to encourage more people to take up cycling as a way both of keeping fit and of raising money for good causes?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts, and we are doing a great deal, but perhaps the most significant thing that we have done in terms of grass-roots sport participation is the change that we made to the lottery, meaning that over the five years that follow the Olympics an extra half a billion pounds will go into boosting grass-roots and elite sport.
May I ask the Secretary of State about women in broadcasting? I am sure he will agree that it is a sorry state of affairs when the BBC sports personality of the year shortlist failed to identify even one woman, while its woman of the year shortlist somehow managed to include a panda, but we all know that what is on the screen is a product of what goes on behind the camera. There has been progress, and now there are many fantastic women in the industry, but they still face unequal odds. When even the BBC today acknowledges that there should be more women throughout the industry, why is the Secretary of State proposing to strip Ofcom of its duty to promote gender equality? Will he drop that proposal?
First, the right hon. and learned Lady, like me, knows that it is important that we respect the BBC’s editorial independence. There is cross-party agreement on that. I am sure that she will welcome the huge progress that the BBC has made, including the clear acceptance by the director-general of the BBC today that something needs to be done to address this issue urgently. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) has made big efforts in this respect. We have arranged for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) to meet the director-general to talk about this issue. I am hopeful that we will make progress without the need to resort to legislation or regulation.
T3. Each year, the Football Association raises a surplus of about £100 million, mostly from the England football team. By convention, 50% of that money goes to the professional game, where it is not needed, and not to the community and grass-roots game, where it is badly needed. I declare an interest as a director of Warrington Town football club, which badly needs the money. When will the Minister address this governance issue? (94351)
I can tell my hon. Friend exactly when we will address the issue. There has been a Culture, Media and Sport Committee report into the entire issue and we are awaiting a response that will come by the end of February. Only when the FA board has a better governance structure will it be able to tackle such issues. At the moment, it is simply divided on the basis of the vested interests inside the game.
T4. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) about the video games industry, given the success of the film tax credit in the UK, will the Minister reconsider introducing a tax credit for the video games industry, as per his manifesto commitment, to assist innovative businesses such as those in Dundee? (94352)
Dundee is, of course, the home of Abertay university, which is one of the world’s leading universities for the video games industry. The tax credit for the video games industry remains a lively topic, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will direct his questions to the Treasury.
T6. Ministers will know that a group of concerned MPs and peers recently concluded a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into online child protection. Without wishing to front-run the conclusions of the report, it is clear that the current protections are failing. We know that 93% of women are extremely concerned about the ease with which online pornography can be accessed by children. The “active choice” response of the internet service providers targets only new customers and will not be rolled out fully until October. Given that 80% of British households are already ISP customers, does the Secretary of State really think that that response is enough? If he does not, what is he going to do about it? (94355)
It is a great pleasure finally to hear from my hon. Friend. I have a great deal of sympathy for her point. She has campaigned assiduously on this issue. I do not want to pre-empt the Green Paper that we will publish shortly. I hope that that will address some of the concerns that she has raised.
T5. Will the Sport Minister give an update on the participation of a British team in the Olympic football competition? As a Welsh Member of Parliament, I recognise that the Football Association of Wales has difficulties. However, does he agree that it would be a travesty if the British team comprised only English players? (94353)
The composition of the team is properly a matter for the selectors and, through them, the British Olympic Association. I hope that the BOA has sent out invitations to young men and women up and down the United Kingdom, and that politics will not stand in the way of their having the opportunity to represent their country in a home Olympics.
May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of rural broadband? My constituents in northern Lincolnshire, in particular in the villages of Kirmington, Croxton and Aylesby, have severe problems with their connection. That is a key issue for the rural economy. Kirmington is the home of Humberside airport and is therefore a vital area. May I wish the Secretary of State a good holiday in Pembrokeshire next week and suggest for future holidays that he might like to taste the delights of Cleethorpes?
I gratefully accept my hon. Friend’s kind invitation. As soon as the diary permits, I will race to Cleethorpes for my next family holiday. He is right that broadband is incredibly important for rural communities. That is why, unlike the previous Government, we have secured a £530 million central Government investment, through the licence fee, to transform the situation. I am pleased to say that north Lincolnshire has been at the forefront on this issue and that I have given the green light to its local broadband plan. I am optimistic that the problems that he talks about will be addressed very soon.
T7. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.Members will know that those who have taken civil action, which is now complete, against the News of the World have faced legal bills of some £300,000, £400,000 or £500,000, yet the most that has ever been awarded by a court in a privacy case is £60,000, and many settlements have been for much less. Given the changes to the conditional fee agreements that the Government are pushing through, may I suggest that it might be a good idea to have a small claims court for privacy and libel cases? Would the Secretary of State support that? I do not want him to say, “Let’s wait to hear what Leveson and the Justice Secretary say.” We want to know what he thinks. (94356)
I can. We have looked into that very closely following the phone hacking and BSkyB merger issues, and it is absolutely the case that when Ofcom considers the application of the fit and proper person test, under law it must consider whether a company is a fit and proper organisation to hold a broadcast licence, because licences are held by companies.
T8. The arts Minister may well be aware that next Thursday marks the start of the Glasgow film festival, which, fortunately for me, coincides with part of the recess. Will he undertake to consider the role of film festivals, including the Glasgow one, in promoting British film? They play a vital role that is sometimes under-appreciated. (94357)
I declare that I am a parliamentary fellow to the Football Association.
Does the Minister agree with the leadership of David Bernstein in recent days on matters of judgment, and will he condemn Fabio Capello’s decision to walk out on the England team with only a few months to go until Euro 2012?
The FA had absolutely no option but to strip John Terry of the captaincy, not to prejudge the court case but simply because it would have been impossible for him to discharge his responsibilities as captain of the England team with that hanging over him.
It is a very great shame that Fabio Capello has acted in the way he has. If a player in his team had behaved in the way he has behaved to the FA, he would have taken the toughest possible action. I am delighted that the FA has agreed with him that he should no longer be manager.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will share my excitement about the recently announced concert to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. How confident is he that the measures being put in place by his Department will tackle the scourge of ticket touts and prevent them from getting their hands on, and profiting from, tickets for a publicly funded celebration?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on brilliantly linking the diamond jubilee to her personal commitment to improve how tickets are sold. I commend her determination to improve the situation.
There will be more tickets to more events this year than at any time in our history, with the diamond jubilee, the Olympics, the Paralympics, the cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 festival. It will be a very good year to see whether the touting problem needs to be addressed in legislation, or whether changes in technology can do the trick.
Last week, I took part in a panel auditioning for participants in a new production of “Swindon: The Opera”. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Janice Thompson Performance Trust on an admirable project that will help to showcase the cultural richness of Swindon?
On something slightly different, will Ministers explain how they intend to turn the enthusiasm to volunteer to help with the Olympics into long-term volunteering in our communities, given the decision to axe funding for the national volunteer service?
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
2. How many e-petitions have attracted more than 100,000 signatures. (94321)
In the six months since the launch of the site, more than 3.5 million signatures have been submitted to more than 11,000 published petitions. Those statistics underpin my view that e-petitions are connecting the Government and Parliament with a remarkable number and range of people. So far, eight e-petitions have passed the 100,000 signature threshold. They remain viewable on the site, including the Government response.
May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House for his opinion on the report from the Procedure Committee, which is chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight)? The report suggests that e-petitions should be debated in Westminster Hall, which would be opened up so that we have more time for such debates. I welcome that proposal, but my constituents would be very concerned if they thought all e-petitions would be shuffled off to Westminster Hall. Will the Deputy Leader of the House reassure them and me that we will still have time to debate e-petitions on the Floor of the House?
I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that the Backbench Business Committee can choose where it holds debates, including on the Floor of the House and in some cases on a substantive motion. Last year’s debate on the release of Hillsborough papers is a good example of just such scheduling of a debate that showed the House at its best.
The Committee should also continue to be able to decide that e-petitions are not appropriate for debate, or that they have already been considered, and not schedule them for debate. Members should be free to seek Adjournment debates on e-petitions if that is felt to be the best route. I note that there will be such a debate in Westminster Hall on 22 February relating to the e-petition on the death of Kevin Williams at Hillsborough.
I am sure the Deputy Leader of the House has looked at the report of the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member. One issue that the report looks at is how expectations have been raised because the wording on the Government website suggests that every petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures will be debated on the Floor of the House. If the Committee comes up with an amended form of wording, will he undertake to look at it and to implement changes suggested by the Committee quickly?
The Government will respond in due course. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I generally support the thrust of the Committee’s report, but we will respond in the normal way, shortly after the Hansard Society seminar on e-petitions, which I welcome. That is due to take place on 6 March.
Is the Minister aware that many of us feel that the Government should be congratulated on introducing for the first time an e-petition system that can trigger a debate in Parliament? However, does he also agree that any new system needs examining, refining and improving in the light of experience? Because of that, will he try to secure a Government response to the Procedure Committee’s report as soon as possible, so that the House can debate this matter sooner rather than later?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for their work on this matter. No system in the world is incapable of refinement and improvement by looking at it over time and I am grateful for the points he makes. I did not think there was any doubt in what we have consistently said. We have said that e-petitions are eligible for debate once they reach the threshold, not that they will necessarily be debated. The system is working well, but the Procedure Committee has made some fair points on how we can better manage the process in the House. We will certainly respond to the Committee as soon as is appropriate.
The Procedure Committee report was not only excellent; it was done in record time to ensure that we could have a timely debate and to ensure that the e-petition system works as well as it possibly can. Will the Government ensure that their response to the Committee’s e-petitions report comes before 6 March, so that we can consider it in the Hansard Society seminar?
We will do our best. The seminar to which the hon. Lady refers will help to inform the work of the Procedure Committee. The results of the seminar plus the Government’s response will—I hope—enable something to be laid before the House that will improve how we deal with e-petitions. With co-ordination and co-operation from everybody involved, we will ensure we get the right response.
I think I am right in saying that virtually every e-petition a Member has brought to the Backbench Business Committee that has reached 100,000 signatures has been debated in one way or the other. The Government should be enormously congratulated on bringing the public in line with Parliament. The Leader of the House has not had enough praise for that. Without this system, we would not have had the EU referendum debate.
I am always grateful for praise and congratulation from the hon. Gentleman. I genuinely think the e-petition system has been a great improvement. The old Downing street e-petition system, under the previous Government, had no mechanism for questions ever to get on to the Floor of the House. The most memorable thing it ever produced was a suggestion that Jeremy Clarkson be Prime Minister. I think our system works an awful lot better.
Ministers take seriously the requirement in the ministerial code that when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance to Parliament. My hon. Friend and I do not hesitate to remind colleagues of that requirement.
I thank the Leader of the House for that, but he knows only too well that concern is all too often expressed in the House about Ministers speaking and leaking to the press. Can he assure the House—I think he can, from what he has said this morning—that he and the Deputy Leader of the House take this issue very seriously? Should he not, as a belt-and-braces exercise, issue written guidance to Ministers?
My view is that the problem has been less acute in this Parliament than in previous Parliaments, partly because the Government are making more statements to the House than previously: we are making 0.7 statements per day in this Parliament, as opposed to 0.4 statements per day in the previous Parliament. I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said. There is already written guidance in the ministerial code, and I do not hesitate to remind my ministerial colleagues of the imperatives in the code on every appropriate occasion.
The Leader of the House will be aware that there are 18 written ministerial statements on the Order Paper today. Given that the House is now rising for recess, it will be impossible to debate them. Will he publish the policy criteria determining whether written, as opposed to oral, ministerial statements are made?
My hon. Friend asks a good question. There is a balance always to be struck between the imperative of making an oral statement and the need to preserve time for the House to debate the issues before it on that particular day. We try to strike the right balance. Today, we have an oral statement from the Foreign Secretary and an important debate thereafter on Somalia. It would have eroded the time for the statement and the debate if, on top of that, we had scheduled for oral statement some of the written ministerial statements to which my hon. Friend referred. We try to get the balance right, but we are always open to fresh suggestions.
Statutory Register of Lobbyists
The Government published our initial proposals in the form of a consultation document on 20 January. Any effects on Standing Orders would best be considered in the light of what emerges from that consultation and subsequent legislation.
Does not the fact that there are links between serving parliamentarians and certain lobbying firms imply that there would be a need to change Standing Orders in some way? Does not this exchange reinforce the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister should have made an oral statement on the Floor of the House to launch the document, rather than fobbing us off with a written statement?
I really think we need to understand that the House is not being fobbed off with a written ministerial statement, particularly when there is a consultation paper the hon. Gentleman can contribute to in the same way as every other Member. Consultation papers are there to consult, and it is perfectly appropriate to let the House be aware of a consultation paper that has been issued by issuing a written ministerial statement—a point you, Mr Speaker, have also made in recent weeks.
Let us make a comparison on dithering. We have brought before the House, within 18 months, firm proposals in a consultation paper with draft clauses. In 13 years, the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported did nothing whatsoever, despite being asked several times by Committees of the House to bring forward a statutory register of lobbyists. I think that we are making progress where his Government did not.
Because, believe it or not, it is rather a difficult thing to define, which is why the consultation paper invites responses on precisely that issue. Some people would take an all-encompassing definition, which would require every one of our constituents who comes to see us in an advice surgery to register as a lobbyist before attending. I think that that would be an over-extensive definition.
The Government’s proposals, inadequate as they are, will require primary legislation. Will the Government now commit to pre-legislative scrutiny, which might encourage Ministers to come up with more substantial proposals?
Pre-legislative scrutiny requires the publication of draft clauses, and that is what we have done. The hon. Lady might have noticed that. Of course, if, as a result of consultation, a very different proposal is put before the House, that too will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, because it is important that we get this right. Again, though, I really cannot take seriously the hon. Lady and her colleagues, who were incapable of doing anything about this problem, now complaining that we are doing something, which we are.
The tentacles of the corrupt and semi-corrupt lobbying system have sunk deep into the body politic. If politics is to be reformed and confidence in the House and politics restored, major reform is essential. Unfortunately, the consultation document shows that instead of listening to what the Prime Minister said when in opposition, the Government have spent their time listening to lobbyists lobbying about lobbying.
The Government have shown themselves willing to make changes to the order of oral questions for the convenience of the House. For example, they responded positively to a request from the official Opposition to extend the length of questions to the Deputy Prime Minister to 40 minutes. The status of the oral questions rota is kept under review.
The Deputy Leader of the House will recall that a couple of weeks ago the Chancellor was unable to make it to Treasury questions because he was at ECOFIN, That was a perfectly reasonable and acceptable excuse, but given what is happening in the eurozone and given that ECOFIN usually meets on a Tuesday, does it mean that the Chancellor will miss future Treasury questions and should we not consider changing the time of Treasury questions, perhaps back to Thursdays, which is when they used to be a couple of years ago?
The hon. Gentleman raises a perfectly proper question. From my experience, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer never knowingly loses an opportunity to debate matters in the House or to answer questions. He is no Macavity. He has attended 11 of the 13 Treasury oral sessions since he took office, which compares well to the previous Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman might have a point, though, and I will discuss the matter with Treasury colleagues, if there is a problem. I believe, however, that we will see the Chancellor the Exchequer regularly here answering questions on economic matters, as he would wish to do.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. The trouble is that we cannot extend one Question Time without reducing another or lengthening the interval between them. I know that the House wants to hold Ministers and Departments to account and to fulfil its scrutiny role, and we have to find a balance in order to ensure that that is done efficiently and effectively, but I hear what she says.