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Topical Questions

Volume 540: debated on Thursday 9 February 2012

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.

I note the Secretary of State’s unilateral decisions about family holidays. Whether that is a precedent that other right hon. and hon. Members will feel inclined to follow is open to speculation and doubt.

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)

Without wishing to pre-empt what Lord Justice Leveson says, I think the hon. Gentleman’s idea may have some merit. We will look into it and see whether it is something that we can pursue.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the fit and proper person test in relation to media ownership applies equally to companies as to individuals?

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 agree with the hon. Gentleman, and part of the film policy review, so ably conducted by Lord Smith of Finsbury, highlighted the important role of film festivals in promoting film education and film culture.

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?

My constituency is next door to Swindon, so I can confirm that Swindon is an area rich in cultural pleasures. It contains Wroughton, which is the storeroom of the Science museum, and a very successful football club and is the home town of Jamie Cullum.

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?

The answer to that is very simple. A fantastic new scheme called “Join In”, which is being promoted by the Cabinet Office, will do exactly that.