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Topical Questions

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012

Yesterday the European Hockey Federation announced that London, and the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic park, had been selected as the venue for the 2015 European hockey championships, the first such event on the park. This is in addition to the Commonwealth games, the rugby league, rugby union and cricket world cups, a world athletics championship, world championships in triathlon, gymnastics and canoeing, and bids out for a youth Olympics, rowing, swimming and eventing championships. It is an extraordinary success story for British sport and a hugely positive legacy from London 2012.

Google is failing to enforce privacy rulings online, dragging its feet when told to take down offending material and prioritising websites that carry illegal, unlicensed content at the top of its search results. When will Ministers act to ensure that Google prioritises legal sites over illegal sites?

We have regular discussions with Google on all these issues. It is better than the hon. Gentleman suggests at taking down illegal material, and those discussions will continue.

T2. We, the taxpayers, have spent £9 billion on the Olympics and we are very proud of them. But everybody I talk to, including myself—I occasionally talk to myself—[Laughter.] Calm down, calm down. Will the House come to order, please? Nobody has actually got a ticket, apart from a chap I was talking to last night who had applied for £8,000-worth of tickets. He is the only person I have met recently who has got a ticket. I have raised this before with the Minister and it is a serious point. The Minister has told me in the past that he has to satisfy the corporate people because they have put in hundreds of millions of pounds, but we have put in billions of pounds. What more will he do to get tickets to ordinary people so that this becomes a people’s games? (101318)

The problem to which my hon. Friend alludes is caused by the simple fact that 6.5 million tickets were available and 26.5 million applications were made. The fact is that demand massively outstripped supply. Some 75% of those tickets have gone to the general public, and a full breakdown will be available as soon as the next tranche of ticketing is over. The advice to him and everyone else who wishes to apply for tickets is to apply in the next tranche, which will go exclusively to those who were involved in the process earlier.

Given the recent presentation by the WI of a 70,000-signature petition against library closures, demonstrating the strength of public support, and with no vision, no strategy and no urgency from a Minister who is fast becoming the Dr Beeching of libraries, does he share my view that he has a responsibility to act as a champion for libraries across government? If so, how would he assess his performance to date?

The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman has no view. When I was in opposition I gave my view on Wirral. What is his view on Labour-controlled Brent closing libraries? Has he got a view? When he gets a view, he can start talking about libraries.

T4. All local authorities in England, bar one, and certainly the Conservative local authority in Wales, publish details of invoices in excess of £500. I raised the matter with the BBC as I believe it should do the same, and Mark Thompson rejected the idea on the basis of the benefits of confidentiality and competitive tension. Does the Minister agree that it is time that the BBC followed the example set by others? (101320)

My view is that the BBC is quite rightly independent from Government, but my hon. Friend may wish to take that point up with Mr Thompson’s successor who should be appointed some time later this year.

T5. The Minister will not be surprised that I am delighted that a cross-party campaign has resulted in the announcement of £50 million for a competition for small cities, such as Brighton and Hove, for ultra-fast broadband. When will we get the bid information and what timetable does the Minister have in mind for the competition? So that we might welcome him for the second time and the Secretary of State for the first time to see first hand what Brighton and Hove’s digital cluster is already achieving, will they accept an invitation to come to Brighton’s digital festival in September? (101321)

We will publish our consultation on this issue as soon as possible, and that will detail the chronology for awarding the £50 million. I am so pleased that the hon. Lady welcomes this funding, unlike the Opposition, who continue to carp about it. Of course I will come to Brighton, for the second time, for this wonderful digital festival.

T6. In north-west England, we have BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire, but no BBC Radio Cheshire—it is an outrage. Furthermore, the community station, Cheshire FM, has recently closed down. What are the Government doing to encourage local stations and other local media to flourish and succeed? (101323)

I could be here for hours talking about the success of local television, community radio, BBC local radio and commercial radio, but I will address the specific point about BBC Cheshire. The BBC is independent of Government and my hon. Friend may wish to take the matter up with the successor director-general when they are appointed later this year.

T3. I am sure that by now the Minister has seen the recent “Dispatches” programme “The Great Ticket Scandal”. If he and, in particular, the Secretary of State have not, they can have my DVD copy. It makes for good watching and I recommend that he watch it. As he knows, the programme provides the most damning proof yet that consumers are being ripped off—or at least priced out of cultural events —on an industrial scale. Will he now please commit to examining the secondary market again with a view to ensuring that we put fans first? (101319)

The hon. Lady and I have debated this issue for many long hours in this Parliament. The matter raised in the programme to which she refers is now the subject of an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, so I had better be careful. I simply say what I have said before: during the last Parliament, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the previous Government looked into the matter, and we have looked at it again. I think we are satisfied with the position as it currently sits, but should further evidence of criminal activity come forward, we will certainly reconsider the matter.

T8. Leaving aside the special rules relating to the Olympics, does the Minister agree that it is not the place of the state to interfere with the freedom of an individual or company to resell tickets for sporting or cultural events? (101325)

The position at the moment is that we grant a ban on ticket touting for major events where it is a requirement of bidding for those events. That has become the settled position under successive Governments and as a result of the work of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Until there is evidence of widespread criminal activity, that will remain the position.

T7. Last year, Arts Council funding was cut by £71 million, local authority funding was slashed and investment in the arts by private business fell by almost £10 million. Would the Minister like to have another go at providing a credible answer to Nottingham arts organisations about how to fill the funding gap that his Government have created? (101324)

Overall funding for the Arts Council will be reduced by less than 5% because we have given it back the lottery money that the Labour party robbed from it to pay for the Olympics. The answer for Nottingham Playhouse is to have an MP who champions its work and talks it up, not down.

Would the Minister be surprised if I joined other Brighton Members in saying that Brighton and Hove would be an excellent place for ultra-fast broadband and that we look forward to bidding as soon as possible?

Indeed, and I again congratulate the work of all the Brighton MPs, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), on their campaigning skills.

In Manchester, as in Morocco, a digital economy requires a digital infrastructure, but more than 2 million people are excluded from that because they live in rural areas. Will the Minister reassure the House that he recognises the importance of geography by reinstating Labour’s universal broadband pledge?

The hon. Lady mentioned Morocco. It is an interesting fact that Morocco has less than half the population of the United Kingdom.

Now that BT has lost its challenge to the Digital Economy Act 2010, when will the Government publish the initial obligations code and statutory instrument?

There has been lots of bombast this morning, but does the Minister appreciate that for working-class children, two to three libraries closing a week, the withdrawal of arts education in our schools and a £71 million cut to the Arts Council are significant? Does he understand the intrinsic value of the arts to young people in this country?

Okay, the right hon. Gentleman has thrown down the gauntlet. Let me tell him a few facts. First, two or three libraries are not closing. Fewer than 100 libraries have “closed”, and many of those have been transferred to communities. More than 40 libraries are opening, but Labour does not talk about that. We have just published our cultural education plan, the first such plan this country has ever had. Overall arts funding will be reduced by less than 4% over the next four years, so the right hon. Gentleman should stop talking down what is happening in the arts and talk about the huge success we are having.

The parents of young people suffering from eating disorders are often distressed to find a hoard of press and magazine articles with graphic images and details of low weights and tiny amounts of food eaten, which have been used as inspiration. The media are rightly very careful when reporting on suicide. In a similar way, will the Minister urge media outlets to take cognisance of the media guidelines created by the eating disorder charity B-eat, to avoid the sensationalism of this illness, which can be very damaging?

My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously on this important issue. Magazine editors take their responsibilities extremely seriously, but I would be happy to meet her to discuss her campaign and also to work with her to engage with magazine editors.

The Minister said that competition is still in play for superfast broadband procurement, but as he knows, many of the projects have only one bidder, BT. As far as I know, only one other bidder in the whole country is still in the frame for those projects. Will he confirm that, and say why he thinks the exercise has been so unsuccessful in engaging the degree of competition that we would all have wanted?

We engaged a great many companies, but we cannot invent competition. However, at least three organisations are still involved in the bidding, and I firmly believe that the way we went about it—ensuring that local government had a say and that the contracts were awarded across local government areas, rather than regionally or nationally—promoted competition and offered up the opportunity for community broadband providers, for example.

How many jobs does the Minister expect to be created or lost in the gambling industry as a result of the changes in the Budget, how many online betting businesses that are currently offshore will come back onshore, and how many jobs will come back with them?

I am delighted to have a chance to answer at least one question. Unfortunately, the answer is that I do not know, because this is an issue for the Treasury.

None the less, could the Minister, who is responsible for tourism, please have a word with the Minister responsible for broadcasting and arts, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), and explain to him the geography of Morocco? It is twice the size of this country, and when it comes to expanding rural broadband, it is the size of the country that matters. Not very many people live in Blaenrhondda or Blaencwm, which are a long way from cities, but they are the people who really matter if we are to get our economy going.

I am enjoying busking this one. The short answer is that the population of Morocco, I am told by many people on the Benches behind me, is only half that of the UK—it is also economically smaller—and as I am sure everybody will appreciate, the density of population is also relevant when it comes to connecting people to broadband.

Whitefield’s tabernacle is Kingswood’s only grade I listed building and has important religious significance in the history of non-conformism, yet it is in a severe state of disrepair, despite featuring on the TV programme “Restoration” several years ago. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how best to preserve this precious building?