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Topical Questions

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

I am pleased that we have started the new year with such a positive set of announcements about the support in the honours system for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I hope that all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, will join me in congratulating individuals who have received such honours.

Given that Government funding might not extend rural broadband to really isolated areas, what plans do they have to assist communities in putting in their own piping infrastructure and compelling successful bidders to make use of that?

In addition to the £56.9 million allocated to Wales as part of the rural broadband programme, a top-up of £4 million is available as part of the rural community broadband fund, which is designed for just the purposes that my hon. Friend has described.

The creative industries and tourism are hugely important sectors, contributing £88 billion each year, or 7% of the UK economy. It was astonishing, therefore, that the coalition’s mid-term review pledges for the remainder of this Parliament made no mention of either of those crucial industries. Which Minister—I do not mind which one—will tell the House why they have dropped the C from DCMS?

I think the hon. Gentleman needs to be a little more cautious in his comments. He knows absolutely our commitment to the creative industries and to having the infrastructure necessary to ensure that they thrive. The facts speak for themselves, given the progress being made in industries such as the film industry and the gaming industry. I would draw his attention to those facts when he considers this matter further.

T2. Earlier this week, a group of respected ex-journalists in Scotland expressed concern that the 120 jobs being cut at BBC Scotland would cause “real damage” to the quality of news and current affairs it is able to produce. Does the Secretary of State agree that this could not happen at a worse time, when the people of Scotland need a fair and well informed debate leading up to the referendum, and will she raise this matter with the BBC Trust? (136096)

It is important—I am sure the hon. Lady will agree—that the BBC is independent of government in these matters, and it is for it to make these decisions. I hear what she says though—it is important that we have a strong BBC in Scotland—and I am sure that her comments will have been noted.

T3. I am pleased that the creative industries Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), is planning to visit silicon spa in Leamington, which is one of our country’s leading centres for the video games industry. Video games contributed £1.4 billion in exports to the UK economy in 2010, but we often do not promote the sector in the same way as we do our country’s successful film industry. Will he inform the House of what steps the Government are taking to better support this growing sector? (136097)

I am delighted to reiterate this Government’s commitment to the creative industries, with the establishment of the creative industries council, the video games tax credit—as well as for high-end television and animation—and the visit of the Minister for creative industries to Leamington Spa in the near future.

T5. How does the Secretary of State expect to inspire the sporting habit for a lifetime in our young people if we are cutting back on spaces where children can play sport in our schools? (136099)

T4. May I thank the Minister, who has responsibility for broadband, for meeting me yesterday and for understanding the true complexities in the provision of broadband in Northumberland? Surely the true broadband nirvana for all rural MPs will be when we have the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, BDUK—Broadband Delivery UK—BT and county councils working as one, in joined-up government. (136098)

I had a very enjoyable meeting with my hon. Friend yesterday to discuss the roll-out of broadband for his constituents in Northumberland. I assure him that I will work closely with my DEFRA colleagues to deliver nirvana.

T6. Given increased concerns about the safety and security of betting shops, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Association of British Bookmakers about how it can improve its guidance to shop workers, many of whom are women and many of whom work alone? (136101)

I entirely acknowledge the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have met the Association of British Bookmakers on two occasions. I have to say that on neither occasion has it raised that as a concern—[Hon. Members: “You need to raise it!”]—but once the cheap seats have piped down, I might finish by saying—[Interruption.] Actually, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is extremely expensive—that St Paul’s education cost a fortune, didn’t it?

If the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) would like to write me a letter, I will take the matter up with the Association of British Bookmakers.

T7. The blue plaque scheme in London is greatly loved. I remember serving on the historic buildings committee of the Greater London council 35 years ago with Sir John Betjeman. When it was abolished, we were given an absolutely firm commitment, by a Conservative Government, that the blue plaque scheme would carry on. Now that it is in danger, will the Minister intervene to stop the silly games between the chief executive officer and the chair of English Heritage and tell them to get a move on and carry on with this much loved scheme? (136102)

Before the Minister answers, I say to the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson) that, for the avoidance of doubt, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is neither cheap nor expensive; she is simply priceless.

My hon. Friend is right to point out the important role of the blue plaque scheme. The chairman of English Heritage made it clear yesterday that the scheme is continuing, but I am sure that my hon. Friend, in his many roles in the House, would want us to look carefully at how it is run in future, because at the moment we are spending some £250,000 a year, employing four people putting up six plaques a year. I am sure there are different ways that we could run the scheme; and I am sure that consideration will be given in the future to him having his own plaque.

In Hackney there are more than 70 betting shops and last year £167 million was spent gambling on fixed-odds betting machines. What further evidence does the Minister need to take action on reducing either the number of machines or the frequency of bets that can be laid, which are taking money from my poorest constituents?

As I have said on a number of occasions today, I recognise the issue that the hon. Lady raises. I assure her that once we have sufficient evidence, if action needs to be taken, it will be, but it has to be taken on the basis of national evidence, not just evidence from individual constituencies.

T8. Given that the grand départ of the Tour de France is coming to God’s own county—namely Yorkshire—in 2014, may I ask the Minister to say what pressure the Government are bringing to bear on UK Sport to support fully Yorkshire’s successful bid to host the start of the world’s biggest annual sporting event? (136103)

The Government have to be careful about this, because the money used to support such bids is national lottery funding and so is not open to the Government to direct. My hon. Friend will also be aware that despite the excellence of Yorkshire’s bid, it chose not to be in a position to share the commercial details of the bid with UK Sport before it made it. Now that Yorkshire has won, it is meeting UK Sport. I very much hope that a way will be found to achieve precisely the end that he is advocating.

To discourage the closure of libraries such as Aintree library in my constituency, the Government need to ensure that the money is available to keep them open. Will the Secretary of State speak to her colleagues across Government to ensure that the necessary funding is in place to safeguard library services such as those in my constituency that are under threat from cuts to council funding?

This is a time when everyone is having to tighten their belt, and we are clearly having to make savings. If Labour wants to make it clear which cuts it would reverse, it should by all means do so, but these crocodile tears are pointless. The council needs to run its library service; it is responsible for doing that. It should look at Hammersmith and Fulham council, which has closed no libraries and is reducing its council tax.

T9. Returning to the question of broadband roll-out, the Minister has reaffirmed the 2015 deadline, and the Policy Exchange report that he commended states that no public money should be made available after that date. Is he aware, however, that there are real practical considerations as to whether it will be possible to complete the programme by 2015, owing to a lack of capacity on the part of BT, even though the funding has been allocated? (136104)

We have set aside more than £15 million for broadband roll-out in the hon. Gentleman’s area, and we are confident that we are still working towards our target of 2015. Of course, we have money allocated for broadband after 2015. We have not decided specifically how that money will be used, but we will make a decision on that in the fullness of time.

What representations has the Secretary of State made to the Football Association to request that it issues clear guidance to support players at local and national level who are the subject of homophobic, sexist and racist abuse?

Let me join the hon. Lady in saying that everyone who follows football, and indeed many of those who do not, have been extremely concerned by the increase in the prevalence of racist incidents over the past six months or so. The Football Association has just produced a comprehensive 92-point plan, which has been welcomed by many of those involved in the game, and I very much hope that it will play a significant role in bringing this unfortunate chapter to a close and improving the situation rapidly.