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Topical Questions

Volume 558: debated on Thursday 14 February 2013

Mr Speaker, I am sure it has not escaped your notice that today is local digital radio switchover day in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, meaning better local radio services for local residents, including those in your constituency. I also welcome the One Billion Rising campaign, which is today highlighting the importance of eliminating violence against women and girls around the country.

Just to take the Valentine’s theme a little further, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport ministerial team are very much in love with the musical artists who achieved success in the recent Grammys—Adele, and Mumford and Sons—and with Daniel Day-Lewis, who triumphed at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards.

Will the Minister explain why my excellent local radio station BBC Radio Humberside has to axe jobs at the bottom, while nationally the BBC continues to employ hundreds of executives, many of whom are paid more than the Prime Minister?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of local radio in our constituents’ lives, but the BBC makes the decisions on how it uses its money. I am sure it has heard loudly his comments. He will welcome the appointment of his former right hon. Friend James Purnell to a prominent position in the BBC—perhaps he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.

T3. News in January that Seedhill athletics track and fitness centre in Nelson has been awarded a £50,000 grant by Sport England to resurface the running track followed similarly great news for Colne and Nelson rugby club, Belvedere and Calder Vale sports club, and Pendle Forest sports club. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all the volunteers involved in those excellent Pendle sports clubs on securing their part of the Olympic legacy? (143170)

I join my hon. Friend with pleasure in congratulating those volunteers. I should add to his excellent question by saying that more than 1,000 local community sports clubs have benefited from funding under Places People Play. The funding was made available by the reforms to the lottery introduced by this Government and opposed by the Labour party.

With the Arts Council cut by 30%; with regional development agencies, which did so much to support the arts in the regions, abolished; with arts donors smeared as tax dodgers; with the Education Secretary trying to squeeze arts out of the curriculum; and with local government, especially in hard-pressed areas, which does so much to support arts in local communities, facing the biggest cuts in a generation, does the Secretary of State not realise that it is her job to fight for the arts for everyone? Will she therefore withdraw her shameful assertion that the arts community is disingenuous and that its fears are pure fiction?

The right hon. and learned Lady will know that the arts and culture in this country are at the heart not just of making this a great place to live, but of the growth strategy. That is the work that our Department is doing. It is important to show that arts and culture are not just on the periphery, but at the heart of making this a great country. I am glad she has decided to show an interest in this area—I welcome that. I hope she will underline the importance of sending messages to local authorities such as those in Newcastle that the arts are important.

T4. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Devon and Somerset county councils on recently signing a new contract for superfast broadband? I urge him to bring forward any announcements about future and remaining available funding so that momentum is maintained. (143171)

We were delighted with the procurement for Devon and Somerset, which is one of the largest programmes under the rural broadband scheme. We hear what my hon. Friend says, and we will do anything we can to help him in any way he wishes.

T2. A middle-aged constituent of mine, with no previous history of gambling, lost her family’s life savings after being seduced by clever marketing by a television gambling programme. There is a new pestilence of high-speed, high-stakes gambling that has cost my constituents in Newport West at least £2 million. What are the Government doing to stop it? (143169)

The hon. Gentleman raises concerns that are felt by a number of hon. Members across the House. The Responsible Gambling Trust has primacy in this area and is in the process of conducting the largest piece of academic research ever undertaken. If further action needs to be taken as a consequence—he and many other hon. Members have made this point powerfully—then the Government will take that action.

T5. I hear from many constituents who are subjected to a barrage of unsolicited telephone calls on a daily basis, despite the fact that they are registered with the telephone preference service. Will my hon. Friend undertake to look carefully into this situation, because it is causing a great deal of stress and anxiety, particularly to my elderly constituents? (143172)

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. If he wants to come to the meeting I arranged earlier, I would be delighted to have him. We need to crack down on this and we are working closely with the two regulators involved.

As an Essex girl born and bred, I urge the Minister not to be swayed by the hon. Members for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and for Southend West (Mr Amess). May I instead invite him to taste the delights, and to look at the art and culture, of Plymouth?

I would be absolutely delighted, and I have indeed visited the theatre in Plymouth in the past.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend visit the Jubilee Room on 4 March, where she will see at first hand just how wonderful Southend is? She will learn that the only way is Essex in terms of culture, media and sport. (143173)

My hon. Friend is a very persuasive Member of Parliament, and I am sure that as many MPs as possible will be there.

Tomorrow marks the start of London fashion week. Are the Government willing to work with the British Fashion Council, which is announcing a mapping exercise of manufacturing in the industry to help to support jobs and growth for all of our constituents?

I understand that the hon. Lady secured an important debate on fashion this week. We support the British Fashion Council’s plans to carry out the mapping exercise, and I am working as hard as I can to see what Government support I can draw out.

T7. The Minister will be aware of the work of the Magna Carta cities of Salisbury and Lincoln to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta. Will he meet Salisbury’s Magna Carta project team, including my distinguished predecessor Robert Key, to discuss the role of the British Library and UNESCO in planning for these important events? (143175)

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. The anniversary of Magna Carta is extremely important. May I also use this opportunity to recall with great fondness my visit to one of the libraries in my hon. Friend’s constituency? I am so pleased that Wiltshire’s libraries are thriving.

T9. Many remote rural communities in Scotland do not have access to any form of broadband, far less superfast broadband. What discussions has the Minister had recently with the Scottish Government to ensure that this issue is tackled effectively? (143177)

We have made a large allocation of funding to the Scottish Government and they are in the lead on procuring broadband. Should there be any issues arising, however, we would be delighted to have any discussion they need.

T8. What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with the Department for Transport about rail links to seaside resorts in order to fulfil the coalition’s pledge in its tourism strategy? (143176)

Access to resorts, particularly seaside resorts, is one of the key issues that will drive domestic tourism. The numbers are increasing considerably, but one of the great challenges facing domestic tourism is getting more tourists out of London and into coastal resorts. That is one of the issues we are seeking to address.

I am sure the Minister will share my disappointment that libraries have become a political football between national and local government. Does he agree that perhaps the best way of safeguarding our libraries is to define more clearly what constitutes a statutory comprehensive library service?

We have issued clear guidelines to local authorities based on the Charteris review, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that libraries should not be a political football. It is important that local authorities be free to make decisions about the future of their library services. The decisions taken by the Labour council in Brent were based on proposals that were six or seven years old and not related to cuts.

Does the tourism Minister have a view on recent proposals by the BAA to raise the per-passenger charges at Heathrow and does he have plans to make representations to other Whitehall Departments to address the potential effect on the tourism industry?

Yes; as my hon. Friend is well aware, if money is raised in one area and there is a cut, it generally has to be found from somewhere else, and of course raising these duties has the perverse effect of encouraging people to take their holidays in this country. There is a balance to be struck, however, and that is what we are trying to do.

Next week, it is the Brit awards, when we will once again celebrate the massive success of our music industry. I am sure the Minister will be in his usual place. He will know of the usual challenges facing the music industry, particularly from illegal downloading and piracy. When can we expect to see the provisions agreed in the Digital Economy Act 2010?

The Digital Economy Act was a good example of a piece of rushed legislation that was not properly scrutinised, but we are doing our best to get it back on track. There have been bumps in the road, but we continue to work with the music industry and the internet provider industries to crack down on advertising, payments and illegal piracy sites.

I do not believe I have an interest to declare, but if anybody wishes to crawl over my register of interests and come to a different conclusion, I am happy for them to do so.

Is it the Government’s plan to regulate and tax the gambling industry on a point-of-consumption basis? If so, what steps will the Minister take to ensure that the Gambling Commission is prevented from empire building and using that as an excuse to hike up its fees?

As my hon. Friend will be well aware, the point of the proposed legislation is consumer protection and there are no plans at the moment for the Gambling Commission to increase its fees.