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Topical Questions

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013

What a week it has been for British sport! Yesterday England romped home in the cricket match against South Africa, Andy Murray won at Queen’s Club, and Hampshire’s own—indeed, Basingstoke’s own—Justin Rose became the first Englishman to win the United States Open since 1970. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing our cricketers good luck in the weekend’s Champions Trophy final and in this summer’s Ashes. I wish Andy Murray good luck at Wimbledon, and I wish all the British golfers—whether they are from Hampshire or not—good luck in next month’s Open.

I might just add that Greg Rusedski, a former US Open finalist, and other coaches came to New Palace Yard yesterday to help to teach state school children how to play tennis.

May I turn my right hon. Friend to the issue of equalities, which is also part of her portfolio? Can she tell me what progress has been made in the removal of the spousal veto from the gender recognition certification process?

I pay tribute to all the work that my hon. Friend has done in this regard. As he will know, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is currently being debated in the other place. We are continuing to discuss the issue that he has raised with transgender groups, but I gently remind him that it is actually an issue for the Ministry of Justice. Perhaps he could raise it with my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor.

May I take up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark)?

I hope the Secretary of State agrees that, despite our political differences and the occasional blip, and despite the fact that we are by no means out of the woods yet, we worked well together on the basis of trust and good faith, and worked well with the Liberal Democrats, in trying to sort out the question of press complaints following the Leveson report. However, as she has just said, we have yet to deal with the important issue of monopoly media ownership, which prevents the market from operating by preventing new entrants to it, as well as being bad for democracy.

May I ask the Secretary of State to do what the Government did before, namely set up and lead cross-party talks on the question of media ownership? We—and, I am sure, the Liberal Democrats—would be very willing to work with the Government to deal with that aspect of the Leveson inquiry, which is important and has not yet been tackled.

I observed no blips in our working together; I thought that it went very well indeed.

We have already agreed on how to deal with the issue raised by the right hon. and learned Lady. We will seek views on it in the summer. Lord Justice Leveson himself said that he was not able to devote enough time to considering media plurality matters in detail, and I think that we need to do so now. I think that if we are to provide the sort of broad policy framework that we need, we should seek views on those matters rather than engaging in further political discussion.

T3. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of TV advertising on online gambling? What is the cumulative effect on the nation of a surfeit of Ray Winstone? (160624)

T2. Will the Minister inform the House on when a decision will be made on the future location of the Arts Council collection, and if northern towns like Halifax will be considered as a home for the collection? (160623)

I had a meeting with the hon. Lady and a delegation some time ago, and she put a very compelling case for Halifax. We will continue discussions with the Arts Council about the future location of the Arts Council collection. Should we start to make progress, I will keep the hon. Lady informed.

T4. It is the Britten centenary, and the Aldeburgh festival has been another rip-roaring success. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating arts outside the metropolis, including the fantastic performances of “Grimes on the Beach” that we have greatly enjoyed in Aldeburgh in the last week? (160626)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I had the privilege of attending the Aldeburgh festival a week and a half ago. It is an amazing event, celebrating also the life of one of Britain’s greatest artists, Benjamin Britten.

T7. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the BBC should be open and accountable, and does she share my concern that the director of diversity will give me any details I want about ethnicity but will not give me any answer about education—about how many privately educated people work in the BBC and how many state-school people work in the BBC? Many people suspect it is stuffed full of people from private schools. Is that right? (160631)

I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire for transparency and accountability from all public bodies, and that is something I would join him in supporting. Issues to do with personnel are very much matters for the BBC, however.

T5. When News International was allowed to buy The Times newspaper, the condition was set that the editor could not be changed without the explicit approval of the non-executive directors. In the event that such a convention was broken, what would the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention be? (160629)

My right hon. Friend will know that John Witherow has been appointed as acting editor of The Times. Appointing a new editor of The Times is a matter for the independent national directors and shareholders. There would be an opportunity to intervene to enforce the requirement for separate publications to be maintained; that is really where my powers come into play.

The international festival for business is a national event, which next year will take place in Liverpool in June and July. A quarter of a million visitors are expected. It is supported by the Prime Minister, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is providing significant financial resource. What support will DCMS provide to ensure that the cultural offer that supports the conference and the other events is significant and promotes all that the top arts and creative industries have to provide?

The hon. Lady raised this point in yesterday’s Opposition day debate. She also extolled the many cultural virtues of Liverpool, and I heartily endorse her comments. I am sorry that I did not answer her question then. As I understand it, the Arts Council is talking to Liverpool about the cultural support it can give around the international festival, and I will talk to the Arts Council about its plans, and write to the hon. Lady.

T6. The England football team is a valuable national asset, yet of the millions of pounds raised, over 50% goes to the professional game, not the impoverished grass roots; I speak as a director of Warrington Town football club, an example of the impoverished grass roots. Does the Minister intend to follow the Select Committee recommendation and make it Government policy to make a switch in regard to that funding? (160630)

The Government can clearly direct funding only when they provide that funding, which they do through the whole sport plans and the football foundations. However, the Football Association is a signatory to the new code we set up in 2010 at the last review of the list, whereby it is pledged to give 30% of its UK broadcast income to grass-roots sport.

I am sure the Minister will agree that the advice from Derry/Londonderry to the shortlisted cities for the second UK city of culture would be that inclusion, integrity and imagination are key to any successful bid in a given year. Will he encourage the BBC to be as well engaged with the second city of culture as it has been with the first?

I did not get the chance during the earlier exchange to congratulate Dundee, as well as Hull, Leicester and Swansea bay, on making the shortlist, and I thoroughly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says. I do hope the BBC will support the next UK capital of culture, as it supported Derry/Londonderry.

What support is the Department giving to the Tour de France next year in the Yorkshire stages and the stage from my Cambridge constituency down to London?

I think, in the nicest possible way, that the hon. Gentleman may wish he had not asked me that question. The Government have provided a considerable amount of underwriting. They have underwritten the whole event and provided the balance to make up a budget of £21 million. Unfortunately, Cambridge has yet to contribute at all, and that is one of the issues we will address in the weeks ahead.

Newcastle United football club is also a national asset. Does the Minister share my utter bewilderment and that of tens of thousands of Newcastle United supporters at the arrival of Joe Kinnear on Tyneside?

One of the things for which I am eternally grateful is that my job’s remit does not extend to the appointment of managers or sorting out the weekly round of scraps on a Saturday afternoon. I think I will leave that to the hon. Gentleman, if that is all right.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on at long last ensuring that all 21 flags of the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies were flown from Parliament square last week for the Trooping of the Colour? However, will she explain to the House why, for the state opening of Parliament, there were 21 empty flagpoles with no Union flags flying for the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen?

This is something of great importance, and we will look into it and write to my hon. Friend with an answer.

A full three months ago, this House debated a royal charter on the independent self-regulation of the press. It was supposed to go to the Privy Council. It did not. Meanwhile, certain recalcitrant elements of the press put their own royal charter in. Can the Secretary of State please explain to the nation what on earth is going on, and when she expects the Privy Council to consider the royal charter that was debated democratically in this House?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are working to take forward Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations in light of the cross-party agreements. A process is very much under way to consider the “PressBoF” charter, while making sure that the Government’s charter will be subject to full consideration at the appropriate time.