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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Press Regulation

1. What steps she is taking to ensure that any future regulator of the press will be better equipped than the Press Complaints Commission to tackle allegations of discrimination during election campaigns. (901603)

The royal charter, which sets out a framework for the press to establish a self-regulatory body, was granted by the Privy Council on 30 October. It protects freedom of the press while offering real redress if mistakes are made. The Government have no role to judge any proposed self-regulator.

During our inquiry into electoral conduct, we found that if people from a particular group, such as Christian, Muslim, Jewish or gay, felt that they had been discriminated against in print, they could argue it only under the heading of “inaccuracy” with the Press Complaints Commission. Will the Secretary of State use her influence, while the new code of conduct is being drafted, to ensure that those who feel discriminated against have proper redress in the future?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and commend her for that report. My officials are talking to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about the findings of the report, but I would say that the Government have no influence on the code. I am sure, however, that others who are listening will take note of her comments.

Rugby World Cup Tickets

We are in regular contact with the England rugby 2015 organising committee. We have provided advice on a range of options to manage the risk of ticket touting.

Will the Minister look again at making the rugby world cup an event of national significance like the Olympics, which would mean that fans would be able to buy tickets at face value? If the Minister reconsiders, Labour would help to deliver the necessary legislation in the new year so that real fans do not get ripped off by ticket touts.

I believe the event will be of real national significance. It is a wonderful opportunity for people to take up rugby and to be inspired by sport. I have every confidence that tickets will be dealt with fairly and properly.

If fans from New Zealand and Australia buy tickets for the world cup final in the expectation that their team will get there and one or both are knocked out in the semi-final, we will need a mechanism to allow supporters from those countries to sell them on to the supporters of the countries that are in the final. Does the Minister therefore not accept that the resale of tickets for the rugby world cup is not only inevitable, but desirable?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. At the end of the day, we want people to be able to watch a fantastic rugby tournament. The Government do not believe that legislation is necessary to control tickets; we believe that organisers, promoters and ticket agents should be looking at what they can do to protect customers and to make events accessible.

Tickets for the rugby world cup final are already on sale on viagogo for more than 10 times face value, and that is before tickets have even gone on sale to the general public. Is that not another example of why the Rugby Football Union is so keen for tickets to be protected so that ordinary fans can enjoy the sport? Why will the Government not take the action necessary to protect ordinary fans?

Fans are going to enjoy the tournament and fans are going to enjoy this sport. As I have set out, we believe it is right for organisers, promoters and ticket agents to deal with access to events and tickets. Successive Governments have concluded that regulation should be the last resort.

14. Does the Minister agree that the Government are absolutely right to be focusing on encouraging as many young people as possible to take up this wonderful sport, and that the best advice we could give to anyone who feels that they are about to be ripped off by ticket touts is simply to shun them? (901617)

As always, my hon. Friend makes a good and important point. We must not spoil this opportunity. It will be a fantastic occasion and we want people to be inspired by sport, inspired by rugby and to have a wonderful time.

The House will have heard the powerful points put by my hon. Friends. Next year, 2.3 million tickets will go on sale for rugby union world cup matches in this country. It is the third-largest sporting tournament in the world. As the Minister knows, the organisers want to protect rugby fans from ticket touts and are asking for us to do the same as we did in the Olympics and ban the secondary ticketing market. So far, she is refusing to do this. We would help with the legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) rightly said. Will she think again so that the 2015 rugby union world cup can be enjoyed by rugby supporters, not exploited by ticket touts?

The event will be enjoyed by rugby supporters and not exploited by ticket touts. I met England rugby 2015 recently and am aware of its concerns. I will always listen, but I am confident that mechanisms are in place to ensure that this event is enjoyed and not spoiled. There are many different mechanisms that can be put in place, including barcoding, named tickets and staggered releases, and I am delighted that 500,000 tickets will go on sale through the RFU’s members next May.

First World War Commemoration

The Government will mark the centenary of the first world war with a programme of national events, cultural activities, educational initiatives and community projects from 4 August next year through to Armistice day in 2018. We will deliver a centenary that will mark, with the most profound respect, this seminal moment in our modern history for the benefit of all parts of the community.

The first soldier to be killed on the western front in the first world war lived in Finchley and Golders Green. What plans are there for descendant families to be included in the commemorations?

I recently took my family to St Symphorien and had the privilege of seeing John Parr’s grave—it was a moving moment for us all. We are working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to trace families of other men buried at St Symphorien, and we very much hope that a number of the families will be able to attend the event. We would welcome any help in tracing the families involved.

My grandfather Harry Hanson’s first taste of combat in the first world war was in March 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, where he fought alongside thousands of Indian troops who to this day remain buried in France. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that we will celebrate the role of Commonwealth troops, particularly Indian troops, during this first world war celebration?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the significant Commonwealth dimension to our commemoration of the first world war. It is most fitting that the first event, which will follow shortly after the Commonwealth games in Edinburgh next August, will involve Commonwealth leaders.

Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the £1.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to save Stow Maries aerodrome in my constituency, which is the last remaining, intact first world war airfield? Does she agree that Stow Maries, from which pilots flew to defend us against zeppelin attacks, would be a fitting place to start the commemorations that her Department is planning?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are not that many structures remaining for us to look at as part of our commemorations around the first world war centenary. I am sure that that airfield could play an important role in bringing this to life for new generations.

Springwell Dene school in my constituency already does excellent work in taking students to visit world war one battlefield sites, but it is concerned that because of its children’s special educational needs, it might not be able to take part in the Government’s scheme. Will a Minister from the Department meet me to discuss this matter and how we can ensure that all children in our communities can join in this commemoration and understand our history?

The hon. Lady is right that the Government have invested considerably in ensuring that schoolchildren can visit battlefields, and of course that programme should be open to all children, although it is for schools to decide who exactly is involved. I am sure we would be interested to know more about the problems experienced and to try and resolve them, working with our colleagues in the Department for Education.

Will the Minister consider providing resources to expand or continue the sort of work that occurred at Pheasant Wood near Fromelles in France in order to locate and identify the war dead?

I know that there is continuing work, particularly in the north of France, to identify individuals who might not even to date be buried in recognised graves. I am sure that that will continue until there is no longer a need for it.

On 1 July 1916 at the battle of the Somme, the 36th Ulster Division fought alongside the 16th Irish Division, showing great courage and heroism in that much commemorated battle. Will the Secretary of State outline what discussions she has had with the Republic of Ireland Government to commemorate the battle of the Somme and other battles where the two nations fought together?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that considerable conversations are taking place between ourselves—and not just my Department, but others—and our colleagues in the Irish Republic. This is an important part of Irish history and it is important to recognise it in the work we are doing. If the hon. Gentleman had a look at the full list of events being undertaken, I think he would be pleasantly surprised and happy about what we have done.

With the decision not to repatriate the fallen in the first world war, the legacy for our nation is that almost every village, town or city in the land has either a simple or a magnificent war memorial. What plans are in place to ensure that all of these are spick and span to commemorate the start of the first world war?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are very few communities in our country that do not possess a memorial to those who fell in the first world war, although there are, of course, a few thankful villages that had no need for one and might commemorate the event in different ways. We already have a good funding level for the restoration of memorials, but this is something that we continue to look at. If there is an indication that further support is needed, we will of course look at it further.

Sportivate Programme

4. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of a greater focus on competitive sport on the number of women aged between 14 and 25 participating in the Sportivate programme. (901606)

Sportivate is not a competitive sports programme. It offers young people the chance to try a new sport for the very first time. Nearly 300,000 14 to 25-year-olds have completed the Sportivate course in the last two years, including 4,250 young people from the hon. Lady’s constituency. Around half of the 300,000 participating are women, 80% of whom have gone on to play sport on a regular basis.

The Minister will doubtless be aware that the Education Select Committee recently published a report looking at the legacy of the Olympics, which has been somewhat disappointing. Has she had any discussions with the Department for Education about the restoration of school sport partnerships, the abolition of which has done so much harm to young people’s participation in sporting activities and their long-term health?

I disagree completely with the hon. Lady about that. Funding of some £1 billion is being put into youth and community sport by this Government. We have also committed £450 million over the next three years to primary school sport. We are running the school games in which 16,000 schools are participating, to encourage children to engage in competitive sport. More people are doing sport than ever before. The school sport partnerships were very expensive, very bureaucratic and, sadly, failed, with only two out of five pupils competing in sport on a regular basis.

May I welcome my hon. Friend’s focus on participation in sport for women between those ages? I think too much focus on competitiveness can put them off from engaging. Will she confirm that all sports are involved, including swimming, which I learned at that age, and it is something that I continue to pursue in my advanced years?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am pleased that she still enjoys swimming—and may she continue to enjoy it for many years to come. She made an important point about competition. Competition can be great, but not everyone likes it. We want people to be active and to enjoy sport, which is why changes have been made to the national curriculum to provide a broad range of team and individual activities such as dance that will appeal to those who may be a little less competitive.

Tourism

Tourism is at the heart of the Government’s growth agenda. It is one of the largest export industries in the UK. It helps to rebalance our economy, generates investment and creates jobs, and it is at the centre of the country’s economic recovery.

Derwent Valley Mills is a world heritage site that extends throughout my constituency and beyond, but families currently have nowhere to take their children so that they can cycle safely between the mills. I have set up a cycling group, which is considering the possibility of putting a cycling track well away from the traffic to make it safe. How can the Secretary of State help me to ensure—in conjunction with the Olympic legacy—that children are encouraged to keep active, while also being able to enjoy a piece of history?

Through that excellent local initiative, my hon. Friend has demonstrated that culture and sport are never too far apart, and I commend her for the work she has done. The integrated transport block grant that local authorities receive for small transport improvement schemes, including cycling schemes, is potentially an important source of funding for the project in her constituency, as it enables local authorities to come up with the solutions that are most suitable for their areas and for projects of that kind.

Next year, 2014, will mark the 1,100th anniversary of the great town of Warwick. It will be a year of celebrations. You will, of course, be very welcome to attend those celebrations, Mr Speaker, and I am sure that many other people will want to visit the town. Will the Secretary of State—who will also be very welcome—tell us what policies are being drawn up to support towns such as Warwick, where tourism plays such an important part in our local economy?

My hon. Friend is right. Warwick castle is a great attraction in the area, and, having visited the town as a child and, more recently, with my own children, I know that it is a great place to visit.

Our tourism figures are strong at the moment, and the Government are continuing to invest in both VisitBritain and VisitEngland. We want to ensure that people from outside the country not only come to London, but travel beyond the capital to places such as Warwick. We are also encouraging more people in this country to spend holidays at home, and VisitEngland is doing well in that respect too.

As a woman of taste and refinement, does the Secretary of State agree that Huddersfield is the jewel in the crown of God’s own county of Yorkshire, not least because its university has been named university of the year? Does she agree that it is about time Huddersfield, Yorkshire and the north of England in general benefited from a fair share of tourism activity, especially as we shall be on the Tour de France route?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are linking the various parts of our departmental brief, because sport can be a great way of increasing tourism. The Tour de France, and the Government’s investment in it, will ensure that more people are able to experience the joys of Yorkshire, and can visit places such as the Yorkshire sculpture park while they are there.

One of the major tourist attractions next year in the United Kingdom will be the Commonwealth games. The games will take place in Glasgow, but there will be further events in Edinburgh and other parts of Scotland. Although nearly all the tickets have been sold, I am sure that the atmosphere in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere will be as exciting as the atmosphere in London during the 2012 Olympics. What are the Government doing to encourage people in the rest of the United Kingdom to visit Scotland during the games, so that everyone can benefit from that wonderful experience?

As the hon. Gentleman says, the Commonwealth games will serve as a great hook to encourage more people to visit Scotland. However, there will also be the golf and festivals to encourage people to get additional value out of their visits. During November alone there were nearly 3 million visits to the UK, 10% more than in the same month last year. We are doing important work through VisitBritain, the Scottish Government and VisitScotland to encourage more people to visit not just London but the United Kingdom as a whole, and I think we shall see great success in the months and years to come.

Children’s Participation in the Arts

8. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on children’s participation in the arts. (901610)

I frequently meet the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), because the DCMS and the Department for Education now have a joint music and cultural education board. We now have a national music plan and a national cultural education plan, and we work very closely together on this.

In 2011 the Secretary of State for Education abandoned the creative partnerships programme for schools. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that that programme generated £15.30 in economic and social benefits for every £1 of investment. Since then nearly a third of museums have seen a decrease in visits by schools and over 2,000 schools and hundreds of thousands of pupils no longer benefit from this culturally enriching programme. Does the Minister think his colleague at the DFE got that decision right?

The latest figures show that 99% of 11 to 15-year-olds visited and experienced culture in the last year, and I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Education extended the In Harmony programme; ring-fenced money for music; helped us to create heritage schools; set up the first ever national youth dance company; and put in place the first ever national music and cultural education plans.

I recently had the fantastic opportunity to go to see a mini-opera at Chester cathedral put on by Cheshire fire and rescue service, Manchester Camerata and three local primary schools. The idea of the opera was to teach children about fire safety. Does my hon. Friend agree that the arts and culture have got a huge role to play in encouraging young people to get involved in education?

I have frequent engagement with Manchester Camerata and I commend its imaginative approach in engaging other parts of local services, particularly the fire and rescue service and the health service. The arts can not only engage young people and children in education, they can also help to engage adults in a whole range of other local services.

This is a very convoluted question, so I hope the Minister will bear with me. I just wonder whether he has had an opportunity to see the National Youth Theatre production of “Tory Boyz”, which I am told is about a lot of homosexual Conservatives. They, among many others, might want to ask the Government why they are taking such a long time to allow the upgrade of civil partnerships to full same-sex marriages. He is having plenty of time to ask the Secretary of State now. Will he bring it forward a bit faster?

That question suffers from the disadvantage of having nothing to do with children’s participation in the arts.

Well, I thought it was not orderly, but the Minister can offer a very brief reply, which I feel sure he will do with skill and alacrity.

I, for one, have stood by in complete admiration of the Secretary of State’s magnificent work in bringing forward same-sex marriage, and I think she stands to be commended and not criticised for her brilliant work on this issue.

I am sure the Minister couples that with admiration for the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

In fact, the creative industries is one of the few areas of the British economy that is currently growing, but despite what the Minister said, Ofsted has criticised the effectiveness of music hubs and one school in six is cutting arts subjects. If DCMS Ministers cannot persuade their colleagues at the Department for Education to take a broader view, our young people will be permanently disadvantaged. Is the problem that the Minister is not sufficiently persuasive or that the Secretary of State for Education is too narrow-minded?

I would never accuse the Secretary of State for Education of being narrow-minded. I take on board the hon. Lady’s praise for my Secretary of State who is leading the growth in the creative industries. We in DCMS are led by a Secretary of State who is leading a Department for growth. That is very good news indeed, and I repeat what I said: there is a huge input from the Secretary of State for Education.

I really would not take too much from an Ofsted report that looks at music hubs four months after they have been created and condemns them. The hon. Lady should speak to her friends in the Musicians Union, who are furious about that report.

Arts Council Funding

9. What steps she is taking to reduce differences in Arts Council funding spent in London and the regions. (901611)

Arts Council England makes its funding decisions independently of Government, but it must take care to ensure all areas of the country have access to its funding. We have discussed this with the Arts Council and continue to do so, and the Arts Council has indicated that a priority in its forthcoming investment round will be to achieve a better balance from public funding and lottery investment across the country.

The Minister might be aware of the recent report, “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital”, which stated that in 2012-13, £69 per head was spent in London while £4.60 per head was spent in the English regions. That represents a ratio of 15:1, which does not exist anywhere else in the world. How long will it take to get this fixed?

Well, the balance in lottery funding between the regions and London was 60:40 under the previous Government, and it has now gone up to 70:30. The Arts Council chairman is well aware of the issue and wants to go further. The Arts Council has set up the strategic touring programme and the creative people and places fund to help to rebalance arts funding in the regions, and our brilliant Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced proposals to support touring theatre with tax relief.

When this matter was last raised here, the Secretary of State seemed to imply that the answer was for London-based companies to do more touring, and the Minister has said that again. Do they not recognise that Londoners deserve to have the benefit of our great arts companies, such as Northern Stage, the Live Theatre and the Northern Sinfonia? If more touring by London companies is not the answer, what is?

As always, the hon. Lady makes a fantastically brilliant point. It is important to strike a balance. This is not just a matter of London organisations going out to “the regions”. I am very excited about more co-productions between, for example, the National Theatre and the regional theatres, to enable productions created in regional theatres to come to London so that we can get some of the fantastic benefits of the brilliant arts going on outside London.

Professional Football (Stewardship)

10. When she last met representatives of the Football Association and the Football League to discuss their stewardship of professional football. (901613)

I think there is general agreement that professional football in this country is rotten to the core, not least as a result of parasitic agents taking millions of pounds a year out of the game and of football wasting its riches in the same way as successive Governments wasted the North sea oil revenues. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has done a good job with its report and recommendations, but does the Minister agree that what we need now is a royal commission on professional football in order to clean up the game?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The football authorities introduced reforms in August, including smaller boards and a new licensing system, to deal with ownership and financial matters and to improve relations with supporters. That is certainly a start, but more definitely needs to be done. If it is not done, there is always the option of legislation.

Will the sports Minister convene a meeting between the football authorities and the betting industry? We are seeing an increase in cheating, in the form of match-fixing and spot-betting, and we need to start a discussion on what constitutes an appropriate bet. Betting on the number of corners or of red and yellow cards, for example, is inappropriate. Does she agree that there should be a discussion about that?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I know that he has considerable knowledge of these issues. We had a meeting a couple of days ago—it was reported in the papers—with the main governing bodies and the Gambling Commission to discuss the very issues that he raises: match-fixing and spot-fixing. The integrity of the sport is absolutely paramount, and we must keep sport clean. It is obvious that a multi-agency approach is needed to deal with these issues, and we also need to continue to ensure that player education is developed and that information sharing happens. We also need to share best practice.

16. Will the Minister tell us what the Government have been doing to encourage the development of co-operative ownership models for football clubs, including with the supporters of Manchester United? (901619)

We have regular meetings with various organisations. The ownership of clubs is obviously an interesting matter, and there is a place for all different types of ownership. I am going to meet some of the supporters groups in the new year, and I am sure that they will raise the issue of ownership with me. I remain open-minded about this. I know that clubs that are owned by supporters work very well indeed, and that the supporters have the best interests of the game at heart.

The 2009 Parry report on sports betting recommended strengthening the law on cheating, as defined in the Gambling Act 2005. Jacques Rogge has described cheating in gambling as being

“as dangerous as doping for the credibility of sport.”

The Secretary of State called a summit this week, presumably to explain to sports governing bodies why the Government alone have failed to meet the recommendations of the Parry report. She rejected all our amendments to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill on match-fixing. Following the recent allegations in football, will she now reconsider her position?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the law is working. It is in place, and we have seen recent arrests and the good work of the National Crime Agency. We have criminal offences of bribery, corruption and fraud, and there is an offence under section 42 of the 2005 Act. The law is in place and it is being used. Of course, we must keep it under review, and I will do that.

Nuisance Telephone Calls

12. How her Department measures the success of steps taken to reduce the number of nuisance telephone calls. (901615)

The issue of nuisance telephone calls is a priority for the Department, and we will be publishing our action plan shortly. We would like to see more effective enforcement by the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom, through use of their substantial fining powers. Also, we are keen for them to more easily share information with each other.

A 90-year-old constituent of mine who has signed up for the telephone preference service continues to be plagued by nuisance calls. There is not enough urgency from the Government on this matter. Will the Minister commit, as a starting point, at least to implement all the recommendations made by the all-party group on nuisance calls? That would be a start.

I reject the accusation of a lack of urgency. I have worked closely with a number of stakeholders over many months. We are publishing our action plan in the new year because we want to take account of the excellent reports by the all-party group and the Select Committee.

I am glad that the Minister wants the Information Commissioner’s Office to be able to take more enforcement action to tackle this menace. Will he therefore lower the legal threshold above which the Information Commissioner is able to take enforcement action?

Topical Questions

We recently launched our £100 million super-connected cities broadband voucher scheme, providing qualifying small and medium-sized enterprises with up to £3,000 of funding to access superfast broadband. As part of the autumn statement, further support measures were announced for the film industry, sport, and regional arts and culture, and there was an announcement of a new £10 million competitive fund to market test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband to reach some of the UK’s most remote communities.

I thank the Secretary of State for announcing Hull as the city of culture for 2017 on 20 November, and for immediately getting on a train to visit the city—we very much appreciated that. In line with the original thinking on the city of culture status, will she help the city by making sure that some of our great cultural prizes, such as the Turner prize, the Booker prize and the Brit awards, come to Hull in 2017?

The city of culture programme is a great way to showcase our great cultural assets outside London and around the country. I was delighted to meet so many of the people who were crucial in putting Hull’s bid together. I would also like to commiserate with those that did not make it to that final accolade, as the semi-finalists were also extremely strong. I will do all I can to make sure that being city of culture in 2017 is as successful for Hull as being city of culture has been for Derry/Londonderry.

T2. I recently raised with the Minister the case of a constituent in Gloucester who has been plagued by nuisance calls even after she had changed her telephone number and registered with the telephone preference service. Sadly, as all hon. Members will know, that is not an isolated case. I was grateful for his reply, in which he said that what we need is more enforcement, not more law. Will he outline what specific action he intends to take to make that happen? (901624)

We intend to publish our action plan early in the new year. As well as looking at the issue of the threshold, it is important that we bring the two regulators closer together. It is also important to note that Ofcom is undertaking a review of the telephone preference service to check what changes can be made to make it more effective.

The Active People survey figures that were published as we walked into the Chamber this morning show that they were down on last year. When the last set of figures was published, the Government blamed the weather. Will they do so again today? The time for excuses has passed. Even more damning, the figures for 16 to 25-year-olds are down by 51,000. There was no better golden legacy left to this Government than the one in sport. Just what will the Government do about this terrible situation?

I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman is being so negative. I have seen that report. More people, including women and people with disabilities, are participating in sport in this country than ever before, which should be celebrated. Of course there is more to do, and we will do it. We are focusing action on 14 to 25-year-olds, who have competing demands on their time. We expect the sports bodies to focus on this. If they do not, there will be consequences. They receive a large amount of public money, and if they cannot produce the goods, we will get other people involved.

T3. If the Secretary of State came to Lancashire and had a selfie done with me and was enthusiastic to show it to the wider public, she would find that uploading it would be a bit hit and miss, because in Lancashire only 55% have access to superfast broadband, compared with 65% nationally. Will she ensure that, rather than being left in the digital dinosaur age, Lancashire will have superfast broadband rolled out as quickly as possible, and that 100% will get access to it? (901625)

My hon. Friend is right to say that every corner of the country needs to be in our targets when it comes to rolling out superfast broadband. I am delighted to tell him that that is exactly why the Government are investing more than £1 billion of public money in rolling out rural superfast broadband. We are making rapid progress in his area. As of the end of last month, more than 11,000 premises had been passed, and Ofcom data now show that Lancashire county council has more than 67% availability of superfast broadband. We are making progress, but we need to ensure that that continues.

T4. I listened carefully to the Minister’s earlier response on ticket touting. I remind her that it is some years since the Government and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport looked at the issue. Operation Podium, which policed the Olympics, reported earlier this year that ticket touting is rife with criminality and money laundering and said that now was the time for regulation. Why will the Minister not act now to protect rugby fans from that criminality? (901626)

We do not need legislation. I have made it clear that it is a matter for the operators, promoters and agents. They are able to apply many mechanisms, which I set out earlier. However, we will keep legislation under review.

T5. As part of the Government’s commitment to preserving our heritage for current and future generations, will Ministers support Bury farm, a unique medieval farm in my constituency, and give it protection from development? (901627)

It is very important that this wonderful grade 2 listed farm is protected from development as far as possible, and any development around it should be as sympathetic as possible. English Heritage runs a fantastic heritage protection service in this country, which will only be enhanced by the new model that we have just announced.

T6. In South Shields, more than £2.8 million has been lost on high stakes, fixed-odds betting terminals. Those machines allow players to gamble as much as £100 every 20 seconds and have already been banned by a number of countries. Will the Minister take action to tackle the damage that the machines do and back Labour’s call to limit the maximum stake on these machines to £2? (901628)

There is absolutely no green light for fixed-odds betting terminals. Their future will be kept under review pending further work, which has already started.

T8. Following on from the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) on arts disparities, may I raise a further complication? When the Arts Council for London, or the English Arts Council—London based—finds itself in the north-west it never usually goes much further than Manchester and Liverpool. (901630)

I know that the Arts Council has a forward operating base in Manchester. I shall encourage it to go further from that base and to take account of the superb culture in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in those of other hon. Friends in Lancashire.

T7. Given that Hull has won the prestigious title of city of culture for 2017, will the Secretary of State join me in pressing colleagues in the Treasury and Department for Transport to ensure that we have proper, good-quality transport links, including electrification of the railway line to Hull and improvements and upgrades to the A63? (901629)

I know that my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport already have a significant plan for Hull. I am sure that the fact that it will be the 2017 city of culture will only add focus to their work.

The Secretary of State referred to the 10% who are most difficult to reach with superfast broadband. Does she recognise that in areas such as mine that number is far bigger than 10%, and that the rural economy is dependent on small micro-businesses and on much higher than average levels of home working? Will she get on with allocating the £250 million that has been set aside for that 10%, and will she not make it match funded by already broke rural authorities?

My hon. Friend is right that making superfast broadband a priority infrastructure project for this country was the right decision for the Government. The plans we inherited from Labour were lamentable. He will know that we have already allocated £250 million and will be announcing shortly how that will be used. He will also have noted in the autumn statement an additional £10 million for the hardest-to-reach areas where we need innovative solutions.

T9. According to the charity Scope, disabled people are warning that the positive effect of the Paralympics on public attitudes is being undermined by widespread “scrounger” rhetoric. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with media organisations to challenge that pervasive and unpleasant narrative? (901631)

The hon. Lady will know that we are working hard on the legacy for disabled people of London 2012. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who is the Minister for disabled people, is at the heart of our legacy programme. We are ensuring that the media have the opportunity to showcase, particularly through sports, the incredible contribution of disabled people to our society. Through that positive imagery, we can challenge the rhetoric that the hon. Lady is talking about.

The Minister has already spoken of the benefits to tourism of major sporting events, particularly the rugby world cup 2015. Now that the locations have been set, does she agree that there is a big opportunity for places such as Brighton, Exeter, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Newcastle to attract new visitors, and that my constituency, as the birthplace of the game, will get a particular economic benefit?

Topical questions, and the answers, are supposed to be brief and they just continue as though they are an extension of the main session. After a number of years in the House, people really ought to know that by now.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Major sporting events bring huge benefits economically, in tourism, and most of all in inspiring people to get involved in sport. As the birthplace of rugby, my hon. Friend’s wonderful constituency has an opportunity to increase its profile both nationally and internationally.

T10. Under Labour’s universal broadband pledge, everyone would now have enjoyed a year of full access to decent broadband instead of the ongoing delay and controversy. Will the Minister be sending out e-Christmas cards this year and, if so, does he take responsibility for all the problems that so many people will still have receiving them? (901632)

Call me old-fashioned, Mr Speaker, but I send out physical Christmas cards. You will receive one and so will the hon. Lady.

I am sorry to disappoint remaining colleagues, but I am afraid they will have to blame those who took too long to ask their questions or to give the answers.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Gender Pay Gap

This Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap. Women have had the legal right to equal pay for nearly 40 years, but there is still a long way to go before we achieve equality in the workplace. The Government’s focus is on driving the necessary culture change in business, in particular through improving transparency.

Forty-three years on from Barbara Castle’s landmark Equal Pay Act 1970, will the right hon. Lady be pleased to be remembered as the Minister who brought in a fee of £1,200 for a pregnant sacked woman to take a case to an employment tribunal on grounds of discrimination and her right to equal pay?

I am disappointed that the hon. Lady continues to follow this line of questioning, as she is at risk of scaremongering with her reference to the £1,200. She will know that the vast majority of individuals who want to bring a tribunal claim will pay a far lower fee and that our remissions scheme will protect those who cannot pay. I hope she will ensure that she is not scaremongering in this regard because pregnant women will want to know the facts about the support available to them.

We will not tackle the gender pay gap until we tackle gender segregation in apprenticeships. May I suggest that the Minister re-examine the conclusions of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in its “Women in the Workplace” report, and introduce a clear target and reporting strategy so that we can tackle that gender gap?

The hon. Lady is right that we want to ensure that more women see apprenticeships as an opportunity to get into different fields, particularly STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—related occupations. We know that the gender pay gap has a significant link to the career choices that women make, and apprenticeships have a good role to play.

Is it not slightly embarrassing for this Government and Labour to be lecturing about equal pay when the Equality and Human Rights Commission, under the previous Government and still today, pays white people more than it pays ethnic minority staff, pays disabled staff less than its non-disabled staff, and pays women less than it pays its male staff?

My hon. Friend is right to ensure that we are transparent about the reality within public organisations, such as that to which he refers. My Department publishes its pay so that everybody can see how it treats individuals, and I am pleased to say that the gender pay gap in my Department has disappeared. I hope that by ensuring that transparency of salary information we will continue to see more Departments in the same position.

The biggest source of the gender pay gap is the difficulty that working women have in finding well-paid employment that is flexible enough to cope with their child care requirements. What more can the Government do to increase flexibility in the workplace?

My hon. Friend is right that, rather than introducing yet more legislation, the Government have been ensuring that we modernise the workplace and that in doing so we modernise the culture around flexible working in particular. It is a shame that the Labour party in government was unable to put in place flexible working. We have set great store by flexible working for all, and ensuring that everybody, regardless of their care responsibilities, has that option available to them.

Under Labour the gender pay gap fell. This morning’s official figures show that it is now on the increase. What are the Government going to do about it?

The hon. Lady will know that under this Government more women are in work than ever before, that the figures show that salaries are rising, and that we are tackling the long-term issue of the gender pay gap by changing the culture in business. Her party failed to do that by not ensuring that flexible working was available for all. We are making sure that a workplace that was designed by men for men is now designed to accommodate women too.

Cost of Living

We recognise that these are tough times when both women and men need help with the cost of living. As last week’s autumn statement shows, the Government are providing that help—on income tax, fuel bills and council tax bills—to ensure that hard-working people can make ends meet. Critically, we are also taking the necessary steps to rebuild our economy following the financial crisis.

I have conducted research in my constituency, where 83% of women told me that they are much worse off now than they were in 2010. They said that was down to increasing energy bills and the cost of food. Does the Minister accept that there is a cost of living crisis now and that women are bearing the brunt?

I absolutely accept that people up and down the country are facing significant challenges with the cost of living, which is why the Government are taking action to help them. While we are talking about accepting things, I think that the hon. Gentleman needs to start to accept that one reason why families up and down the country are facing such challenges is the financial mess that his party got our country into.

According to analysis from the House of Commons Library and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the married couples tax break of less than £4 a week announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement will be paid to men in five out of six cases. Does the Minister believe that is the best way to support women facing a cost of living crisis?

The hon. Lady and others will be well aware of the differences within the coalition over that policy, as set out in the coalition agreement in 2010. What the Government are doing that will help women hugely is cutting income tax bills for 25 million people—six out of 10 of whom will be women—up and down the country, putting £700 back in their pockets.

Does the Minister agree that one of the costs faced by the record number of women now in work is the cost of government, which they pay for through their taxes? Will she therefore welcome the fact that 1 million women have seen a 100% reduction in the cost of their income tax?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that taking women out of income tax will help significantly. It is important that we cut people’s tax bills and ensure that the Government deliver value for money. That is what this Government are doing, because the last thing that will help women, or indeed men, is leaving this mess for the next generation to clear up.

Does my hon. Friend remember, as I do, a time when women cleaners in the City paid tax at a higher rate than their millionaire bosses and when women pensioners were offered a derisory increase of 75p in their pensions? She has already mentioned the tax thresholds, and we now have the triple lock on pensions. Is that not really good news for many women across the country?

My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that the £650 a year increase in the state pension resulting from the triple lock will hugely help women and men up and down the country with the cost of living—that is a wide range of people, from newly retired pensioners to those like my wonderful grandmother, who celebrates her 100th birthday today.

When it comes to the pay gap and the cost of living, the people who are often under the most pressure are women between the age of 30 and retirement age, where the pay gap is biggest. What is the Minister doing to help older middle-aged women to carry those burdens?

I will not be drawn into giving exact descriptions of women at different stages of life, but I think that the hon. Lady is right to highlight the fact that there is a particular issue for women in that age group. Opportunity Now has recently been undertaking Project 28-40 to research the barriers that those women, in particular, face in the workplace—if Members want to contribute to the survey, I understand that it is open until Sunday. Obviously, the changes we are making for shared parental leave and flexible working will be particularly helpful for those women.

We all send our love and congratulations to the Minister’s grandma today. Will my hon. Friend assure us that there are rigorous equality impact assessments of all Government policies for women in general, and for black and minority ethnic women and women with disabilities in particular?

My right hon. Friend makes the important point that all policies need to take into account the impact they will have on equality. Every Department has a responsibility to ensure that that is taken into account when it brings forward a policy, and not just as some kind of afterthought when it is going through a checklist at the end, but to embed that right through the policy-making process so that those things are considered at the beginning.

Office for National Statistics figures show that women working full-time have seen almost £2,500 wiped off their real earnings since the election. Does the Minister accept that this shows that her Government’s cost of living crisis is hitting women particularly hard; and why, then, are Ministers continuing with economic policies that hit women three times harder than men?

The statistics that the hon. Lady uses are entirely partial. They do not take into account, for example, the changes to the taxation system that disproportionately help women through the income tax cut that we have made. The point that she really needs to understand is that the best way to tackle the cost of living crisis is to ensure that we get on with building a stronger economy that will support jobs and growth. That is what this Government are doing, whereas Labour’s plans just rely on ever more debt that the next generation will have to clear up and pay back.

Violence Against Women

The coalition Government is strongly committed to tackling violence against women and girls. Some £40 million of funding has been ring-fenced between 2011 and 2015 for specialist domestic and sexual violence services. We have created two new offences of stalking, introduced legislation to criminalise forced marriage, and re-launched our successful national “This is Abuse” campaign. On 25 November, we also announced the roll-out of domestic violence protection orders and Clare’s law to provide greater protection for victims.

A clear majority of women in prostitution experience serious violence in an exploitative trade that promotes wider gender inequality. Will the Minister commit to reviewing the European Union’s draft report on sexual exploitation, which makes it clear that the burden of criminality should shift from seller to buyer, and write to me with his reflections?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of vulnerable women involved in prostitution. The Government is particularly concerned about women who have been trafficked who end up in that situation, and that is the primary concern that we are taking forward.

Last year 1.2 million women were victims of domestic violence. It is well known that the police do not prioritise dealing with these crimes, so what more can be done to encourage them to take them seriously and deal with them properly?

I assure my hon. Friend that we have made our concerns known to the police and to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and we are taking matters forward with them. Yesterday the Home Secretary and I met the DPP and the national policing lead to try to make sure that we understand why there has been a drop in referrals. However, it is also worth pointing out that the number of successful prosecutions for domestic violence has risen to 73%—the highest ever.

8. The recent report by the Children’s Commissioner into child sexual exploitation found really shocking levels of sexual assault and rape among children, and that young people had a very limited understanding of consent. I listened to the Minister’s response, but he said nothing about how we inform the next generation. Why are the Government refusing to implement the Children’s Commissioner’s recommendation and make sex and relationship education compulsory in all our schools?

It is a bit unfair to say that I did not mention such matters, because I referred to the re-launch of the “This is Abuse” campaign, which has already been very successful, with 85,000 visits to the website since it was launched last week and 19,000 plays of the “Hollyoaks” TV advert. We are getting through to young people through that campaign. I agree with the hon. Lady that child sexual exploitation is a very serious issue indeed, and I congratulate the deputy Children’s Commissioner on the work she has undertaken, which we are taking forward in conjunction with her.

Female genital mutilation is a particularly pernicious form of violence against women. Why has nobody in this country yet been convicted of being a party to this appalling practice?

That is a question I have asked the Director of Public Prosecutions, because the legislation has been on the statute book for 28 years and throughout that time there has been no successful prosecution. I think that that partly relates to the reluctance of children to give evidence against parents. I assure my hon. Friend that we are considering the matter. The DPP is looking at existing cases and reviewing whether we can reopen some of them, and I am hopeful that there will be prosecutions in the near future.

Effects of Economic Climate on Ethnic Minorities

4. What assessment she has made of the effect of the economic climate on people in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. (901596)

The Government’s policy is to help disadvantaged communities and disadvantaged areas. It does not prioritise any particular race or ethnic background.

On Monday, Members from across the House spoke passionately about what Nelson Mandela had done to make the world a fairer place, but those words are meaningless if they are not followed up by deeds. It is unacceptable in 21st-century Britain that black men are more likely to be unemployed than white men, and that women from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are twice as likely to be unemployed as the national average. Why is there not a comprehensive racial equality strategy to address these issues?

The hon. Lady makes important points, but I must tell her that there are more ethnic minority people in work in the UK—3.1 million—than ever before. More, of course, needs to be done, which is why the Government have in place a range of tailored support through Jobcentre Plus, the Work programme, the youth contract and our Get Britain Working measures.