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Topical Questions

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

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.