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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—

Football Governance

I should explain to the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot be with us today, as she is in the United States.

I continue to work with the football authorities in pressing for improvements in the game. They have made some very positive changes, notably to their governance and financial fair play rules, but I believe that they can and will make further progress. We intend to legislate if football fails in that important task.

I declare my interest as one of the founders of the Fulham Supporters Trust, and I can increase the Minister’s burgeoning understanding of football by telling her that this has not been a great season for Fulham so far.

When the Select Committee reported in 2011, it referred to some of the problems of the role of supporters in the game. In his response to the Committee’s follow-up report almost exactly a year ago, the Minister’s predecessor said that he would soon set up an expert working group, under the auspices of the Department, to examine the role of fans in the governance of football, but as yet that has not happened. Will the Minister tell me when exactly it will happen, so that fans can see that the Government are taking the agenda seriously and not just paying lip service to it?

I am very interested in this issue. I have met representatives of Supporters Direct, and we are considering a recently updated proposal that we have received from the organisation in the last few weeks relating to the setting up of the expert group, which will enhance supporter engagement. I am keen to press on with this. I will continue to work with the Football Association and with football authorities, and will take the FA up on its offer to provide secretarial support for the group.

Given the recent conviction of the former owner of Birmingham City football club for money laundering, the fraud convictions of the putative owner of Leeds United, and the fact that we still do not know the identities of the individuals who own Coventry City, does the Minister agree that a “fit and proper person” test should be applied to the owners of football clubs, and that it should be administered by the authorities and, if necessary, given the legal security of being underpinned by statute?

My hon. Friend has made an important point, but I believe that the enhanced checks and requirements that have been introduced by the football authorities are making some difference. I am also hopeful that the Football Association regulatory authority will ensure that changes in club ownership are much more fully scrutinised.

Is the Minister aware that 12 months ago her predecessor promised us that the Government would present proposals based on the Select Committee’s report? The current situation in Coventry is disgraceful: fans have to make a round trip of about 70 miles to Northampton. When will we see some real action to deal with that?

I think that we are starting to see some action, but I agree that we need to see more. Last August the Football Association introduced reforms which included smaller boards and a new licensing system to deal with matters relating to ownership, finance and supporters. I think it fair to say that a start has been made, but more needs to be done, and if it is not done, we will legislate.

Broadband Infrastructure

2. What recent estimate she has made of the number of businesses that have secured contracts from (a) Broadband Delivery UK and (b) local authorities for broadband infrastructure development in England and Wales. (903015)

Broadband Delivery UK has entered into a framework contract with BT and Fujitsu. There are 40 local authority projects in England with funding from BDUK, and the Welsh Government have one project in Wales. All the contracts have been delivered via BT. I am pleased to say that, under the super-connected cities programme, 70 suppliers have been registered, 300 vouchers have been awarded, and 1,000 more are in the pipeline.

In a recent report, the Public Accounts Committee said that local authorities were contributing £236 million more than the Department had predicted in its 2011 business case, and that the sole monopoly provider, BT, had contributed £207 million less. As the Minister responsible throughout the programme, does the Under-Secretary of State believe that that is an effective use of public money?

I do. Ofcom confirmed yesterday that we now have the best broadband in the European “big five”, and the fastest roll-out of 4G in the world. We continue to press ahead with 5G, we have published our spectrum strategy, and we have one of the most formidable digital infrastructure programmes in the world.

I commend my hon. Friend on the work that he is doing, but he no doubt shares my disappointment that Thirsk, Malton and Filey will have only 78% high-speed cover by 2015-16. Will the Government reverse their priorities to ensure that, with the help of NYnet’s excellent work, broadband will penetrate the hardest-to-reach areas in rural constituencies?

North Yorkshire has one of the most advanced broadband programmes so far, with more than 75,000 premises already passed. The councils in north Yorkshire are to be commended for that. As my hon. Friend knows, we have awarded an additional £250 million in order to push out our programme for rural broadband to help rural premises and businesses.

Recently the Prime Minister was mocked by Chancellor Merkel for the slow progress in rolling out broadband across the UK and the number of not spot areas, many of which reside in my constituency. Although I accept that this is largely a devolved issue, what extra help can the Minister give the Welsh Government to ensure that when the Prime Minister next meets the German Chancellor he is not embarrassed?

More than 100,000 premises in Wales have already been passed and the target is to reach almost 700,000 by early 2016. If the Prime Minister sees Chancellor Merkel again and wishes to discuss broadband, he can present her with the Ofcom scorecard, which shows that Britain’s broadband is better than Germany’s. I would not say that this was a case of schadenfreude—except that schadenfreude is the only German word I know.

Will smaller companies with innovative technologies get a slice of the action in reaching the last 10% of hardest-to- reach rural areas? To that end, although the money offered by the Department for Communities and Local Government is welcome, is there not a danger, if it must be match funded by local authorities at a time of funding crisis, that the process will be much slower than it would otherwise be?

I hate to get territorial but the money has actually been offered by DCMS not DCLG. It is important that the money is match funded because having local authorities involved makes the programme even more effective than it already is, but as my hon. Friend knows we have a £10 million innovation fund for the last 5%, which we are hoping many young and nimble companies will apply for.

First World War Commemoration

The Government will deliver a four-year programme to mark the centenary, focused around the themes of remembrance, youth and education. We will lead the nation in appropriate acts of remembrance and provide a framework for learning, community and cultural projects through a package of funded activity worth nearly £100 million.

As part of our local commemorations, I am leading a project that will see schools, veterans organisations, sports bodies, clubs, societies and the wider community in Basildon and its two twin-towns of Heiligenhaus in Germany and Ville de Meaux in France come together to create a unique trilingual exhibition exploring social attitudes then and now called “Never forget”, “N’oubliez jamais” and “Niemals vergessen”. Does my hon. Friend agree that the commemorations offer an excellent opportunity to remember that however dark the hour, there is always light and hope to be found?

This is becoming a multilingual Question Time. Having recently visited Thurrock and seen for myself the amazing cultural activity that goes on in my hon. Friend’s part of the world, I have to say that the innovation he talks about does not surprise me in the slightest.

Will the Minister say a little bit about the importance of the contribution of what were British empire troops—troops from Commonwealth countries of today? What exactly is happening to link up with other countries to commemorate and highlight their vital contribution in the first world war?

We have an extensive engagement with Commonwealth countries and we are determined to acknowledge the role of the Commonwealth countries, recognising that the war could not have been won without them. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will write to the hon. Gentleman detailing exactly the activities we are undertaking with Commonwealth countries.

14. Will my hon. Friend work with me and the dedicated voluntary group Swindon in the Great War, which is doing everything it can to mark the significance of the centenary with commemorative events, but which is finding the process of obtaining funding a challenging one? (903030)

My hon. Friend is a neighbour of mine and I know that there is a lot of cultural activity and innovation in Swindon. He will have many small community groups that will want to apply for funding, and I will certainly assist him as much as I can. The Heritage Lottery Fund is extremely keen to make the application process as simple as possible.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating local communities who are taking initiatives to raise funds to commemorate the first world war, particularly those in the Shankill road in my constituency who are getting together with people in other communities to raise a suitable commemorative memorial in Woodvale park? That is a tremendous initiative and it deserves to be congratulated.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly important point. The remembrance activities must involve all communities, and we should be tremendously proud of the way in which the communities are getting involved. One of the important parts of the commemorations over the next four years will be to bring younger generations into these activities.

On that important point about younger generations learning about the almighty sacrifices that were made in the great war, will the Minister give us an update on the millions of pounds of funding he has put towards schools’ battlefield tours?

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that more than £5 million has been set aside to enable secondary schools to visit battlefield sites. Over the course of four years, every secondary school in the United Kingdom will be able to send at least two pupils to visit the battlefields of world war one.

May I urge the Minister to think carefully about the contribution that Members of this House and of the other House made to the first world war? On 6 November 1914, Arthur O’Neill, a Member of this House, was killed at Klein Zillebeke while on active service. Four days later, Henry Parnell, a Member of the other House, and Bernard Gordon-Lennox had also been killed. They have a war grave at Klein Zillebeke. Would it not be a good idea to commemorate them in Belgium? Perhaps the Minister could mention this to any important Belgian visitors who might be coming here today.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. It is important that we recognise the contribution to world war one made over a wide range by many different groups. Recognising the contribution made by hon. Members is particularly apposite.

Football Clubs (Supporter Engagement)

Supporters are key to the success of any football club and I commend their active engagement in the sport. My Department works closely with Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation, and will of course continue to do so.

I thank the Minister for her answer. I should like to put on record my membership of the Cardiff City Supporters Trust and the Cardiff City Supporters Club. Given the importance of emblems, colours and club names to national heritage, what consultations does the Minister think should take place as a matter of course with supporters’ representatives if any changes to those elements are proposed? Does she think that that should form a key part of future licensing arrangements for football clubs?

The role that supporters play is critical, and I am encouraging the football authorities further to develop their relationships with supporter groups. As the hon. Gentleman knows, financial support is made and supporter liaison officers are in place. The offer of secretariat support for the expert group that I have mentioned is also a welcome move, but more needs to be done.

BBC (Funding)

No assessment has been made at this stage. The review of the BBC’s charter will be the appropriate juncture at which to consider all aspects of the BBC, including how it is funded. We have not yet set out proposals for the timing, scope or process of the charter review.

Does the Minister agree that, despite the BBC’s annus horribilis over the past year, the licence fee has delivered the finest broadcasting company in the world, and that we should defend it? Could we have a “fit and proper person” test for the chairman of the BBC? Is it not time that we had fresh leadership at the BBC?

I am a great supporter of the chairman of the BBC Trust, to whom I think the hon. Gentleman was referring. I am also a great supporter of the BBC, and I echo what he has just said: it produces some of the finest programming in the world.

The BBC is for ever telling us that the licence fee represents excellent value for money. If that is the case, does the Minister agree that it would have nothing to fear from moving to a voluntary subscription arrangement? Presumably, everyone would be queuing down the street to pay their subscription, if it provided such excellent value for money. We certainly do not need the criminal law to force people to pay it.

One of the reasons that the licence fee represents value for money is that this Government have frozen it for the past four years.

Despite its disadvantages, the licence fee remains a good way of funding the BBC. Of course no one wants to see 50 people go to prison each year for non-payment, but given the financial implications of decriminalisation, this is clearly a matter to be considered alongside the other funding issues at the time of the royal charter renewal. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Government will reject new clause 1 to the Deregulation Bill, tabled by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen)?

My Secretary of State is on record as saying that this is an idea that needs considering, although I do not want to get ahead of myself, because there is a question on the matter further down the Order Paper. She is also on record suggesting that the best way to consider it is as part of charter review.

11. Does the Minister agree that any change to licence fee enforcement would go against the coalition agreement of 2010, which committed to a full financial settlement for the BBC up to the end of 2016-17, given that it has been estimated that the amendment, if passed, could cost the BBC £200 million a year in revenue? (903025)

My hon. Friend illustrates the point perfectly. There are many complicated issues surrounding the debate that has started about decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee. It is important that all those factors are taken into account, which is why the Government’s position is that it is perhaps better to do so during charter review.

Betting Shops (Area Deprivation)

6. What assessment she has made of the social and economic effects of betting shops in areas with high levels of deprivation. (903020)

The Government continue to examine the relationship between area deprivation and the impact of betting shops as part of our ongoing review, which will report later this spring.

Many of my constituents and I enjoy watching football and other sports on television, but we are sick and tired of betting ad after betting ad during every event under the sun. Coupled with the increasing number of bookie shops in communities, that is driving betting culture, particularly among young people, who are promised an easy fortune but do not get it. Will the Government do anything to cut the advertising and this escalation of betting promotion to protect our communities into the future?

The hon. Gentleman raises a lot of important issues there, but I can tell him that considerable pressure is being kept on the industry. I met the chief executives of the big five bookies in December and January. We requested and they have complied with strengthened player protections. The Secretary of State has also asked the Gambling Commission to consider tougher and mandated player protections. She has also asked other regulators to review gambling advertising.

15. Given that more money is staked on the national lottery than is staked in betting shops across the nation, is that not a much bigger threat to deprived communities? Is it not better to have a betting shop on the high street than an empty shop, which is often the challenge? (903032)

My hon. Friend needs to remember that betting and gambling are safe activities. Betting is legal and is enjoyed safely by many millions of people up and down the country. We just need to ensure that those who are vulnerable are properly protected. This is what the Government are determined to do.

What analysis have the Government made of the link between betting shops and the explosion of payday loan outlets on our high streets?

Betting shops tend to be located in areas of high footfall. It is not at all clear that there is a link between area deprivation and problem gambling, but our ongoing review will assess the available evidence. We will report later this year on that matter.

Having stood shoulder to shoulder with the betting industry, the Government have been forced into a series of humiliating climbdowns in the Lords on virtually everything that we have been telling them that they must do—review of pre-watershed advertising, regulating spread betting, one-stop shop for self-exclusion and adopting the code of the Association of British Bookmakers as mandatory, having told us that that was unnecessary. I wonder whether the Minister ever feels that she is in office, but that we are running her Department. I have another instruction for the Minister: give councils the powers that they are calling for to limit the number of fixed odds betting terminals in their areas. Are the Government on the side of local people or of the betting industry?

I am staggered by the shadow Minister’s statement. He complains about the number of bookies on the high street and about the proliferation of FOBTs, yet it was his Government’s Gambling Act 2005 and liberalisation over 13 years—their relaxation of the rules—that put the country in the position that we are in now. I am afraid that I will take no lessons from him.

Women’s Participation in Sport

Our £1 billion youth and community sport strategy is delivering new ways to help women and girls develop a sporting habit for life. We have invested £2.3 million in a year-long pilot in Bury looking at ways to break down the barriers to female participation. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that the pilot is producing some very good results.

Back in February, the Minister made some remarks about the fact that different types of women may be attracted, or not attracted, to different types of sports and physical activity. Although I agree with the general point she made, I was worried by her simple characterisation of some sports as “feminine” and others as “unfeminine”. Does she regret her choice of words? Does she accept that many women would see her remarks as simply some sort of throwback to the 1920s?

I caution the hon. Lady about believing everything she sees and reads in our newspapers, and I am a little surprised at her question. Nevertheless, I am happy to provide clarification by saying to her what I said to the press: we should be listening to what our women and girls want, and we should be giving it to them. We should not be prescriptive, but we should be listening. As a sportswoman myself, I believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. In addition, I think our sports governing bodies need to work harder and be even more innovative in attracting women. We also need to share best practice so that other sports can learn lessons from sports, such as boxing and netball, that are doing particularly well in attracting women.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Kent FA on its highly successful Goals for Girls event held in my constituency last Saturday and Sky Sports on covering it live? Is that not an example of how broadcasters should be showcasing women’s and girls’ sport, encouraging them to participate in all sorts of physical activity?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I know that a considerable amount of football activity takes place in her neck of the woods. While she was attending her event last Saturday, I was attending a girls under-15s international in Maidstone, where England won 8-0. On her point about the media, if we want to see more women in sport and an increased profile of them, we need the media to do more. The BBC and Sky have upped their game since the last Olympics, with individuals such as Barbara Slater doing a lot more.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should take this opportunity to place on the record our great thanks to our successful Olympians and Paralympians in Sochi, particularly Lizzy Yarnold and Jade Etherington? This should be used to encourage more women to reach the top of their chosen sport.

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. Our Olympians and Paralympians are making us very proud. They are brilliant role models in their own right and I know that they are inspiring a lot more women and girls in our country to take up sport.

Sport for People with Limb Loss

8. What support the Government are providing for PE and recreational sport for people with limb loss; and if she will make a statement. (903022)

Since this Government came to power, an extra 200,000 disabled people are playing sport on a very regular basis. Through Sport England, we are investing £170 million to improve sporting opportunities for those with disabilities, including limb loss.

Given the success of our Paralympians in both the summer and winter games, and the inspirational effect they have on young amputees, does the Minister share my concern that NHS England is supplying either a sports limb or a standard limb to young people, thereby restricting their capacity to compete or take part in recreational sport? Will she agree to talk urgently to her colleagues in the Department of Health about that, because it is having a serious impact?

I am certainly very happy to take up the matter that the hon. Lady raises. Increasing participation in sport for disabled people is a key priority for this Government and for Sport England. There is still an unacceptable gap between the numbers of disabled and non-disabled people doing sport, and we need to make sure that the gap closes.

Does the Minister agree that skiers such as Kelly Gallagher and our Paralympians are a fine example of what everyone can achieve in this country?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Jade Etherington and Kelly Gallagher, and their guides, Caroline Powell and Charlotte Evans, are glowing examples of what can be achieved by sportswomen in this country.

Online Antisocial Behaviour

9. What recent discussions she has had with social media companies on tackling online antisocial behaviour. (903023)

I chaired a meeting with social media companies on 13 February to discuss measures to protect people when they are online. We confirmed our position that social media companies should respond quickly to incidents of abusive behaviour on their networks and ensure that they have measures to protect users. We intend to continue to work with industry on those issues.

We have continually called on the Government to introduce legislation to deal with the epidemic of cyber-bullying that we are witnessing, so why do they not make it an offence in its own right?

Working with social media companies in a flexible, responsive way is the best way forward. We have covered a whole range of issues, including age and identity verification, the reporting of abuse, adjudication, auditing, filtering and funding; we can cover all of those comprehensively and flexibly through dialogue.

Adam Simmonds, the police and crime commissioner for Northamptonshire, is determined to tackle online crime, and particularly the issue of child victims. He set up a child exploitation prevention team, which is a national lead pilot. Will the Minister work with colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that Government funding for such pilots can be directed at local police forces, and not just at regional or national crime agencies?

I will certainly bring my hon. Friend’s concerns to the attention of the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims; in fact, this afternoon, he and I will chair the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, which brings together a range of stakeholders to talk about these issues.

2022 World Cup (Migrant Workers)

10. What discussions she has had with FIFA and the Football Association on the rights of migrant workers in Qatar employed in preparations for the 2022 World cup. (903024)

While there have been no direct discussions with the FA or FIFA, the Government have regular discussions with the Qatari authorities on issues including human rights, and welcome their pledge to investigate the treatment of migrant workers.

May I suggest that the Minister pulls her finger out and starts raising this issue? The football industry seems far more concerned about the weather during the World cup than the fact that hundreds of Nepalese and Indian workers have died constructing the sites. Even more grotesquely, perhaps, those who get seriously injured are left financially destitute precisely because they are injured. Will the Minister raise this issue properly, as the Government should?

Indeed, the issue has been raised by colleagues in the Foreign Office, but we will of course continue to encourage the Qatari authorities and other interested parties to do more. We need to make progress on improving the living and working conditions of migrant labourers. Of course, we stand ready to support those efforts where we can.

Local Newspapers

12. What information her Department holds on the number of local newspapers that have closed since May 2010; and what steps she plans to take to support such newspapers. (903027)

The Department does not hold that information, but our local press plays an incredibly valuable role in local communities, and we appreciate the challenges facing the sector. We have a number of policies to support local newspapers.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he have a view on the number of local papers that have, like the excellent Scunthorpe Telegraph, since May 2010 moved from being daily newspapers serving their community to being weekly newspapers serving their community? What impact does that have on communities?

I understand that the Scunthorpe Telegraph has made that move and that, as a result, its circulation has gradually risen by a small amount. The Government have restricted the amount of local papers that councils can put out, relaxed media ownership rules, and continued to have statutory notices in local papers, so we do want to support local papers where we can.

Is not one of the big tragedies resulting from the loss of local newspapers the impact on journalistic training and the quality of scrutiny of our councils? Is the Minister having discussions with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about this important matter?

I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s point that we rely very much on the quality of local journalism to hold local councils to account, and it is important that, where possible, savings are made and money continues to be invested in local journalism. My local newspaper group, which publishes the Oxford Mail and the Herald, tries to invest as much as it can in local journalism because it recognises that that is what sells its papers.

Contemporary Arts

The Arts Council invests funding to nurture and champion talented artists across the country. Over the life of this Parliament, this Government are investing nearly £3 billion in the arts.

The film maker, Steve McQueen, learned his craft with the support of small-scale contemporary arts organisations, as do the majority of our artists. Does the Minister agree that for our internationally regarded arts scene to flourish, grass-roots contemporary arts organisations need the security of Government funding to maintain the significant contribution that they make both to our economy and to our culture?

I certainly do, and I am pleased to see the amount of funding that is going to the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, which the hon. Lady used to run. Further to my earlier reference to my visit to Thurrock, I was delighted to see the new artists’ studios that have opened there to support artists from the local area.

Topical Questions

I have already mentioned in passing the £250 million superfast extension programme and our European pre-eminence in all matters broadband. Since we last met, we have published our spectrum strategy, and both the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister have travelled to Sochi to support the extremely successful Team GB, which had the best results in any winter Olympics for 90 years.

Trafford Park in my constituency is due to be connected to superfast broadband as part of the Greater Manchester rural broadband programme, which is vital for the many businesses located on the park. What can the Minister do to ensure that the programme remains on track so that every business in priority areas of economic growth is connected following the completion of the BDUK programme?

I will strain every sinew to ensure that the programme remains on track. That is my pledge to the hon. Lady and I am pleased to say that our programme is now ahead of schedule, that BT has completed its £2.5 billion commercial roll-out and that we have the best broadband of the big five in Europe.

T2. In Macclesfield, we are rightly proud of our rich silk heritage, which will be highlighted during the 200th anniversary of our Sunday school building, which is part of the Silk Museums Trust. With that in mind, will my hon. Friend tell the House what steps are being taken to celebrate the heritage of our traditional craft industries? (903005)

Of course I can. My Department works with the Heritage Crafts Association and other bodies on the Craft Industry Board set up by creative and cultural skills to support the economic growth of the craft sector. I am also delighted that the craft sector has been chosen as one of the groups in the second phase of the apprenticeship trailblazers and that, at the end of last year, we managed to list at grade I the Queen Street Mill in Burnley, which is a late 19th-century textile weaving mill. I thank my hon. Friend for that question.

It is the right of each and every child to have the experience of, and opportunities in, culture and the arts, and it is important for our economy too. So it is of great concern that at GCSE, fewer children are sitting art and design. Music is down 9% and drama is down 13%, and we see the same happening in A-levels. How can we nurture the next generation of talent and how can young people fulfil their potential as human beings and engaged citizens, never mind their creative potential in the arts, if they do not have the chance in school? Does the Secretary of State’s assertion that the Government are making great strides to ensure that the arts are a central part of every child’s education not sound increasingly out of touch?

I met the Minister for Schools only this week to discuss the success of our cultural and music education plans. We are the first Government to introduce a national music education plan. We set aside hundreds of millions of pounds to create music hubs, to extend the In Harmony scheme and to support the teaching of music in schools. The Secretary of State for Education has, through his own personal initiative, supported initiatives such as Shakespeare in schools and heritage schools, and the Arts Council has its bridge organisations. There is a lot going on in cultural education and in music education, and I urge the right hon. and learned Lady to have a look.

T3. Does the Minister agree that the BBC’s duty to provide fair and impartial coverage needs to reflect the views of the many people who question the so-called consensus on climate change and that the BBC must stop acting like the public affairs department of Friends of the Earth? (903006)

T5. Power sellers are purchasing thousands of tickets to top musical and sporting events online within seconds and selling them on minutes later for massive mark-ups. What are the Government doing to stop this distortion of the market and to stop fans being ripped off? (903009)

We do not have any plans to introduce legislation, which is what I am constantly asked about. We want all the various organisations and events as well as everyone else connected with ticketing to look at the facilities that are available and I am confident that that will happen so that people can enjoy events in the right way and access tickets at a fair and reasonable price.

T4. In a few weekends’ time, Tamworth council will hold its 10th St George’s day festival, which is a great day out for all the family and a boon to local businesses. Feel free to come along, Mr Speaker, if you wish. Will my hon. Friend support that initiative and encourage other local authorities to follow Tamworth’s lead, which makes the best use of our heritage assets and encourages local people to take a greater interest in the local history and traditions? (903008)

The Tamworth St George’s day festival is renowned throughout the country, if not the world, and I hope that many councils across the country will be looking at how Tamworth uses St George’s day to highlight its incredible heritage assets.

T6. The Minister responsible for the arts will, I am sure, be aware that the critically acclaimed film “Under the Skin”—which, incidentally, had its UK premiere at the excellent Glasgow film festival last month—was one of a number of UK co-productions in recent times. What assessment has the Department made of the impact of precluding co-productions from funding through the enterprise investment scheme on the British film industry? (903010)

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. We support co-production across the world and have signed many co-production treaties over the past three years. I am not quite clear how those treaties are inhibiting the creation of British films; I rather thought they were supporting them. If he wants to write to me in greater detail, I will respond more fully.

T8. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Following the Minister’s January meeting with the Tourism Alliance, she was keen to secure a cross-Departmental council with the aim of boosting Government action to boost tourism growth. Will she advise the House on what progress has been made in setting up that council? (903012)

I remain keen to set up a tourism council at the earliest possible opportunity. A large amount of work has been done and I have asked my officials to work with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to consider how best to achieve that.

T7. Many of my constituents are concerned about the advertising of gambling through broadcast media, particularly at times when children and young people see it—that is, the kind of advertising that makes it seem easy to win big money very quickly. What steps is the Minister taking to tackle that problem? (903011)

The Secretary of State recently made it quite clear in a statement and a speech that we have asked the appropriate regulators to look into gambling advertising in the context of the rules, regulations and guidelines.

Wiltshire council has more than met the match-funding requirements for Government support for broadband so far. I welcome the superfast broadband extension programme, but will the Minister assure me that that early commitment will count in favour of the council and not against it when the Government seek match funding for the latest scheme?

We want councils to match fund the money we have put up for the superfast broadband extension programme, as it is important that they are involved. I recognise the amazing work that has been done in Wiltshire, and I have visited to see the work being done on broadband roll-out. I hear what has been said.

My constituents are concerned about the impact a third betting shop will have on a small geographical area in Formby, and they are amazed that there is nothing that they or their councillors can do to prevent that shop from opening. Will the Minister listen to people up and down the country who are concerned about the impact of too many betting shops and will she allow local communities the powers to prevent the spread of such shops?

I always try to listen. These are important issues. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that local authorities have good powers at their disposal to control the location and number of betting shops through article 4 directions and use of their licensing conditions, but of course I shall continue to listen.

According to the recent health survey, the only two forms of gambling in which the poorest people are more likely to participate than the richest people are bingo and scratchcards. Given that fact, can the Minister justify allowing 16-year-olds to buy scratchcards when for any other form of gambling the minimum age is 18? Will she review that urgently and ensure that buying scratchcards is something that can only be done by 18-year-olds?

I am aware that my hon. Friend has considerable knowledge in this area. I am happy to look into the issue of scratchcards and come back to him.

Women and Equalities

The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—

Disabled People

1. What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. (903033)

3. What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. (903035)

6. What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. (903039)

The Treasury regularly produces analysis of the cumulative impact of coalition changes, including welfare. However, even independent bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies do not feel that results can be broken down reliably for the disabled community.

In my Stockton North constituency, 860 disabled people have been referred to the Work programme, but only 60 have found employment as a result. Does the Minister agree that a 7% success rate is appalling? What will he do to ensure that Work programme contractors provide greater specialist support for disabled people to help them into work instead of abandoning them?

There was only one Government who abandoned disabled people on the Work programme and that was the previous Administration, and that is the truth. We will not allow that to happen. We will work very closely—[Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers can try to shout me down, but it is the truth, and everyone knows it is the truth. Yesterday I was in Leeds where we talked to employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to give them the confidence to employ people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.

The Government finally seem to have woken up to the scale of the problems that Atos has in delivering the work capability assessment. Why then has it been awarded the personal independence payment contract when it is clear that it has such serious capacity problems?

We are doing something to address the Atos WCA contract that the previous Government brought in. We are working with it to get it out of that programme, because we are not happy with the quality. We will work with it and Capita in ensuring that PIP produces exactly what it needs to do.

A disabled constituent of mine, in common with many others, has been called in four times for assessment by Atos and had his entitlement docked. He has gone to appeal, had a successful result, and had it reinstated four times. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about setting a limit on the number of times that Atos can call in people for a reassessment in any given period? It is a total waste of public money as well as causing immense distress to constituents.

That is exactly what I have been looking at. In particular, I have been looking at tribunal cases, as we have a backlog of cases on the WCA, the policies before PIP and the disability living allowance. I am looking carefully at what is happening. Some can actually go for up to 10 years. That is what I intend to do for people who are desperately in need of the benefit, so that they are not called in as much as they are now.

Does the Minister agree that it is really important that everyone in this country can fulfil their potential and do really well in the workplace? To that end, what is being done to engage employers and help disabled people do really well in business?

As I have said, we have a programme going round the regions at the moment—it was started by the Prime Minister in London—to give employers the confidence to take on employees and to break the myth that it is more expensive and more difficult to employ disabled people or people with long-term illnesses. We all know that they will give more loyalty, dedication and commitment than anyone else in the work place.

I welcome the written statement from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), that discretionary housing payments can be made available for long-term or indefinite periods for disabled people. Will the Minister ensure that that applies across the board so that people do not have to keep being reassessed when there is no realistic prospect of them recovering?

That is exactly what I am looking at now, as I alluded to in my answer to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). We want to ensure that when someone has gone to appeal and won at the tribunal, they are not called back in, because there is a suspicion that that is vindictive. We will ensure that that does not happen.

The introduction of personal independence payment requires applicants to complete a demanding form—I am sure that the Minister would call it rigorous—so what assistance is his Department providing to people who are blind or partially sighted in completing the paperwork?

PIP is replacing disability living allowance, less than 6% of the recipients of which ever had a face-to-face assessment. At the moment, around 90% to 95% of claimants are being called for a face-to-face assessment, which is much too high, and we will bring that down as much as possible. We are working with the relevant lobby groups, particularly the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to ensure that the information is available in a way that can be used across the board.

This morning I received a letter from my constituent Tracy, a distressed and house-bound disabled woman who put in a claim for PIP last August but is still waiting for a home visit. She has been told that she might have to wait another six months. It is yet another example of how disabled people are being failed. What is the Minister going to do about it?

People are waiting too long for PIP assessments, partly because of the number being called for face-to-face assessments—between 90% and 95%— which is much too high. The policy was for that to be about 70%, so I think that it could be reduced further. We are looking carefully at whether it is absolutely necessary for that number of people to be called for assessment. When a face-to-face assessment is not needed, PIP will be granted without it.

Occupational Gender Segregation

We asked the Women’s Business Council to look at how we could tackle the barriers women face in the workplace and when choosing a career. It published its recommendations in June last year, and we are working closely with businesses and across Government to turn them into reality.

It is worrying that the number of female apprentices has dropped, and much more needs to be done to attract women into traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as engineering and manufacturing. When will we see some progress from the Government on that?

The Government are very proud of our record on apprentices. Over this Parliament we are funding a quarter of a million more apprenticeship places. In fact, more girls and women are taking up these opportunities than boys and men, particularly at the higher levels, where over 60% of apprentices are women. There is an issue with the proportion of women taking up more traditionally male apprenticeships, which is something I will be taking up with the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock).

Women in Public Life

The Government have enabled political parties to use positive action, should they so wish, to increase participation by under-represented groups. We have extended to 2030 their ability to use women-only shortlists. We have also set an aspiration that 50% of new public appointments should be filled by women by the end of this Parliament.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it was a Conservative, Mrs Pankhurst, who campaigned for votes for women; that it was the Conservative party that gave all women the vote; that the first woman to take her seat in this House was a Conservative; and that it was the Conservative party that provided this country’s first woman Prime Minister? We will take no lessons from others about our commitment to enhancing opportunities for women. As I am sure you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, the Unites States will have an opportunity in two years’ time to elect a woman as their next President—Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Yes, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our party has a proud record on all these areas. However, we recognise that we are on a journey and that it is far from complete. It is therefore very important that all parties continue to prioritise that very important issue.

I wonder whether the Minister can help me. Since 3 February I have been asking various Government Departments about the gender breakdown of public appointments they make and which ones are paid. All the Departments consistently refer me to a table published by the Cabinet Office that makes no reference to which roles are paid. Will she ensure that we know how many women appointed to public office by this Government are paid and how many men similarly appointed are paid?

I know that this is an important issue for the hon. Lady and that she raised it during the international women’s day debate. The Government have a very good record on public appointments. I will do my best to find that information for her. I am aware that she has made a freedom of information request. If she does not receive an answer in the next few weeks, I shall be very happy to look into the matter further.

Will the Minister join me, and I am sure many hon. Members in this House, in congratulating Boni Sones OBE on her achievements in founding and running Women’s Parliamentary Radio? Her work will be archived at the London School of Economics and has led to the book “When There’s a Woman in the Room”. Does the Minister agree that Boni Sones deserves this House’s sincere thanks for encouraging women to participate in public life in the UK and overseas?

I am very happy to endorse and agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. Boni Sones is a fantastic role model in her own right and has done considerable amounts for the representation of women in Parliament.

Will the Minister join me in condemning the Financial Secretary’s comment this week that there are no women on the Monetary Policy Committee because

“appointments are made on merit”?

I am not aware of the exact details of what my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has allegedly said, but as the hon. Lady has already heard, this party has a proud record in relation to women’s progression. The coalition has driven through a number of policies to promote women and to allow them to develop on merit, and I am sure that that process will continue.

When Labour was in government there was always a woman on the Monetary Policy Committee. Again, I invite the Minister to condemn the comment by the Financial Secretary that

“appointments are made on merit.”

It is obviously a matter for the Bank of England to make its own appointments. However, these are issues for everyone: for Parliament and for all businesses. We must do whatever we can to make sure that women progress and get into positions of power, and I am in no doubt that that process will continue if we all work together.

By maintaining the law that allows the Labour party to use women-only shortlists for selecting its candidates, the Minister must accept that that means either that Labour party selection committees are inherently sexist and turn down the best woman for the job in favour of a man, or that we are not getting the best person for the job in the seats concerned. Can she tell us which one of those it is?

On women-only shortlists, we are a democratic political party and we do not dictate to our grass roots. We know that some of our associations have already chosen women from their own shortlists, but this is a matter for them to decide on.

Women in Work

There are record numbers of women in work and we are taking strong action to support them, including by extending the right to request flexible working from June this year, introducing a new system of shared parental leave from next April, and supporting families through the new tax-free child care scheme from next October.

For international women’s day last Friday, we held a What Women Want at Work event in Westgate community college. Women from across the constituency raised many issues, including zero-hours contracts, sexism, stereotypes and the minimum wage, but the No. 1 issue was child care and how it prevented mums from going to work and those in work from having children. Will the Minister now back Labour’s pledge to increase free child care for three and four-year-olds to 25 hours?

This Government have done a huge amount to improve the child care situation for women in work. We have increased the number of hours that are available free for three and four-year-olds and extended that to more deprived two-year-olds. Under universal credit, we will increase the amount that is refunded for recipients of child care tax credit from 70% to 85%. As I said, from next year we are introducing tax-free child care for parents of children under the age of 12. We are also increasing the number of child care places, and this is having an impact. For example, the cost of child care, particularly after-school child care, is starting to come down in England.

7. The renaissance in manufacturing, particularly in the car industry, means that there is a skills shortage that could be reduced if more women chose that career path. Will the Minister encourage other companies to act like Jaguar Land Rover, going into secondary and primary schools to advocate such career paths? (903040)

The right hon. Lady is right. This is very important. The Government are doing quite a lot of work to try to encourage the number of women going into science, technology, engineering and maths. The Government have a project with the Royal Society on diversity in STEM and we are supporting a scheme of STEM ambassadors going into schools to encourage people to take up those subjects. Of the 25,000 ambassadors, 40% are women and 10% are from ethnic minorities, so the Government are doing as much as they can to try to increase the number of women in these areas.

Women in Work (Overseas)

8. What discussions she has had with her overseas counterparts on steps to promote the role of women in work internationally. (903041)

We participate in the EU presidency Gender Ministers meetings, which enables us to discuss all the goals in the Europe 2020 strategy and the Beijing platform for action, including women’s employment.

Only yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities spoke at an international event at the Commission on the Status of Women, organised with the Tanzanian Minister of Equalities, specifically to promote women working in the science, technology, engineering and maths industries.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Although I agree with the Financial Secretary that appointments should be made on merit, does the Minister agree that City regulators’ record on appointing high-calibre women is pathetic, and that if they were to identify those women, that would go a long way to promoting women in work internationally and they would be very good role models?

The hon. Lady is quite right. We definitely need to increase the number of women in senior roles, not only in the City and financial institutions but across the country more generally. This Government have done a huge amount of work with Lord Davies to increase the number of women on boards and we are starting to see a significant increase in the number of women in those positions. At the beginning of this Parliament, the figure was 12.5%; it is now more than 20% and we are on target to hit 25% by next year. I agree with the hon. Lady, however, that this is an important issue that we need to tackle.