Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 1 May 2014

It is a pleasure to join you for my first oral questions as Secretary of State, Mr Speaker. The Department continues its work in a large number of areas, including but not limited to extending sporting and cultural opportunities to as many people as possible, promoting the creative industries, encouraging both international and domestic tourism and delivering a transformation of broadband.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role. We know of the multiple benefits of sport in all its forms, but particularly of the social and health benefits. However, a recent survey by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found that more than half of girls are put off physical activity as a result of their experiences in school. I appreciate that measures are already in place to provide support, but what more will the Secretary of State commit to doing to increase women’s participation—or is support for women something that an increasingly male-dominated Cabinet does not like to provide?

The hon. Lady has asked questions about this issue before and I know she is passionate about it. She has made an important point, and it is a shame that she had to finish with party political point scoring on what is a very important issue. She will be aware that the Government have taken a number of initiatives in this area already, and despite her attempt to make a petty point at the end, I will be happy to meet her if she wants to discuss any ideas she has about what more we can do in this important area.

T2. I am sure that the Minister will be interested to read the forthcoming report from the RadioCentre, called “Action Stations”, on the output and impact of commercial radio. I am proud that my local commercial radio station, High Peak Radio, is mentioned in the report, which also outlines the economic benefits of commercial radio: every £1 invested yields £8 for the advertisers. The report will be officially launched on 13 May and I am sure the Minister will study its findings, but does he agree that commercial radio plays a significant role not just in the country’s economy but in supporting communities such as mine in High Peak? (903784)

Commercial radio is vitally important both locally and nationally. Some 35 million people listen to commercial radio every week, and UK radio revenues continue to increase. We have seen the launch of the first national talk radio station, LBC, and digital radio is vital to commercial radio’s future. I know that the Secretary of State is keen to meet commercial radio operators as soon as possible.

I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) on his promotion. His elevation to a seat at the Cabinet table sends out a strong signal that in this country, our politics must be for people from all communities, all ethnicities and all walks of life, and I wish him well in his job.

As the right hon. Gentleman takes over leadership of this important Department, we will be urging him to fight hard for the arts and to promote the crucial role that the BBC plays in the cultural life of this country. I want to ask him about young people and music. Creativity is being squeezed out of the curriculum; fewer pupils are taking music at GCSE and A-level; music services have been cut by almost 30%; and now the Department for Education wants to cut a further 12% of music resources available to schools through the education services grant. Will he intervene with the Education Secretary and make the case for music in schools?

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her warm welcome. The work that she did when in government, especially on equalities, has had a lasting impact and I welcome much of it. Music and arts in schools are important, and I have already had a discussion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on that issue. Action that we have already taken, such as ring-fencing funding for music in schools, is very helpful, but I want to see whether there is more we can do.

T4. Mobile phone coverage in parts of Wales is as bad as coverage in places in Africa, Kazakhstan and the Alps. Does the Minister have a view on when we can expect a 20th-century service in Wales, let alone a 21st-century one? (903786)

I am pleased to say that a 21st-century service is well on its way. We have the greatest roll-out of 4G technology anywhere in the world and the major mobile providers will complete their 4G mobile coverage two years ahead of schedule. We will then take a look at how effective that is and we will continue to work with mobile operators to improve mobile coverage.

T3. What is the Government’s current position on net neutrality, particularly given recent discussions and decisions in both Europe and the United States? (903785)

I like to think that we were ahead of the curve in putting together a code of conduct, to which the major internet service providers and mobile phone companies have subscribed, under which they agreed that they would not block traffic for anti-competitive reasons. Obviously, we are carefully examining the telecoms package that the European Commission has proposed, which includes a potential regulation on net neutrality.

T5. Between 18 April and 31 May, Belper, a town in my constituency, is holding its annual arts festival, throughout which 179 events in 99 different venues will be drawing in the region of 16,000 visitors to the local area. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Belper, led by volunteer George Gunby, and other towns and villages that are holding similar events? What is the Minister doing to support such initiatives? (903787)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the amazing work she does to promote Derbyshire in this House, She has so effectively led the Derbyshire embassy, which I was delighted to attend. The Belper arts festival is putting together a fantastic and enticing programme. I am also pleased to see that the Arts Council is supporting the Red Earth theatre in Belper, the Buxton arts festival and the Wirksworth festival in Derbyshire.

T7. I am sorry that the sports Minister, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and indeed the Secretary of State were not able to attend the all-party group on basketball event yesterday on Speaker’s Green, where Opposition Members were able to out-dunk Government Members by 56 to 33. The Minister will, however, be aware of the deep concern across the House about the future of our national basketball teams after UK Sport withdraw all their elite-level funding. What consideration has she given to providing elite-level development funding for accessible team sports such as basketball which fall foul of the no-compromise model of UK sport? (903790)

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and I am sorry that I could not attend the event—I wanted to but I had a clash. I believe a Conservative won the event, and that is always welcome. As she well knows, sports governing bodies, including that for basketball, have received large amounts of public money—taxpayers’ money. It is certainly no gravy train and if sports cannot deliver increasing participation, it is absolutely right that the money should be diverted to those that can do so. I do not believe that doors are ever closed for ever and I would be happy to have a chat with her about the proposal she makes.

T6. Many private sector companies are big supporters of the arts in Britain. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how important he believes that support to be? (903789)

As usual, my hon. Friend raises an important point. Support from the corporate sector for the cultural sector is very important. It amounted to around £110 million last year, almost a fifth of total investment. In the past couple of weeks, I have been to the Globe, which is supported by Deutsche Bank, and the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern, which is supported and sponsored by Bank of America. Just yesterday I went to the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, which is supported by BP. It was held in a new exhibition hall, which received the majority of its funding from the Sainsbury family.

Lowton girls group came to talk to me about its concerns that music videos portraying sex and violence are being watched by children and young people. Why will the Government not legislate for age ratings for music videos online?

Parents tell us that they want age ratings on music videos that are unsuitable for younger children. We consulted on legislation to introduce the British Board of Film Classification age ratings for music DVDs. We will introduce legislation to Parliament within the coming months, and we will bring into force new age rating requirements as soon as possible. I am also working with the music industry to get age ratings for online music videos as well.

T8. I join others in welcoming my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his new position and invite him to visit Bournemouth, the UK’s premier seaside resort, at the end of this month when it is organising its first free wheels festival, which will include historic classic cars, monster trucks and supercar demonstrations on the sea front. Does that not illustrate how the experience offered to visitors is just as important as good accommodation and a picturesque location? (903792)

The Secretary of State has just whispered to me that he really does look forward to visiting Bournemouth, and I am, on his behalf, happy to congratulate Bournemouth council on organising this wheels festival. I am sure that this free-to-visit family event will attract visitors over the Whitsun bank holiday weekend, boosting the local economy and raising the town’s very special profile.

People whose homes and businesses were recently flooded will know, as we did in Hull in 2007, of the benefit of having local BBC radio stations. Those radio stations are often seen as the extra emergency service in times of crisis. Will the Minister confirm that, in any future negotiations on funding for the BBC, protection is given to local radio services?

Absolutely. I echo what the hon. Lady says. During the severe floods in Oxfordshire in 2007, BBC Radio Oxford certainly played an invaluable role. I can assure her that the value of all BBC services, including local and regional services, will be considered as part of the review of the BBC’s charter. We have not yet announced the timing, scope and process of the charter review, so it would be premature of me to say anything further at this point.

May I also add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on his appointment? The Blackdown hills and villages such as Upottery, Clayhidon and Rousdon are finding it difficult to get broadband. We welcome the Government’s money, but BT is finding things difficult and there is secrecy about where the broadband will be delivered throughout the constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me and local representatives to discuss the way in which we can roll out this broadband in a much better way?

Absolutely. It is important to point out that the progress of rural broadband is really picking up pace, with 20,000 homes passed every week, but we must get out the information to local residents. I am sure that the Secretary of State will meet my hon. Friend at the earliest opportunity to discuss his points.

When imposing the changes to the betting and gaming industry, did the Government consider conducting an impact assessment on the potential job losses? Before yesterday, William Hill had already announced 109 betting shop closures, with the loss of 420 jobs, which mainly affect young women between the ages of 18 and 24.

We are of course always mindful of jobs, not just for women but for everyone. The package I announced yesterday was sensible and proportionate and it deals with a number of concerns about powers for local authorities, controls for the community and the importance of protecting highly vulnerable people. We have acted where it has been needed, which is more than the Labour party did during its 13 years in power.