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Topical Questions

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 3 July 2014

Although England’s footballers and Andy Murray have sadly fallen, our sporting season is still in full swing. This weekend sees the climax of the Wimbledon championships, the grand prix at Silverstone and the Tour de France Grand Départ, as we have just heard. Politicians who wish sports stars well seem to jinx them, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of Mark Cavendish’s rivals the best of luck.

The additional £5 million arts funding allocated to Hull this week is very welcome, but is a drop in the ocean compared with the money that goes to some of our national institutions, such as the National Theatre, which gets £18 million a year. What pressure can the Secretary of State bring to bear on national institutions to make sure they do everything they can to support our national city of culture for 2017, bearing in mind that Hull has had a 25% cut in our council funding during this Parliament?

I know that the hon. Lady is as excited as I am that Hull is the city of culture for 2017. It won against strong competition and has done extremely well. She is right to point out the recent announcement of additional funding from the Arts Council. It also announced that Hull will become a major partner museum, which is a significant step forward. The Hull initiative for 2017 and beyond will boost the local economy and jobs, which I am sure she will welcome. I am happy to look into what more can be done to help.

T2. Given BT’s virtual monopoly in contracts for superfast broadband and the problems with that company that have been raised by hon. Members today and previously, is it not about time that the Government held an inquiry into its performance, or would that be better done by the competition authorities? (904604)

The National Audit Office conducted an inquiry. I am confident that BT is doing its job incredibly effectively. We are passing a total of 20,000 premises a week with broadband, and that figure will soon be up to 40,000 a week. More than £60 million has been allocated to Lancashire and more than 130,000 homes there will get superfast broadband as a result.

The evidence before the Leveson inquiry laid bare the pain and suffering caused to victims of press abuse. The press felt they could act with impunity as there was no proper complaints system, and all parties in both Houses agreed to a new system of independent self-regulation for the press. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the appointment of David Wolfe as chair of the recognition board for the new press complaints system? Does he agree that the rest of the board should be appointed as soon as possible, and will he join me in encouraging the press to establish and put forward for recognition a Leveson-compliant, independent regulator so that there is an effective complaints system that is independent of both politicians and the press?

As the right hon. and learned Lady points out, there was rightly a cross-party approach on this important issue. The key to that consensus was that whatever transpired needed to be independent of Government and that there needed to be a self-regulatory body. I will not comment on anyone who is appointed to the recognition panel, because I do not believe that that is a job for Government. It is an independent process and the Government, including my Department, have no role in it. It would therefore not be proper for me to talk about any individual.

As for whether a body should apply for recognition, it is up to the body to decide whether the incentives that we have put in place are enough to encourage it to join. The Government have done what they set out to do.

T3. Last week, I organised a music skills day at Glossopdale community college in my constituency in conjunction with UK Music, at which more than 100 students from across High Peak learned about the different skills in the industry. The Secretary of State will know that the creative industries are a big economic force in this country and earn about £70 billion each year for the economy. The music skills event gave young people information about the opportunities to work in that sector. Will he say what else is being done to provide even more support to the creative industries across the country? (904605)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I join him in welcoming the work of UK Music in promoting careers in that industry to young people. Just this week, a report showed that the creative industries have added more than £70 billion to the economy over the past year and that they employ more than 1.7 million people. Employment is growing five times faster in that sector than in the rest of the economy. Just yesterday, I helped to launch the industry-led creative industries strategy, which is full of more good ideas.

T4. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the excellent Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and other arts organisations based in Newcastle upon Tyne on their successful Arts Council bids? In doing so, will he acknowledge that there is still a problem with the disproportionate amount of private sector arts funding—the figure is 82%—that is drawn into the capital and not to the regions of England, and consider the remedy that is set out in “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital”? If he has not read that report, I commend it to him. (904606)

I am very happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums—it is a fantastic place that I have visited on at least one occasion. I am pleased that following the Arts Council settlement the balance between London and the regions has shifted in favour of the regions. As he knows, I believe that every arts organisation around the country is capable of raising private funding and should be doing so.

T5. I thank the Minister for the assistance that he and Ofcom have given the community radio station in my constituency, MKFM, in its bid for a permanent FM licence. Will he assure me that he will continue to do all he can to assist such community radio stations to expand the vital service they provide to local communities? (904607)

My hon. Friend has made an excellent case for MKFM—his excellent local community radio station. I am very pleased that the independent regulator, Ofcom, listened and included MKFM on its timetable for early consideration for an FM licence.

T6. Ministers will know that cyber-bullying is a growing problem, particularly among teenagers, but the offences fall, confusingly, between five different Acts. Is it not time for Ministers to talk to their colleagues in other Departments to bring about a specific offence of cyber-bullying that mirrors the offence of harassment in the real world? (904608)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I work closely with the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), on the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s representations have been heard and they will be considered in the usual way.

T9. Will the libraries Minister join me in congratulating Northamptonshire county council’s library and information service on being named the best council services team at this year’s Municipal Journal awards? Whereas other local authorities are closing libraries and cutting opening times, the Conservative council in Northamptonshire is extending opening to seven days a week and extending the range of services on offer, and has recruited more than 600 library volunteers. (904611)

Libraries are funded and run by local authorities, and it does not surprise me that an excellent Conservative local authority is investing in its libraries.

T7. I congratulate the Minister for creative industries on his outstanding work in encouraging international film makers, especially from Bollywood, to come and make their films in the United Kingdom. Does he agree that it is important that that helps with jobs, growth and the diversity of UK film making? (904609)

I am very pleased to have that question from the right hon. Gentleman. Although we obviously welcome investment from the west coast of America, particularly yesterday’s announcement by Warner Bros. that it will be filming J. K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts”, it is important to remember that Bollywood is bigger than Hollywood, and we need also to encourage Indian film makers to make films in this country with our excellent crew and casts.

T10. To reinforce points already made this morning, what assurance can the Minister give my constituents in Stroud valleys and vale that they will have access to broadband so that their businesses and lifestyles can thrive? (904612)

We are putting more than £1 billion into broadband roll-out. We continue to invest to take it to 95%. I will happily work with any Member to ensure that the broadband rural programme goes smoothly in their constituency.

T8. The theme of much of this morning’s exchanges has been broadband and mobile coverage. Will the Minister meet me and other interested rural and island Members of Parliament to discuss how proper 4G coverage on a Swedish or Finnish model may help the aims of comprehensive mobile and fast broadband coverage in the years to come? (904610)

Broadband is going extremely well in the UK, mainly because we are better together. We are working with Scotland and Wales to roll out broadband and 4G coverage. The hon. Gentleman should not be so modest: we have outstripped a lot of the Scandinavian countries. We have just laid 400 km of undersea cable to the highlands and islands. That could not have been done without the UK Government working with the devolved Government to bring broadband to our rural areas. We are better together.

Tourism is a major economic generator in Colchester. Does the Minister agree that the best way to support tourism is by reducing VAT on tourism to 5%? Will he have a chat with the Chancellor, please?

As my hon. Friend knows, VAT is a matter for the Chancellor. We keep all taxes under review, but there is no plan to reduce tax for the tourism sector.

Sarah Hunter from North Tyneside is part of the England women’s rugby squad. Despite what the Minister said earlier, will he join me in wishing Sarah and the team the best of luck as they head off to the women’s rugby world cup in Paris this summer?

I enjoyed visiting that wonderful rainbow festival, London Pride, over the weekend in our capital. It has become a magnet for hundreds of thousands of tourists, who enjoy the rich diversity of the United Kingdom.

With the ability to convert civil partnerships into marriage later this year, does the Secretary of State believe that there is even more to celebrate in pride festivals throughout the UK in the coming months and years?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree with him. He may be interested to know that the Government will today lay the draft regulations for converting civil partnerships to marriage. The Government previously said that the cost of conversion would be calculated on a cost recovery basis, and that is correct. We had indicated about £100, but I am happy to say that, in almost all cases, the cost will be £45. It would be unfair to charge couples who were in civil partnerships before same sex marriage was available, so I am pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has agreed to waive the conversion fee for one year from 10 December.

Tourism is important to my constituency of Strangford. It definitely brings jobs and opportunities, as promoted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Will the Minister consider joint tourism promotions with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board so that we can benefit from tourism throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I will consider all good ideas and sensible suggestions to promote tourism in this country, and I am happy to have a chat with the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, VisitBritain and VisitEngland do a good job in promoting the regions and the nations.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming two pieces of excellent nautical news for Portsmouth harbour? Not only will it play host to Sir Ben Ainslie’s new America’s cup sailing team hub, but today it welcomes Oceans of Hope—the first yacht to complete a global circumnavigation with a working crew with multiple sclerosis, including my Gosport constituent Phil Gowers.

Of course I congratulate them, and I think the Oceans of Hope project is fantastic. The crew are a real inspiration and deserve our warmest congratulations.

The Minister will no doubt be aware that Northern Stage’s excellent adaptation of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” closed at the weekend at Richmond, following a successful nationwide run. What is the Minister doing to ensure that regions outside the north-east benefit from the excellent cultural talent that we produce?

The latest round of Arts Council funding has pushed more money out to the regions, and I am particularly pleased about the new £15 million fund it has set up specifically to support talent outside London, and to keep people outside London working in our regional theatres and doing innovative work.

Earlier this week I visited GamCare at its headquarters in Clapham to see the wonderful work it does helping people with problem gambling. May I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to go themselves to listen to the counsellors, as I did, and to get their perspective on what we can best do to help people who sadly develop a gambling addiction?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. GamCare has been to see me, and I am happy to arrange a visit in the coming months.

I forgot to welcome the Secretary of State, so I do so warmly and ask whether he will support our all-party effort to get at least 150 MPs to read a poem of the countryside, and raise funds to get kids from poorer parts of our country out to the countryside this year?

I certainly will; that is an excellent initiative. Since A. E. Housman came from my constituency, that would be a good start.

There is concern that the Government’s approach to allocating funding for the superfast broadband extension programme will leave most rural areas at a disadvantage. What help and assurances will the Minister give to constituents in the villages of Rumburgh, St James and Ringsfield that they will not be penalised?

The principle behind the programme is that we allocate funding in order to get to 95% coverage. We expect local authorities to match that, and we will then work with them to target the areas where it is needed most. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the best way forward.