Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
The Office for National Statistics estimates that the direct contribution of the tourism sector to the economy in 2013 was £56 billion. Taking account of indirect benefits, Deloitte estimates that in the same year the sector was worth £127 billion gross value added to the UK economy, supporting 3.1 million jobs.
I welcome that response. As my right hon. Friend will know, Crawley contains Gatwick airport, which is a major gateway to the UK. What more can the tourism industry do to ensure that people coming to the UK travel on to other destinations and take advantage of the many benefits and tourist attractions in Crawley and West Sussex?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will be aware that Gatwick is already a major local economic driver, generating some 23,000 jobs at the airport alone, and he is right to ask what more it could do to attract visitors to Crawley and Sussex. He will be aware of Visit Sussex, and I encourage the town to work more closely with that and with Tourism South East, to see what more it can do to show its local attractions.
The Secretary of State will be aware that across Kent tourism accounts for the direct employment of nearly 65,000 people. Tourism VAT rates across the EU are much lower than in the UK, and if VAT on accommodation was reduced to 5% that would boost jobs and bring a further £1 million into Kent. What conversations has he had with the Treasury about the benefits of a future cut to VAT, as that would bring jobs and growth into Kent and the UK as a whole?
My hon. Friend has raised that issue before and I know she feels passionately about it. She will know that tax is an issue for the Treasury, and we have ongoing discussions with the Treasury on a number of issues. I am sure she will join me in welcoming the fact that in 2013, because of the support the Government have provided to the sector, we saw record levels of tourism, and it looks as if 2014 will be another record year.
Tourism is particularly important in rural areas. What can we do to encourage VisitBritain to highlight the excellent hotels, holiday accommodation and visitor attractions in rural Wales, and indeed the entire west of England, to make it a tourist destination for people coming from abroad?
My hon. Friend is right to say that tourism is vital for local economies, and I have a big ambition to get more people out of the cities and visiting our fantastic countryside. He will be pleased to know that one week from today we will launch the Countryside is Great campaign in New York, with the fantastic Katherine Jenkins performing. That will help make clearer to international tourists exactly what our fantastic countryside has to offer, including in Wales.
Economic estimates for the creative industries published this week have shown that the sector plays a leading role in our long-term economic plan. The figures estimated that in 2013 there were 84,000 jobs in the creative industries in the east midlands, and the Government continue to work closely with the sector so that it can produce further jobs and growth across Britain.
Welcome as those figures are, does the Secretary of State agree that there is sometimes an imbalance with the creative industries necessarily being located in the inner cities, city centres and business districts for tourism, heritage and media, and that very few go to the outer-city estates and working-class areas of the sort I represent? I chair the Rebalancing Nottingham North charity. Will he find some time in his busy diary to meet me and discuss how we can balance the expansion of creative industries so that everyone can benefit?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that important point, and I commend his excellent work in taking forward the Rebalancing the Outer Estates Foundation. He will know that the Arts Council supports many regions around the country and helps with that rebalancing effort, but there is always more we can do, and I or the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy would be happy to meet him to take that issue forward.
The BBC has an excellent building in Glasgow, as does STV, and a lot of money has been put in by these large companies. One thing that has been missed is localism within the creative industries, and although a certain amount of action is supposed to take place outside the M25 corridor, we are not seeing that north of the border.
I referred earlier to a report published this week, which shows strong growth in the creative industries throughout the UK in every region, including Scotland. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take a look at it. If he has any fresh ideas that he thinks we should look at, I would be happy to speak to him.
VAT (Digital Services)
The changes relate to the announcement in the 2013 Budget and came into effect on 1 January 2015. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs established an external working group to consider their effect on small and medium-sized businesses. The Treasury and HMRC are actively engaging with it.
I thank the Minister for that response and for agreeing to reinstate the question after his officials tried to transfer it to the Treasury. That was very kind of him. As he will know, musicians are very concerned that they will end up having to fill out quarterly VAT returns for very small sources of income. If they sell their music through iTunes or Bandcamp, they will perhaps do the administration for them, but it is a real issue if musicians have to handle it themselves. I urge the Minister to take part in those discussions with the Treasury and ensure that the voices of musicians and other people in the creative sector are heard.
I would never dodge a question from the hon. Lady, particularly as she represents the constituency of Bristol East, where I stood famously in the 1997 election and turned a 5,000 Labour majority into a 17,000 Labour majority. The changes will protect and increase revenue. The hon. Lady is a great champion for the music industry. I take on board her point and I will certainly engage with HMRC.
Promotion of Hatred (Television Programmes)
Ofcom has strict rules, set out in the broadcasting code, forbidding the broadcast of harmful extremist material and hate speech. This includes the promotion of hatred against the Ahmadi Muslim community, which is well represented in the hon. Lady’s constituency.
On 22 December, Geo TV broadcast a programme that incited hatred against the Ahmadi Muslim community. Five days later, an Ahmadi Muslim was murdered in Gujranwala, Pakistan. We know that Ofcom has an enormous job to do, given the large number of satellite TV channels, in many languages and dialects, that come into the UK. What help can the Government give Ofcom to monitor hatred that might lead to the radicalisation of some of our young people in the UK?
Ofcom does important work in this area. It is worth recording that it fined Takbeer TV £25,000 for abusing Ahmadis. Ofcom has also required it to broadcast a summary of that decision. Ofcom is investigating complaints that have been raised recently. It will assess them as quickly as possible and come to a conclusion.
After the horrific murders in France last week, it has never been more important unequivocally to assert our commitment to the right of free speech and a free press, and the right to be provocative and even offensive, including the right to lampoon religion. After last week, however, the reality is that a shadow hangs over broadcasters, bloggers, journalists and satirists. They and their staff should not have to look over their shoulder, fearing violence. Will the Minister tell the House what the Secretary of State has done to reassure them not only of the Government’s in-principle support, but that every step is being taken to give them the security they need to exercise their rights in our democratic society? Has the Secretary of State spoken directly with the media about their concerns? What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary?
The Secretary of State made very clear his views in an article in The Times on Saturday. I commend that article, and his very clear commitment to free speech and freedom of expression, to hon. Members. The security of the media and all citizens is a vital issue, one that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary take extremely seriously. As Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, we will play our part in working with them to ensure the appropriate levels of security for anyone who champions freedom of expression.
Local Television Services (North-east Wales)
Local TV will increase the range and availability of local news, information and other local programming. Ofcom awarded the local TV licence for Mold, which covers parts of north-east Wales, in January 2014. The successful bidder for the licence, Bay TV, has two years from the licence award to begin broadcasting.
The licence granted does not cover Wrexham, which is the largest town in north-east Wales. MPs from all parties in north Wales support the extension of the current licence to cover the largest population centre, which all parties believe would be in the best interest of improving the very limited broadcasting that exists in north Wales—we have no BBC local radio, for example. Will the Minister please meet north Wales MPs in order to take this forward?
I know that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, other MPs met Ofcom at the end of last year. There are some technical difficulties involved in broadcasting to Wrexham. Unfortunately, because of those technical difficulties to do with spectrum, local TV cannot broadcast in all areas. I know that Ofcom will write to the hon. Gentleman. I would, of course, be delighted to have a meeting with him and any other interested MPs to discuss the issue further.
Rugby World Cup
The selection of host city venues and team training camps is a matter for England 2015, the tournament organisers.
Is the Minister aware of the wonderful facilities at the Ricoh arena in Coventry, particularly for sport? There are also restaurants and tourist facilities there. I would like to say that Ministers have been very helpful to Coventry in respect of the Charterhouse project for tourists.
I do know of the wonderful facilities in Coventry, and I am confident that there will be opportunities for Coventry to benefit from England hosting the rugby world cup. That could include participation in the domestic trophy tour in the Festival of Rugby. I recommend that local authority venues in cities, including the Ricoh arena in Coventry, continue to discuss opportunities with England Rugby 2015.
Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement Group
7. What progress has been made by the Government’s Expert Working Group on Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement Group. (906999)
The group had its first meeting on 25 November and shortly after issued a call for evidence. I expect to publish its initial findings in the coming months and a full report later this year.
I am pleased that although it has taken since 2011, when one of the Minister’s predecessors promised it would happen, the working group is now finally up and running. She will be aware of the concern of many football fans—I declare an interest as a Fulham fan—that their club grounds are potentially worth more for purposes other than football and there is uncertainty about clubs maintaining their links with their communities. Fortunately for Fulham, despite misguided property speculators and ill-advised owners in the past, we have managed to survive at Craven Cottage, which is an iconic football ground and part of the English football fabric. Is the Minister aware of the concerns of fans, and does she think it is a good idea to have statutory consultation, ensuring that any change of use of football grounds is done with the fans in mind to protect grounds from asset stripping?
There were a few issues in that question. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. This expert group is being set up so that fans can air their views. It will give them profile and a good platform. I am sure that issues such as this will be raised and reported to me in due course. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his point in more detail.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the controversial Glazer family takeover at Manchester United—against the wishes of the vast majority of United fans. This saddled the club with vast debts to pay for the takeover. Does the Minister agree that football clubs and their supporters should be better protected from these predatory takeovers that can threaten the long-term viability of many of our football clubs?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and responsible club ownership is important to all of us. The football authorities take it very seriously, and I am pleased that the owners and directors test has been strengthened. Following two debates here late last year, I asked the football authorities if there was a way of tightening this important test.
Is not the importance of listening to fans and of supporter engagement shown by the welcome decision taken by the Cardiff City board to put Cardiff City back in blue? I was delighted to be there on Saturday to see the club beat Fulham 1-0—in their traditional blue colours.
The Government have an excellent record of creating new opportunities for investing in the arts and creative industries. Following the success of UK film tax credits, which have generated billions in investment since 2010, we have introduced new tax reliefs for TV, video games, animation and theatres, and continue to invest in skills and innovation.
Huddersfield Town, one of the most famous football clubs, plays in blue as well.
There are some very good things going on in the arts, such as the international film awards. But the community arts scene, certainly in places such as Yorkshire, is really feeling the pinch. A lot of our talent starts off in little community groups and grows but there is an absolute desert at the grass roots of the arts for lack of funding.
First, I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for what has been achieved in the arts under this Government. He makes a good point. If I remember correctly, he raised recently the issue of social investment tax relief, which can help community arts activities as well as other charitable activities. He had called for an increase in the cap and he will know that the Chancellor announced just that in the last autumn statement. He can see from that that the Government are listening and doing what we can to help community arts.
I congratulate the Government on their investment through tax credits and the wonderful boost that that has given to the UK film industry. Will he join me in celebrating the investment made by small cinemas such as the Ritz in Thirsk and the Palace in Malton to bring digital cinema to a wider rural community and giving people a great night out?
I support everyone having a great night out and if the Government can help with that, it is a good thing. But seriously Mr Speaker, my hon. Friend is right to point out the support that the Government have provided to the film industry. Just in the last year, the Government have helped support over 300 films made in the UK with expenditure of almost £3 billion across the country, which is a good thing for us all.
Mobile Telephone Coverage
Not spots are particularly frustrating not only for those who live in isolated villages where mobile phone coverage is often essential, but for those who are on the move by road or by train. What is the Secretary of State doing to tackle the problem of not spots?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of trains and communications, which is why the Government have made a commitment to improve connectivity on trains. He may be aware that Network Rail is in the middle of a competition to work out the best solution to the problem. On Government support, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced a few months back £53 million of funding for the programme, with money that Network Rail was supposed to return to the Government. I will also ask my right hon. Friend to give my hon. Friend an update.
The Secretary of State has taken some bold steps to push mobile telephone companies to increase coverage in not spots. However, even in areas such as mine in Shoreditch, with mobile coverage, wi-fi and broadband, there is a real issue about planning permission for buildings that are tall enough to allow other technologies to flourish. Will he update the House on conversations he is having or will be having with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about changing planning permission to allow these other technologies to flourish?
The hon. Lady has raised an important issue. We are having ongoing discussions, and we have ongoing plans to improve the situation. As the hon. Lady may know, the deal that was announced last month with mobile phone operators included an agreement by the Government to give them access, at market prices, to Government-owned property on which we have the freehold, and I think that that is a positive step.
It seems rather bizarre that commercial airlines flying over the Ribble valley are now able to use mobile phones, while, below them, rural parts of my constituency have no coverage whatsoever. Will the Secretary of State encourage mobile phone operators to use the new technologies that are available, to ensure that rural England has full coverage?
My hon. Friend is right, but, as he will know, although the deal announced last month is voluntary, it is binding on each of the operators because of licence changes that are to be made. It will massively increase coverage throughout the United Kingdom, halving the number of what are known as partial not spots, and reducing the number of total not spots by two thirds. There will be improved coverage of data as well as voice.
Members on both sides of the House have rightly pointed out that not spots are not only infuriating for individuals but bad for businesses, especially small businesses, in many cities as well as rural areas. Unfortunately, the Government left it until the dying moments of this Parliament before taking action. What the Secretary of State described a moment ago as a landmark agreement is falling apart. Will he confirm that mobile network operators have told him, as they have told us, that he has reneged on the promises that he made about the electronic communications code—the amendments to the Infrastructure Bill that he has tabled at the last minute are wholly inadequate—and that he cannot tell the taxpayer whether this will cost us all £1 billion in lost revenues to Ofcom? Is not the truth of the matter that we now need a Labour Government to do the job properly?
Some things never change. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is clutching at straws. He has a reputation for opposing everything that comes before him, even if it is blindingly obvious that it will be great for everyone in the country. Given that he is new in his present role, having been kicked out of his old one, and that it is the start of a new year, we thought that he might have turned over a new leaf, but no such luck. I am sure, however, that he is intelligent enough to look at the deal carefully, and when he does so, he will see that it is a good result for everyone in the United Kingdom—including his constituents, who currently have some of the worst mobile phone coverage in the country.
Arts and Culture (Funding)
Normal service is now resuming.
The Government strongly support the fair distribution of funding for culture and arts throughout the country to increase opportunities for access and participation. We recently announced new cultural investment in the north of England. The Arts Council intends to build on its current trend of 60% grant in aid and 70% lottery investment outside London. That will, of course, include Hull, which will become the UK city of culture in 2017.
Despite the continuing imbalance of arts funding in favour of London, I am pleased that Rosie Millard and Martin Green are to lead our preparations for 2017. They are doing an excellent job. Will the Minister tell me, however, what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the disproportionate cuts that Hull has suffered under his regime—I believe that a further £24 million was cut in December—and about the impact that they will have on Hull’s ability to lead our national celebrations in 2017?
The hon. Lady’s question raises the much wider issue of the work that the Government are having to do to clean up the chaos and mess left by the Labour Government and balance the books. It is highly hypocritical—that is, it is very odd to hear her mention this matter, given that Labour Members trooped through the Lobby with us to secure the cuts that were necessary to balance the budget in the next three years.
We cannot put up with the chaos that is emanating from the Labour Benches. Last week they were tweeting that they supported cuts in the arts, boasting about them, while at the same time pretending that they opposed them.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Harlow is the cultural oasis of the east of England? We have the Gibberd gallery, the beautiful Parndon mill, the Harlow museum and much more besides, and we are also a sculpture town. Will he consider what he can do to support our beautiful town and culture and arts in Harlow?
Via Sport England, we invest nearly £70 million each year in outdoor sporting activities, and through VisitEngland and VisitBritain we will be promoting visits to the great outdoors through our “Countryside is Great” campaign.
Given the importance of tackling the increasing challenge of physical inactivity and given the potential of tourism in rural communities, does my hon. Friend agree that this is a good time to consider establishing a national strategy for outdoor recreation to sit alongside the Government’s successful sports strategy, to get more people active outdoors?
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend that outdoor recreation is fantastic for our country, and we very much appreciate the work he does in promoting the benefits. I have had several meetings across Government on this issue, and I am engaging with the sector more widely. I will present more on this vision soon, and will be happy to update him in due course.
We are doing a lot to get girls participating in sport and outdoor activity—I am sure the hon. Gentleman has heard of the £10 million Sport England “This Girl Can” campaign, which was launched this week. It is a cutting-edge consumer campaign aiming to normalise sport and outdoor activity, and I think it will do very well in increasing participation, and also deal with the health and emotional well-being issues that we have got to get to grips with.
Will the Minister join me in sending our support and condolences to Alex Thomson from Gosport, the yachtsman who was dramatically demasted last night while leading the Barcelona world race? Fortunately, none of the crew was hurt. In a place such as Gosport, where we have a world-class marine scene, he is one of our true champions.
I join the Minister in welcoming the Sport England “This Girl Can” campaign designed to encourage more women and girls to get active, but in order to have a lasting impact we must inspire the next generation, so she must feel shamed by the Youth Sport Trust survey figures published yesterday showing a fall in the time spent by children doing sport in schools since 2010. It is too late to put things right at the fag-end of this Parliament, but is it not clear that this Government squandered a golden legacy in sport and failed to inspire the next generation?
I cannot believe what I am hearing. We have more young people participating in sport now than we did when we bid for the Olympics in 2005, we invest £450 million in the school sport premium, which ignites an interest in sport from an early age, we invest £150 million in school sports, which brings competition back into schools, and we have nearly 17,000 schools participating, so I really do not recognise the very gloomy picture the shadow Minister is desperately trying to paint.
In spring last year we published the first ever nuisance calls action plan, which includes both legislative and other proposals to tackle the problem, so we are taking measures. We have, for example, recently consulted on lowering—or, indeed, removing—the legal threshold for the Information Commissioner’s Office, and we will be publishing our response to that consultation very soon.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but there is an insufficient sense of urgency on this. To some people these calls are not merely a nuisance; particularly for older people, they are a source of great distress, worry and anxiety, to the extent that some people will not answer their landlines at all, which is a safety issue in some cases. What are we doing to address the fact that existing regulations are not strong enough, which results in our getting all these robot calls and calls from people supposedly doing surveys? What are the Government going to do about that?
I regularly meet a range of stakeholders involved in this matter. We have allowed the ICO and Ofcom to share information, and we are going to lower or remove the threshold for taking action. We have also massively increased the level of fines that can be levied. We work with telecoms companies on technology solutions and we have worked with the consumer group Which? on a range of reforms. Only yesterday, I met the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) to talk about how we can help vulnerable people with call-blocking technology, so we are engaged with this issue.
The Minister referred to the nuisance calls taskforce report prepared by Which? on the Government’s behalf, which was published last month. He and I were at the report’s launch. Has he found its 15 recommendations useful, and if so, what plans does he have to implement them?
We work closely with Which? on this issue, and I was delighted to see my hon. Friend at the launch of the report. It contains a number of recommendations, which we are looking at, and I am particularly taken by the idea of holding members of the board of a company responsible for this issue, so that someone is accountable. We will evaluate the recommendations and implement those that are suitable.
Museums and Galleries (Funding)
This Government have done more than any of their predecessors to cultivate philanthropy and corporate sponsorship in support of our cultural sector. I commend all those individuals, businesses, trusts and foundations that support museums and galleries across the country.
Museums and galleries right across the country—not just those in London—have never been busier or more successful. Does the Secretary of State agree with the principle of more tax breaks to encourage philanthropic support, and should the magnificent approach taken by the British Museum be encouraged by introducing wider tax breaks elsewhere?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Tax breaks are part of the incentives and the action that the Government can take to encourage more giving. The cultural gift scheme is an example, as is the increase in the annual cap on tax relief that the Government have implemented. We have also simplified the gift aid scheme, but there is always more that we can do. If he has any ideas, I would be happy to listen.
The year 2014 ended on a high note for the Department as we secured a landmark deal to improve mobile phone coverage right across the UK. The new year has also got off to a good start: official figures released this week show that Britain’s creative industries grew at a rate of almost 10% in 2013 and delivered 66,000 new jobs. This is further proof that culture has a vital role to play in the Government’s long-term economic plan.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Superfast North Yorkshire has done a great job of rolling out superfast broadband across our county, making it one of the best connected in the country. I am now pressing for as many business parks as possible to be included in future plans. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for as many small and medium-sized businesses as possible to have access to superfast broadband so that they can conduct their business as efficiently as possible?
My hon. Friend has taken a strong interest in this issue on behalf of his constituents and I agree with him wholeheartedly. He is right to praise Superfast North Yorkshire; the project is making excellent progress. Phase 1 is expected to complete in March this year, taking coverage in the county to 87%. Phase 2 will increase coverage to 89%.
T4. When research by the Responsible Gambling Trust reveals that a third of fixed-odds betting terminal users have a problem with gambling, is it not time to end the £100 maximum stake, which means that a person in my constituency can spend his whole income in just four spins? (907026)
I know that the hon. Lady is concerned about these issues, and so am I. The Responsible Gambling Trust report endorsed the precautionary approach that we took in April, when we introduced proportionate and measured reforms that gave local authorities more power. I can also tell her that I shall be meeting the chief executives of all the betting industry companies in a few weeks’ time to see what more they are prepared to do.
T2. The Minister with responsibility for sport visited Osterley and Chiswick on Monday to meet some of Brentford football club’s community sports trust’s fantastic apprentices. Does the Secretary of State agree that apprenticeships in sport are incredibly valuable for building the knowledge and skills needed for a successful career in the industry, and that we should encourage even more of them? (907024)
I know that Brentford is having probably one of its best years on the pitch. I am pleased to say that the club has done excellent work off the pitch too, which the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), went to see for herself. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) on the importance of apprenticeships in sport and the great opportunity they offer for individuals to develop important skills. That is why I am pleased with the support that Sport England already provides. Brentford FC is a good example to many others, showing what clubs can do to help their local community.
T5. The Minister and I entertained one another in a debate on nuisance phone calls about 18 months ago, when his response was, “It’s okay, guys. I’m on top of this. Something’s going to happen really quickly.” Since then we have had an action plan and lots of talking, but nothing has changed. When will he commit to a communications Bill to deal with the problem? (907027)
I remember our entertaining exchange, and I take exception to the accusation that nothing has happened. We have already passed one piece of legislation and we are about to put through some more legislation to bring about some of the changes that people have called for. We do a lot of work with companies and with telecoms companies, and we have made a real impact on nuisance calls.
T3. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the roll-out of superfast broadband in Mid Derbyshire, especially in Oakwood, Belper and Morley, where Morley school, for instance, cannot teach the national curriculum properly using the internet because of the unreliability? [Interruption.] (907025)
Members on the Labour Front Bench are saying that the situation is absolutely fine and it is completely marvellous. I would not go that far, but that is a good assessment of our rural broadband programme. I know that in Belper, for example, at the end of last year 1,500 premises were connected, thanks to the rural broadband programme. I hear what my hon. Friend says about Morley school and I will be happy to engage with her on the specifics of that issue.
T7. Superfast broadband seems to be a popular topic today. Does the Minister agree with the BT group strategy, policy and portfolio director that getting superfast broadband to 95% of the country might take until 2018? This was stated in an answer from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 3 December. The gap between superfast broadband availability—73%—and take-up is 21%, so there is a shortfall of 52%. Does the Minister agree that superfast broadband might be priced just a little too high? What is he doing to close the gap between the 21% and the 73%? (907030)
I do enjoy the running commentary that we get from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) throughout questions. Like the Duracell bunny, will he ever run out of energy? It is really impressive.
In this country we have some of the lowest costs for superfast broadband, but I know that the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson), along with the hon. Member for Rhondda, will welcome our fantastic advertising campaign for superfast broadband, which I hope will bridge the gap between availability and take-up.
T6. There are too many rural communities in my South Downs constituency that have no broadband access. West Sussex county council’s plan to achieve 95% superfast coverage by 2017 is excellent, but is it not important to ensure that the remaining 5%, which will cover many rural areas, have digital access? Public subsidy should be directed at those areas first. (907028)
We are doing well in my right hon. Friend’s part of the world. West Sussex will get 94% superfast broadband coverage by the end of phase 1. That is £12 million worth of investment. My right hon. Friend is an experienced parliamentarian and I take what he says very seriously.
As we are well into the 100-year commemorations of the first world war, will the Minister assure the House, veterans in my area and my local armed forces network that she will ask Sky to reconsider the scheduling of the broadcast of matches on Remembrance Sunday, which has happened in Sunderland two years in a row, and instead schedule the games for the Saturday so as to respect the original intentions of that special day—remembering those who gave their lives for our country?
T8. I thank the Secretary of State very much for the focus that has gone on broadband in Cumbria. We have, however, faced a serious challenge with the European regional development fund. May I have his assurance that we will focus relentlessly on overcoming those problems to make sure that we can get the extension and deliver the broadband, as promised? (907031)
My hon. Friend has been working very hard on this issue, and I commend him for the work he has done on behalf of his constituents and for bringing this matter to my attention again and again. My Department is working closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government, Cumbria county council and BT to ensure that the problem is resolved. I can also tell him that, following initial discussions, I am confident that the project can be fully delivered to give a great result for residents and businesses in Cumbria.
Channel 4 has just launched its 360° charter, which is making a real commitment to improving diversity, to the extent that executives will lose their bonuses if they do not meet the targets. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that other companies follow suit?
The hon. Lady rightly raises a very important point. My hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy was at that launch. I have spoken a number of times about seeing more diversity in the media. For example, I talked about it just last month on Radio 4, mentioning both the work that Channel 4 is doing, which is a huge improvement on the past, and that done by the BBC, Sky and others. More can always be done, and if the hon. Lady also has some ideas, I would be happy to talk to her.
I often ask questions about the provision of high-speed broadband in rural areas, but mobile phone coverage is just as bad. If I want to get a signal in my house, I have to clamber up on top of the kitchen unit or else trudge up the lane. Does the Minister realise that when we talk about 90% or 95% coverage, the 10% or 15% of people who are left out are always the same people—the people who live in rural Britain?
As part of our commitment from the Department of Health to get Britain moving, we might have to leave my hon. Friend’s home out of our rural broadband roll-out, so that he keeps moving about the house rather than taking calls from a sedentary position. [Interruption.] I am waiting to establish what point the Labour Front-Bench team are trying to make.
They want me to speed up. I can take as long as you want, Mr Speaker. As has been repeatedly stated from this Dispatch Box, a landmark deal at the end of last year with mobile phone companies will see partial not spots reduced by two thirds and not spots reduced by half.
May I return to the question I asked the Under-Secretary about sport? Clearly there is a problem with getting young people to continue to take part in sport once they leave school, and that is particularly the case for young girls. She referred to a number of programmes, so may I ask her how her Department is monitoring whether there has been a significant increase in the number of young people, particularly girls, taking part in sport after they have left school?
Our £1 billion youth and community strategy is helping to make sure that more young people, especially girls, participate in sport. Sport England is also running a very good campaign, the satellite community sports club campaign, which tries to bridge the gap between young girls doing sport at school and continuing to do those sports in the community when they leave school.
After the great success of the Tour de France in Yorkshire last year, which gave an estimated £100 million boost to the Yorkshire economy, is the Secretary of State as excited as everybody else in Yorkshire about the route to be declared next week for the Tour de Yorkshire, the new international cycling race which is being introduced? Will he join me in congratulating Gary Verity on the role he has played in organising that, as well as on bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire, and support my campaign for him to receive a knighthood in the next honours list?
I agree very much with what my hon. Friend says. I remember visiting the Tour and being hugely impressed by the participation; people of all ages turned out for that spectator sport. It has been a great thing for Yorkshire and the new initiative is very welcome. I very much agree with his comments about what Gary Verity has achieved for Yorkshire; my hon. Friend’s point should be looked at.
Women and Equalities
The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Equality of Opportunity
Women make up almost 47% of the work force, but their representation falls in more senior positions. We want to ensure that women can take advantage of all the opportunities that their workplace offers them. For example, we are ensuring that parents can balance work and family life through measures such as extending flexible working and introducing shared parental leave and tax-free child care. We are also working with business to implement the recommendations in the Lord Davies report.
May I push the Minister on that? We still lag behind France and the Scandinavian countries in how we allow women to release their potential as managers, members of corporation boards, scientists and engineers. We are lagging behind the competition, so why did she and her party not support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) which would at least have provided equal pay in the workplace?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the gender pay gap has narrowed again under this Government. For workers under the age of 40 it has almost been eliminated. He also knows that there are more systemic reasons for the continuing pay gap between men and women. Part of that is about the inspiration and advice that our young women get when they are at school. I am talking about the options, the careers and the subjects that they should be taking. That is a long-term systemic problem, which is part of the reason why, as Secretary of State for Education, I announced before Christmas that we were backing an independent careers enterprise company.
This Government have made the most progress ever on increasing the numbers of women on boards, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is still unacceptable to have only five female chief executives in the FTSE 100? Does she believe, as I do, that there is more to be done on the executive pipeline?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We need only 24 more women on boards to reach Lord Davies’ target of 25% of women on FTSE 100 boards. We now have no all-male boards in the FTSE 100. It is important to bear in mind that not all women want to become FTSE 100 board directors, but we should ensure that equality of opportunity goes right the way through all our workplaces.
In 2011-12, there were 1,700 employment tribunal claims which included, for example, maternity rights-based claims. Of those, 900 were ACAS-conciliated, 120 were successful at hearing and 430 were withdrawn. A claim can be launched with a payment of just over £200. It is right that people still have the option to go to employment tribunals, but the fact that the ACAS numbers are so high shows that it is possible to reach agreement between employers and employees.
I very much agree that transparency is extremely important, which is why this Government have backed the Think, Act, Report initiative that encourages companies to think very hard about equality and diversity, including pay, right the way through their organisations. We now have more than 270 employers signed up covering 2.5 million employees.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I congratulate Libby Lane on becoming the new Bishop of Stockport and the first female bishop in the Church of England. I am delighted to see the Church of England moving into the 21st century, at least in this respect.
I do agree with my hon. Friend. Role models such as Libby Lane are very important, which is why the Government are supporting schemes such as “Your Life” and “Inspiring Women”, which is led by the formidably impressive lawyer, Miriam Gonzales. I believe that her husband has a job, too, but I think we can all agree that she is the role model in that family.
Gender Pay Gap
The gender pay gap is at its narrowest ever and has been entirely eliminated among full-time workers under the age of 40. Of course the gender pay gap is still too wide, which is why we are closing it further by encouraging girls and young women to consider a wider range of careers, including well-paid careers in technology and engineering.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Successful businesses know that they cannot afford to miss out on the talents and experiences of half our population, and the Government are working closely with business on that, especially through the Women’s Business Council, which was established by this Government in 2012. We are helping businesses to ensure that women can fully contribute to the country’s economic growth.
It is great that the pay gap has been eradicated for women under the age of 40, but if a woman happens to be aged between 40 and 49, the pay gap is 13.9%, and if they are aged between 50 and 59, it is over 18%. That is clearly unacceptable. Will the Minister now direct her attention towards ensuring the eradication of the pay gap for those aged over 40?
As I have already mentioned, research shows that the pay gap is mostly not about direct discrimination, but about the jobs and sectors that women enter and the progress that they make, particularly if they take time out of the labour market. In November, we announced that we were investing over £2 million in helping women, especially women over 40 and those working part time, to move from low-paid, low-skilled work to higher paid, higher-skill work. That programme of work is delivered by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which will start by focusing on helping women to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, retail, hospitality and the agricultural sector.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development research shows that people stuck in low pay—women who have been in low-paid jobs for 10 years—are more likely to be unable to escape it. I have not heard from the Minister any strategy to help those older women escape low pay. It is all very well talking about money, but what is happening on the ground to help older women?
The hon. Lady did not listen to the answer that I have just given. We are investing money, working with organisations such as the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and particularly looking at enabling women in low-paid, low-skill work to develop further skills, for exactly the reasons that she cited—so that they can have higher paid jobs, which obviously provides more security for them and their families.
I wonder whether the Minister would accept that the Government made a mistake in not implementing compulsory reporting on gender pay. Not enough businesses have voluntarily taken up such reporting. It is not too late to make the change; perhaps she would like to commit to doing so.
We as a Government have always said that we would keep that section under review, but I believe that it will be much better, and we shall achieve much more systemic change, with companies thinking very hard about the pay that they offer their employees and about the diversity in their work force, if we work with them on the voluntary approach—the Think, Act, Report approach—rather than burdening them with more regulations.
Homophobic bullying is absolutely unacceptable and we are committed to eliminating it. That is why we have announced £2 million of grant funding to support schools to address the issue more effectively. That, of course, complements the £4 million that the Department for Education currently provides to charitable organisations to tackle all forms of bullying. Schools policy in Wales, including bullying, is a matter for the Welsh Government.
Only yesterday, another concerned Clacton parent contacted me about bullying. Obviously, and quite rightly, academies are self-governing. Notwithstanding that, is there specific advice that the Minister might like to give to academies to try to address that problem?
There is plenty of guidance available, but the point of the work that we are funding is to help develop further the evidence base on the most appropriate and effective forms of intervention, which we will be able to share more widely with schools, so that they know how best to tackle such bullying. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to these important issues; I only wish that the rest of his party’s members took the same approach.
According to Stonewall’s latest figures, more than half of secondary school teachers fail to challenge homophobic bullying, while 17% feel they are inadequately trained to tackle such bullying. Therefore, does the Minister acknowledge that the Government’s failure to make sexual relationships education compulsory in the curriculum in mainstream teacher training has failed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people, as teachers feel ill equipped to deal with homophobia in the classroom, or to advise children who approach them in confidence?
Sexual relationships education is compulsory, but the hon. Lady raises an important point about training, and about ensuring that teachers feel comfortable in discussing these issues and know the best way to do so. We recognise that more can be done; that is why we have announced the project to develop that evidence base, so that teachers can see what best practice is, and how they can develop the confidence to tackle these issues effectively in the classroom. [Official Report, 21 January 2015, Vol. 591, c. 2MC.]
Under-occupancy Penalty: Disabled People
The spare room subsidy is about ensuring that the same rules apply in the social housing sector as in the private sector. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have made available significant amounts of discretionary housing payments so that local authorities can deal with cases in which they think the specific circumstances are appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman is a good Minister, but he will know that that is a nonsense answer. According to the Government’s own interim evaluation report, disabled people in adapted homes hit by the bedroom tax are not being awarded discretionary housing payments, because their disability benefits are causing them to fail the test. The Minister needs to look at this a bit more carefully.
The hon. Gentleman is a little churlish in his response to my answer. I have looked at the discretionary housing payment guidance in significant detail and it gives local authorities complete discretion. Local authorities are the ones considering specific cases and they are in possession of all the facts. I trust them to make good, sensible decisions.
My hon. Friend raised a similar question at the previous Question Time and I put in the Library information on the amount of money the Government have made available to each local authority in the country compared with what they are spending. We do not have a list broken down by local authority of every single person affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy and their level of disability, so I cannot give my hon. Friend the exact information he requires, but I think I have done the best that I can.
The Government are committed to improving social mobility. That is why we have extended free early education to disadvantaged two-year-olds, introduced a £2.5 billion a year investment in the pupil premium, delivered 2 million apprenticeship starts within this Parliament and have more than 180 major employers signed up to the social mobility business compact to inspire young people and improve access to employment opportunities.
Bristol’s fairness commission reported last year and described Bristol as a “tale of two cities,” with some areas facing “persistent deprivation.” When the Government entered power, they refused to implement clause 1 of the Equality Act 2010, the socio-economic duty, which would have placed a duty on all public bodies to have awareness of the effect of economic inequality on their policies. Will the Government reconsider that, because it is an issue that they have completely overlooked?
It is not the Government’s intention to do so at the moment, but of course local authorities have plenty of discretion, powers and tools to tackle these issues. The hon. Lady rightly highlights that there are important issues of deprivation within local authorities and it is vital that they are tackled.
According to the annual survey of hours and earnings, 24.6% of women were paid below two thirds of the median wage in 2014. Although that is still too high, we are making progress as the percentage of women in low-paid work is falling compared with 2010, when the rate was 25.9%.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but she will know, as we do, that according to the House of Commons Library women have lost six times as much financially as men under the policies of this Government. Does she think that is fair and what is she going to do about it?
I would be very interested to see the report, which I understand has been requested by the Opposition and has not been forthcoming. We have cut income tax for people on low pay, many of whom are women, and in particular, the majority of the 3 million people who have been taken out of paying income tax at all are women. The Government take these issues seriously to ensure that women and indeed men are protected in these difficult economic times.
As employment relations Minister I certainly would not endorse that as good employment practice. There are clearly significant issues with zero-hours contracts and the Government recognise that, which is why we are legislating through the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to make exclusivity clauses illegal. It is also why we are taking further steps to work with industry sectors to produce guidance so that best practice is followed in using such contracts, which work for some people, as the surveys from the CIPD clearly show. We need to ensure that the contracts are used properly and I agree with the hon. Lady when she points out that there are examples of bad practice in that area.