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Topical Questions

Volume 590: debated on Thursday 15 January 2015

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?

It is a very special day and it is important always to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country. I am very happy to have a discussion with the hon. Lady about those issues.

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.