Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—
My hon. Friend will know that bridge is not currently designated as a sport. The High Court will consider a judicial review on the definition of sport from the English Bridge Union in September, to which the Government will respond accordingly.
I welcome my hon. Friend to her post. Her prowess on the football field is well known, but I wish to address the issue of mind sports. At the moment, Sport England refuses to fund bridge, chess, go and other mind sports. Her predecessor was investigating this, but will she update us on what progress has been made to ensure that Sport England does recognise mind sports for their ability to train the mind?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. As he rightly said, Sport England does not currently recognise the term “mind sports” and does not provide funding to games such as bridge and chess. As I mentioned, the High Court is considering a judicial review of the definition of “sport” from the English Bridge Union. I recognise that many of these games are enjoyed by many people and that the mental agility required in this activity can help with conditions, bringing many health or wellbeing benefits. I therefore suggest that if he would like to seek funding support for these games, he does so through the Department for Education or the Department of Health.
Broadband Coverage (Gloucestershire)
The Government have committed nearly £27 million to the roll-out of superfast broadband in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. This should take superfast broadband coverage to an additional 130,000 homes and businesses across the two counties, providing almost 93% coverage by the end of 2017. Small and medium-sized enterprises in Gloucester and Cheltenham are now eligible for a grant of up to £3,000 to improve their broadband connectivity under the broadband connection voucher scheme.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. None the less, a significant number of homes and businesses in Cheltenham fall between two stools, being, apparently, not sufficiently rural for Fastershire to see fit to step in but too rural for commercial providers to consider it viable to extend broadband provision. Will he meet me to discuss how we can help those stuck in limbo and cut this Gordian knot?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election to this House and commend him for his efforts on behalf of his constituents in order that they obtain superfast broadband. He will be aware that 96% of Cheltenham will already have access to it by the end of 2017, which is above the national target, and many small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit from the broadband connection voucher I mentioned. We are examining ways of extending the reach beyond that 96%, but I would of course be happy to meet him and some of his constituents to discuss what more we might do to help.
May I support the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and remind the Secretary of State that many rural villages, certainly in my constituency, still do not have sufficiently strong broadband connections? That hampers people who are running small businesses from home, as well as children who are trying to use the internet to learn. What can he do to speed up the provision in those small villages?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern for his constituents, particularly those in more rural areas. As he may be aware, under phase 1 of the broadband scheme we expect to reach 87.1% of premises across the whole of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire by December 2016, and under phase 2 we hope to extend that to 92.8%. Those in the more remote areas may still prove to be outside, and we will be looking at alternative means by which we can reach them with superfast broadband, but, again, I am happy to talk with him further about this.
More than 2.5 million additional homes and businesses now have access to superfast broadband as a result of the Government’s intervention. We continue to add 40,000 more homes and businesses every week.
I feel that I am about to gatecrash a party, but we have exactly the same situation in South Cambridgeshire. Connecting Cambridgeshire is doing a fantastic job of rolling out broadband across much of the constituency, but our roads are at gridlock—a happy consequence of our economic success—and it is vital that we keep people working in local hubs and from home. I, too, am interested in what other technologies we might explore to reach those people who are missing, so please may I come along too?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her election and she is a very welcome party guest. The Government are investing more than £8 million in Connecting Cambridgeshire, which will increase coverage in her constituency to 94% by 2017. As she pointed out, there will be some areas that are much harder to reach and it might not be possible to do so by the traditional methods, so we are running pilot projects to explore other ways in which we can bring coverage up to reach even the furthest parts of her and other hon. Members’ constituencies. I would be happy to talk to her further.
My hon. Friend is completely right that although fibre will, we hope, supply superfast broadband to the overwhelming majority of premises in the country there will be some for which it is not practical. That is why we are piloting alternatives through our three pilot projects testing fixed wireless technologies in rural areas in North Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Monmouthshire. These are being run by Airwave, Quickline and AB Internet. We will consider the results to assess the best way of extending the programme still further into the most difficult areas.
Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his election. I know that in his capacity as a former technology editor he brings a particular expertise to our debates on this subject. He is absolutely right that there will be some cases where, for the time being, it will not be possible to extend superfast broadband. I hope that we will eventually be able to do so, but in the meantime I entirely agree with him that it is important that people should be aware of that position. We are introducing a seven-digit postcode checker, which is now on the gov.uk website, so that people can be made aware of that position.
I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that 97% of UK homes and businesses already have access to 2 megabit per second broadband, up from less than 90% in 2010. We hope that all homes will have it by the end of 2015.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. I had hoped that he and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills would form a dream team to tackle the nightmare of broadband coverage in this country, including in areas such as mine in Shoreditch. Can the Minister explain why millions of pounds of public money has gone in and yet, as we have heard from other hon. Members today, there is still a serious problem across the UK with what should be a 21st century utility?
I will suppress my personal hurt that the hon. Lady would prefer to deal with the Secretary of State rather than with me, although we have dealt with her issues in Shoreditch over many months. I am pleased, for example, that in her constituency many businesses are taking advantage of broadband vouchers, that Virgin Media is rolling out broadband and that BT is investing in broadband. Across the country, more than 2.5 million homes are covered by our very successful programme.
The other day I received an e-mail of congratulations from one of my hon. Friend’s constituents thanking me for the broadband that is being delivered to his constituency. As his next door neighbour, I know that the Oxfordshire broadband team is doing a fantastic job in rolling out broadband to thousands of homes across Oxfordshire.
It would be quite nice to have decent internet access from these Back Benches from time to time. We are talking about universal broadband in the country, but while that is important to many of our constituents, a large number of people still not do have any digital access, and with the closure of libraries and other facilities where there is digital access, a real social exclusion issue is developing in parts of the country. What more can he do to make sure that all our constituents have access to digital technology?
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you have taken note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments about wi-fi in the Chamber. Digital inclusion will form part of our new digital implementation taskforce, and I am pleased that at the end of the last Parliament we set aside more than £7 million to put wi-fi in libraries. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need as many community spaces as possible where people can access the internet.
The Minister will have got the point from the last 10 minutes of exchanges that decent broadband speed is now a utility expected in every household, like running water and electricity. How effective does he think that the current programme is in filling in the gaps that, especially in rural areas, make it almost impossible for people to set up successful businesses where they are most needed?
As I have already said, I think that the programme has been successful. We have passed more than 2.5 million homes. By the end of 2015 we should have 90% superfast broadband coverage in the UK, which compares well with almost every other country, and puts us at the top of the tree of the big five in Europe.
Hon. Members are right; this is a problem. As I recall, there was a big underspend—£75 million—on the super-connected cities programme. Would the Minister like to reallocate that to speed up broadband roll-out? I offer him this idea free, gratis and for nothing.
I am extremely pleased to have a free, gratis and for nothing suggestion from the second candidate for the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee who has participated in questions this morning. I suspect that whoever wins that chairmanship will want to investigate broadband and will take note that the super-connected cities vouchers scheme has now taken off like a rocket, with 24,000 businesses now benefiting. In fact, we are going to spend the money by the end of this year.
While I rejoice for the people of Cheltenham—the town in which I was educated—who may be reaching 96% coverage by 2017, I have to worry about the people of my constituency and other parts of rural Essex where, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has just said, there are now serious gaps. The way business is being done in this country now means that people are spending part of the time at home. That is not to mention the farming community; the Government insist on providing so much information through high-speed broadband that it is essential that we accelerate the programme.
Battle of Waterloo
The Government have announced over £1 million of funding for Waterloo 200—the organisation supporting the commemoration of the battle of Waterloo. It has planned a number of high-profile events, including a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on 18 June 2015. In addition, £1 million has been made available to support the restoration of the Hougoumont farmhouse, and the Ministry of Defence is sending bands and guards of honour to various events.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that this has been an exciting project. In addition to the service at St Paul’s, Waterloo 200 has planned an education programme in 200 schools, to introduce children to the history of the battle, and a descendants campaign. They are also involved with the planned re-enactment of the battle in Belgium. In addition, a number of exhibitions are being held in the United Kingdom and Europe, and I am pleased that many of the events have benefited from heritage lottery funding.
“Scum of the earth”—that is the term Wellington used not for politicians, but for the soldiers who bravely fought at Waterloo. Can we not have more celebrations here in Westminster for the defeat of a cruel dictator, which ushered in 99 years of peace—we have not done that since—and especially about Hougoumont, where 5,000 men died that day? I challenge every Member of the House to visit Hougoumont and learn about that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Of course, he will know that there is a very good picture of the battle in the Royal Gallery, which for reasons of sensitivity we occasionally have to cover. I am sure that all the planned events will be much appreciated.
Alas, Mr Speaker, I was not, but my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) was. I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. What will we do to celebrate the two thirds of the Duke of Wellington’s army that were, in fact, not British? Some 36% of His Grace’s army were British, of whom about one third were Scots and Welsh—the Scots were fighting for the Union—but 45% were Germans; not Prussians, but Hanoverians and others. I think that we should give credit to what, ultimately, was the first NATO army.
My hon. Friend is a great military historian, and I often listen carefully to what he says about these battles. As he knows, the battle obviously took place with a coalition. Events are being planned across Europe, and we are working with various Governments across the whole European Union. A number of events are taking place in Scotland, including regimental exhibitions at the National Army Museum in Edinburgh.
The Government strongly support the fair distribution of funding for culture and arts across the country. Indeed, last week in Hull the chief executive of the Arts Council announced that the amount of lottery funding to bodies outside London would increase from 70% to 75%.
May I first congratulate the Minister on his re-appointment? I want to refer to what Darren Henley said in Hull on 28 May:
“If local authority funding is widely withdrawn, there will be little our limited funds can achieve. And no net gain to our increased investment of Lottery money outside London. It will be in vain.”
As the Minister has mentioned, Hull will be UK city of culture in 2017, but we have already lost a quarter of our council funding. Does he really think that we will see any progress on closing the unfair disparity between the north and London?
The hon. Lady’s point is well made to Labour councils up and down the country, which is that they must maintain their investment in culture instead of withdrawing it. It is a partnership, which is why the Chancellor of the Exchequer was pleased to give the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull £1.5 million to help it host the Turner prize, but that is accompanied by local authority investment of £3 million. The message to all those Labour councils is that they must support their local arts organisations—particularly those of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
It is indeed good news that the Turner prize will be presented in Hull. It is not always popular on both sides of the House, but what more can the Government do to encourage other such events to support Hull as the city of culture, and to ensure that Hull benefits from that in the long term?
I know that my hon. Friend, who is standing to be the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is an aficionado of the Turner prize, as well as many other cultural events. He will know—I do not need to tell him—that Derry/Londonderry benefited from a huge range of events, from the BBC and other cultural organisations, and I expect Hull to benefit in the same way.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not answering this question, because only a couple of months ago, when he was the Chair of the Select Committee, he authored an excellent report highlighting the scandal of the imbalance in funding for the English regions compared with London. Now that he is in a position to implement it, will he?
I am afraid that this is the second time that Opposition Members have asked for the Secretary of State to respond. Unfortunately, they have to put up with me, and I apologise for that. I am pleased that the chief executive of the Arts Council took note of the excellent report put forward by the Select Committee. As a member of that Select Committee, the right hon. Gentleman should be aware that civil servants now pore over these reports as though they were sacred texts.
Syria and Iraq (Cultural Heritage)
It’s me again, I’m afraid.
This is a very serious subject. Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. Discussions are taking place across Government to ensure that we take a joined-up approach towards those horrific acts of cultural vandalism.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we have to stop that illicit trade. We work with partners in the global coalition to put in place international sanctions to prevent the illegal trading of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities. We also have an effective legal framework to tackle the illicit trade, including specific legislation for antiquities from Iraq and Syria.
If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I would like particularly to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House, although he did defeat a colleague of mine from the coalition Government. He is an old friend; I hope that that does not hurt his career in the House.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. The British Museum, for example, leads the way in helping to preserve antiquities that have been saved from looting. All our museums, working with both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for International Development, will continue that work.
I hope that we will get on with it very soon, to be frank. I spend my time making the case to ministerial colleagues for introducing that important legislation to allow us to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity. The destruction in Iraq and Syria highlights the importance that we must place on safeguarding cultural artefacts from armed conflict.
I echo the comments that we heard a moment ago. Everyone who campaigns on this issue agrees that the two foundation stones that are necessary if the UK is to have credibility are, first, to ratify The Hague convention and, secondly, for the Government to put money where our words have been for many years, by creating something such as a cultural protection fund to protect and support the brave men and women on the ground, under the auspices of great institutions such as the British Museum.
Welsh Language and Culture
I congratulate my hon. Friend on increasing his majority as part of the best result for the Conservatives in Wales for more than 30 years. The House will want to take note of that truly fantastic achievement.
The Government are committed to supporting Welsh language and culture, in partnership with many bodies—including, of course, Welsh language programming with S4C.
The Minister will no doubt be aware that the National Eisteddfod is the biggest Welsh language cultural event in the world. Next year it is coming to Monmouthshire. Given that Welsh is derived from old Brythonic, which was spoken across the whole of what is now the United Kingdom, and that the Minister has mentioned his role in funding Welsh language television, will he or one of his colleagues consider an invitation to visit the National Eisteddfod in my constituency next year?
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. The Minister’s Department provides nearly £7 million to S4C—down by 93% since 2010. When will the Government announce their financial intentions for S4C so that the channel can move ahead with commissioning?
I think I had better put that point in context. A large part of the funding for S4C—some £74 million—comes from the BBC, so S4C is extremely generously funded, and unlike many media organisations it has secure funding going forward. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) held the office of Secretary of State, she ensured that S4C was protected from any cuts when we had to make cuts.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. The Government’s handling of the finance and governance of S4C during the previous Parliament was an unmitigated disaster. They failed to listen to any elected representatives in Wales, failed to listen to Wales’s excellent Welsh language campaigning organisations, and even failed to listen to the channel S4C itself. It could not possibly be any worse, so may we have a reassurance from the Minister that when it comes to renewing the BBC charter, proper measures will be put in place to protect Welsh language broadcasting this time around?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that reassurance. As for “an unmitigated disaster”, all I have seen is that S4C has had secure funding and continues to go from strength to strength in producing international hits such as “Hinterland”, which I enjoyed hugely.
Mr Speaker, as you and, indeed, my hon. Friend will be aware, the state opening of Parliament is a designated day for flying the Union flag on Government buildings, but not Parliament Square. The ceremonial arrangements for the state opening of Parliament are a matter for the Palace of Westminster and the Earl Marshal, and any changes cannot be made without their approval.
I thank the Minister for her reply, but will she assure the House that never again will we have the shameful spectacle of empty flagpoles in Parliament Square for the state opening of Parliament on the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen? Will she agree to meet me and representatives of the Flag Institute to ensure that we get the flying of flags in Whitehall and in Parliament Square right for the future?
I know that my hon. Friend is a great expert on these matters, and the Secretary of State and I have some sympathy with his views on the state opening of Parliament. I have therefore asked my officials to raise this issue with the Earl Marshal to look into the possibility of flying the Union flag on the square for future state openings and to establish what the associated costs would be. In the meantime, I would be very happy to meet him and the president of the Flag Institute to discuss it further.
Flags can undoubtedly be a powerful demonstration of pride in our culture and our economic vibrancy. Does the Minister agree that companies that fear an exit from the EU should be encouraged to fly the European flag to demonstrate their commitment to the single market, together with the Union flag, which they might replace on St George’s day with the English flag, on St Andrew’s day with the saltire, on St David’s day with the ddraig goch, and on St Patrick’s day with the tricolour?
I would like to say that I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, but that would not be true. Designated days for flying the Union flag are decided by Her Majesty the Queen, and any changes to designated days are for Her Majesty to make. It would therefore be an issue for the Department to discuss with Her Majesty.
FIFA World Cup
I have no plans to meet FIFA officials at this stage. However, I did meet the chairman and the chief executive of the English Football Association yesterday, and I intend to keep in close touch with them on this matter and, indeed, on other matters relating to football in this country.
My right hon. Friend might like first to thank the Americans for finally exposing the corruption in FIFA that we have all suspected has been endemic for the past 10 or 20 years. Will he speak to his colleague the Foreign Secretary to see whether there can be a re-analysis with Qatar as to whether the World cup should be held there? Precisely what should our relationship with FIFA be, because Blatter’s departure is not necessarily going to mean that corruption has ended?
I agree with my hon. Friend. In order to achieve the reforms that all of us believe are vitally necessary in FIFA, the first requirement was a change in leadership. We have now obtained that, but that is the beginning of the process and certainly not the end of it. It is for the football associations of the home nations to work with other football associations that are equally determined to see change, in order to ensure that the new leadership is properly committed to achieving those changes.
In response to my hon. Friend’s second question, on Qatar, that is a separate matter. The Swiss authorities are continuing to investigate the bidding process that resulted in the decision to give the 2018 games to Russia and the 2022 games to Qatar, and we await the outcome of those investigations.
I welcome the Secretary of State and the sports Minister to their new posts.
The investigation into FIFA will go on, but the fight for its heart and soul will start now that Sepp Blatter has announced he is standing down. I wonder about these people at the top of FIFA and whether they have ever actually been to a football match for which they bought their own tickets, whether they have followed a football team week in, week out, or whether they have pulled on a football shirt and played in a match. We really need to get rid of these people at the top of the game.
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that Government agencies that are investigating the possibilities of corruption involving UK financial institutions have all the resources they need and that they are doing all they can to root out any criminal activity that may have taken place? Will he say exactly what he can do to ensure that we root out corruption in FIFA?
In the first instance, that is obviously a matter for the Serious Fraud Office and other investigatory bodies in this country, but I have spoken to the Attorney General about it. We will of course ensure that all the resources necessary to carry out a thorough investigation are available to those bodies and we will work closely with the Swiss and American authorities, which are leading on this matter.
On the reforms necessary in FIFA, we are absolutely committed to working through the FA and other football associations to ensure that the new leadership of FIFA is utterly committed to carrying out the sweeping reforms that are so obviously necessary.
This has been a turbulent week for football, with the allegations of corruption eventually leading to the long overdue resignation of Sepp Blatter, and there have obviously been continuing revelations, even today. However, this weekend we once again get to concentrate on what makes the game great, as the women’s World cup kicks off in Canada. I am sure I speak for everyone present, even some of the newly elected Opposition Members, in wishing England the very best of luck ahead of their first game on Tuesday.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his response to and leadership on the FIFA governance crisis, which is in stark contrast to the efficient arrangements for the world’s third largest sporting event, the rugby world cup—coming soon to great venues such as Kingsholm in Gloucester. If FIFA decides in its wisdom that the winter World cup proposed in Qatar should not go ahead, will my right hon. Friend confirm that our nation would be in a position to host it here?
First, I join my hon. Friend in looking forward to the rugby world cup, which many Members are anticipating with eager excitement. On his second question about the decision to hold the 2022 World cup in Qatar, obviously we are watching the investigation, but at the moment that decision stands. If it were decided to change that, I think that, as the chairman of the English FA observed, if Russia hosts the World Cup in 2018, it seems very unlikely that another European country would host it in 2022. However, if FIFA came forward and asked us to consider hosting it, we have the facilities in this country, and of course we did mount a very impressive, if unsuccessful, bid to host the 2018 World cup.
You always say that before I start, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.] And you know about shortness, don’t you?
I have already welcomed the new Secretary of State, but I welcome the new sports Minister very warmly. I liked her predecessor enormously, but when she was appointed I just wanted to run around and give her a hug. I am very pleased. It is a delight to see the new arts Minister, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), in his place. He looks remarkably like the old arts Minister, except that he has lost his beard. Perhaps that is how he managed to survive. Honestly, it is a delight to see him in his place.
Easy tiger! Sorry, Mr Speaker.
With the news from Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner, is it not increasingly evident that FIFA is a stinking sink of corruption that has polluted everything it has touched? Would it not be wholly inappropriate for any money to pass from the UK broadcasters in respect of the 2018 or 2022 tournaments, unless and until Blatter has actually left, rather than just declared that he is leaving, FIFA is reformed, and the 2018 and 2022 bids rerun?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and welcome the love-in between the two Front Benches, but I am sure it will not last.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s astonishment that, even today, there are new claims being made by Jack Warner. This saga becomes more murky and distasteful by the day. As I said earlier, however, the World cup is a separate matter and we await the outcome of the investigations. If there is evidence that the bid process was corrupt, the case for rerunning it will be strong. However, if the World cup goes ahead, it would be unfair to tell English fans, and indeed fans of the other home nations if their sides qualify, that they cannot watch their sides compete in the World cup because the broadcasters will not purchase the sports rights to cover it. That is a separate matter. The important thing is that we get this all cleared up long before the World cup in 2018.
Right. Well, talking of the licence fee, when the Secretary of State was Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he said that the Government should get on with charter renewal as fast as possible. I note that it is only 576 days until the charter runs out, so will he get on with it? Can he give us a little clue as to his own inclinations? He was Mrs Thatcher’s toy boy and Norman Tebbit’s special adviser. He calls himself a free-market Conservative and, like Nigel Farage, thinks that it is debatable whether the BBC should even make “Strictly”. He says the licence fee is “worse than the poll tax”, but I think he always supported the poll tax, so is Auntie safe in his hands?
I am pleased that normal service has resumed between the Front Benches. On the BBC licence fee and the charter renewal process, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there is a tight timetable. However, I hope we will be able to renew the charter on time, by the end of 2016. As for the licence fee, he will have to await our conclusions. I would say that I very much agreed with him when he observed of the licence fee:
“Elements of it are regressive, because everyone must pay it, so it falls as a greater percentage of income on the poorest people”. —[Official Report, 9 March 2005; Vol. 431, c. 1558.]
I have fond memories of my time in Cleethorpes while I was at Hull University. Towns like Cleethorpes contribute a great deal to the tourism economy. We will continue to promote such areas through various marketing campaigns, and will create sustainable growth and jobs through the coastal communities fund.
I am aware of the hon. Lady’s long-standing interest in this matter. She and I share a determination to ensure that fraudulent ticket sites are cracked down on. Measures have been taken to do that. She is right to refer to the statutory review, which was set up as a result of legislation. It has to report within a year and we await its findings with considerable interest.
As my hon. Friend is fully aware, the BBC is under a duty, as are other news broadcasters, to be impartial in its coverage and that should mean giving airtime to both sides of every argument. I do not wish to interfere in the editorial independence of the BBC, something I think we all value. Nevertheless, I am sure it will have heard my hon. Friend’s remarks.
As a Tottenham fan, I find it very difficult to talk about Coventry positively—I am still suffering a broken heart from the 1987 FA cup. We take football governance incredibly seriously and are looking at issues such as financial sustainability. The situation at Coventry raised some real questions. We have met some of the football authorities already. We will be meeting the Football League shortly.
I visited one of the libraries under threat with my hon. Friend. I know that when he was the leader of Brent Council he fought very hard to keep libraries open. They were subsequently closed by the Labour administration. I will review the council’s plans to close its libraries, as I do with every authority that seeks to close libraries.
The hon. Gentleman and I are meeting shortly to discuss local television, so perhaps we can add that to the agenda. I know he is delighted with the groundbreaking deal put in place by the former Secretary of State to increase mobile coverage to 90% of geographic areas in the next two years.
Is the Minister aware of the campaign by the Writers’ Guild, “Free is NOT an Option”, which is based on a survey that found that TV writers are increasingly being asked or pressurised to write scripts for free, even when they are established writers who have previously written for the same show? What can we do to ensure that creative work is valued in the same way as other work?
I am aware of that very important campaign. I find it absolutely astonishing that many independent production companies, which make millions and millions of pounds, cannot be bothered to pay a decent wage to people who contribute to their work. I will certainly work with the hon. Lady to encourage them to do so.
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. It is now absolutely essential that new estates should, as a matter of course, be linked up to superfast broadband. I commend Hampshire County Council for the actions it is taking to achieve that. My hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy is meeting my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to discuss what further measures we can take to ensure that other local authorities follow Hampshire’s lead.
The north-east continues to lose out when it comes to lottery funding. What will Ministers do to ensure that there is greater transparency around the national lottery, so that we can keep up the pressure to shift money out of London to the regions?
Since the national lottery was formed, it has raised more than £33 billion for good causes and made more than 450,000 grants across the UK. I will perhaps reassure the hon. Lady by saying that 70% of all grants have been awarded outside London and the south-east.
I congratulate Kern Ltd in my hon. Friend’s constituency on benefiting from the scheme, along with the 24,000 other businesses across the UK that have similarly benefited. The scheme has proved extremely popular, and that is why we are extending it to 28 more cities and increasing its budget by £40 million.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The ministerial code is clear: when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance to Parliament. I have reminded my Cabinet colleagues of that.
On 21 May, the Prime Minister, in a speech to journalists outside this House, gave details of every aspect of the proposed immigration Bill, a full week before that Bill was announced in the Gracious Speech last Wednesday. Whatever the view of the Leader of the House on that, is it not better that Members of Parliament are the first to hear a new policy, so that they can either praise it or ask questions about it in this House?
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the House was not sitting at that point, and during the past couple of months political leaders of all parties have made detailed statements to the media about their plans for the next five years; fortunately, only one party is able to put its plans into effect. We will ensure that we continue to treat Parliament with the respect it deserves.
In the previous Parliament, the ministerial code was clear that Ministers should come to the House first, but it was largely ignored. Early signs are that the same thing is happening in this Session. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the code will be published in this Parliament, whether it will be enforced properly and whether Ministers will come to this House and not go to the press first?
The ministerial code will be updated shortly. Labour Members have certainly changed their tune since they were in government. I remember in my first years in this place, when I was in opposition, all those occasions when not only this House but the occupant of No.10 found out in the newspapers what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was doing.
I heard what the Leader of the House said about statements that might have been made before this House was in session, but it was on Monday that the Prime Minister announced details of the Government’s Childcare Bill not to this House but to the media. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Prime Minister was wrong to do so?
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a distinguished occupant of his office, but he is not simply the Government’s representative in this House; he is also the representative of this House to Her Majesty’s Government. What will he do to enforce any breaches of the ministerial code with regard to releasing information to the press before this House hears it first?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I do take that very seriously. I regard myself as the Leader of the House representing all Members. Of course, it is a matter for the Prime Minister to enforce the ministerial code, but as I indicated a moment ago, I have already reminded my colleagues about the importance of making announcements to Parliament.
It is important that statements are made to the House first, but it is more important that the policies announced are proper Conservative policies and that when they have been announced, they are seen through by the Government. In that spirit, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will crack on with repealing the Human Rights Act and not shilly-shally over it?
The leaking of information to the press before it comes to the House is increasingly frustrating the public. This question is as much for you, Mr Speaker, as for the Leader of the House: is it not time we started thinking about sanctions for Ministers who indulge in this behaviour—for example, not being able to give the oral statement in the House?
I have no doubt that my colleagues will be making extensive statements to the House about their policy plans, the changes they are enacting and the issues they face. However, given that this is the first Conservative Government for far too long in this country, I ask the hon. Gentleman at least to treat current Conservative Cabinet Ministers as innocent unless proven guilty.
Hours of the House
The Government currently have no plans to bring forward changes to the sitting hours of the House.
A large majority of Members are simply unable to get home in the evenings, and we did not come to London to be given lots of free time. As we have so many new Members, may we ask again whether it is the will of the House that we sit later on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? I would certainly vote in favour of such a proposal, and I know that many other right hon. and hon. Members would agree with me.
Hon. Members had the opportunity to vote in the previous Parliament, and I suspect that my hon. Friend and I were in the same Lobby at the time. The Procedure Committee revisited the situation, and could do so again if Members made representations to it, but I repeat that the Government have no plans to change the sitting hours of the House.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post; I am sure she will perform extremely well, as she has in other posts. The Procedure Committee considered this matter in the previous Parliament, but does she agree that it would be opportune for the Committee to pick it up again when it is reconstituted, so that current Members can comment on the sitting hours of the House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I congratulate him on, and welcome him to, his new position too. It is not for the Government to determine the business of the Procedure Committee; it is up to the Members selected to serve on the Committee to do that.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Mole Valley, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Before I call the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) to ask Question 4, it might be helpful to new Members if I remind the House that, to avoid any possibility of compromising our security, we do not discuss operational security matters on the Floor of the House. The question is perfectly in order, but hon. Members should take account of this constraint in their further exchanges.
The short answer is none. The slightly longer answer is that viewing a Member’s emails can be done lawfully only with the consent of the Member, where a circuit judge has made a production order requiring material to be produced, or pursuant to a search warrant and in accordance with the Speaker’s protocol on the execution of a search warrant and the precedent of the House of Commons. Thus, no member of staff, including the parliamentary security director, has both the ability and the authority to view or authorise the viewing of Members’ emails.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Business of the House Committee
There was an absence of consensus on this issue at the end of the previous Parliament, and there is still no consensus at the beginning of this Parliament. The Government therefore have no intention to bring forward proposals.
I did not follow that, because there is now a Conservative majority in this House and it has always been Conservative policy to have a business of the House Committee. In welcoming the Deputy Leader of the House to her new position, I note that she is an ex-Whip, and she knows that such a committee would remove a lot of work from the Whips Office as well as being beneficial to the House. Will the Government reconsider their position?
My hon. Friend knows that the proposal was in the coalition agreement, and that after our great victory there is no longer a coalition. That said, there is still an absence of consensus on how a House business Committee would really work. I hope my hon. Friend welcomes the extra hour for Westminster Hall debates, so that there are plenty of opportunities for Members of all parties to continue to hold the Government to account.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Mole Valley, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
House of Commons Facilities (Corporate Hire)
The House generated £441,000 in net sales from the hire of catering and event facilities to third parties between January 2014, when such hire was permitted, and May 2015. This was from a mixture of corporate, wedding, private and charity events that took place when the House was not sitting. Smaller amounts were raised from other activities, including charges for filming on the estate. It is not possible to identify separately the amount of income raised from the corporate sector.
Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as I am that it is unhealthy for our democracy if this House becomes more and more dependent on hire fees from corporate interests? Will he therefore look again at this policy of hiring out our facilities to the very people who caused the financial difficulties that the House is trying to meet?
I ought to remind the hon. Gentleman that the matter was looked at carefully by the Administration Committee; it was looked at by the Finance and Services Committee; it was looked at by the House of Commons Commission; and it was agreed by the House. The hon. Gentleman may find that he is in a slight minority on this issue.