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Topical Questions

Volume 596: debated on Thursday 4 June 2015

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.

Brevity is of the essence—we have a lot to get through. I hope that people will take note.

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.

No, he does not get a hug. If he really wants one, he can ask for one later, and so can the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone).

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.

The equally important thing is that we speed up. I do not want Back-Bench Members to lose out. Let us have a very brief exchange, please, between the two Front Benchers.

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.]

T2. Cleethorpes is a thriving, successful seaside resort, but additional help is always useful. Will the Minister outline what support the Government intend to give to our seaside resorts? (900076)

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.

T4. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the details of the Government’s plans for the review of the secondary ticketing market, which was set up under the Consumer Rights Act 2015? (900078)

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.

T3. Will my right hon. Friend ask the BBC why it will not give any airtime to the many scientists and other eminent people who have doubts about the so-called consensus on climate change? (900077)

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.

T6. When are we going to get a report or some action on the improvement of football governance? We do not want a repetition of what happened in Coventry over the past four or five years. (900080)

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.

As an Arsenal fan, I find it not difficult but quite impossible to talk positively at any time about Tottenham.

T5. I was there in 1987, Mr Speaker. Harrow Council intends to close four libraries on 13 June despite community bids to run them as community libraries. What action can my hon. Friend take to intervene to ensure that Harrow Council fulfils its statutory duties? (900079)

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.

T8. Wrexham businesses have been complaining about mobile phone coverage in Wrexham town centre over the many years that the Minister has been in his position. What are the Government actually doing to improve the situation for hard-working businesses in my town? (900082)

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.

T7. The first ever mixed ability rugby world cup is taking place in Bingley in my constituency between 17 and 21 August this year. May I invite the Secretary of State and the sports Minister to this historic occasion to see at first hand the opportunities it gives to people who would otherwise never get them to play rugby, and the high quality of rugby that is played? (900081)

I congratulate my hon. Friend, and indeed the former Member for Bradford South, Gerry Sutcliffe, on all the work they have done to ensure that mixed ability rugby is played in the area. If my diary permits, I would be delighted to attend.

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.

T9. Fast internet connections are fast becoming a necessity, not a luxury. Should other local authorities follow the lead of Hampshire County Council, which has called for all new homes in the county to have superfast broadband built in from day one as part of planning consent? (900083)

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.

T10. Kern Ltd, a Fareham business providing packaging systems in my constituency, was one of the first local businesses to take up the connection voucher scheme. What plans are there to assess the effectiveness of the scheme? (900084)

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.