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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was asked—

BBC (Charter Renewal)

1. What assessment he has made of the appropriate scale and scope of BBC services to inform the charter renewal process. (901722)

9. What assessment he has made of the appropriate scale and scope of BBC services to inform the charter renewal process. (901731)

I commend the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for her enthusiasm.

We have just consulted on the scale and scope of BBC services in the charter review consultation, which ran from 16 July to 8 October. My Department will provide a summary of responses and will consult on further proposals in the spring.

Ealing has long been a BBC borough, with the wig and prop department in north Acton and many things filmed there. It has many BBC employees, hundreds of whom have contacted me wanting to safeguard its distinctiveness. The Secretary of State is a fellow music buff—we are both alumni of the all-party group on music—and was at the reception where it was revealed that 75% of music played on the BBC would not get exposure on commercial airwaves. Does he not appreciate that the people in that room and my constituents fear for the BBC’s unique music output under his Government’s plans for charter renewal?

I am conscious of the very strong creative industries based in Ealing. As the hon. Lady says, I was present at the BBC “save music” event a couple of weeks ago, where I expressed my surprise that anyone had felt it necessary. I am the first person to recognise the importance of music on the BBC. I believe that the BBC plays a very important role in providing a platform for genres and bands that would not otherwise be covered in the commercial sector. We are having a consultation, we have received 190,000 responses and we will analyse those responses. I share the hon. Lady’s view of the importance of music on the BBC.

“The Great British Bake Off”, “The Voice”, “Doctor Who”, “Strictly” and “Match of the Day” are great British programmes made by our great British broadcaster, which is loved by millions here and around the world. Why do the Government seem so resolute and determined to diminish the role and the size of the BBC, weakening our influence abroad and undermining British programming?

Even if I wanted to tell the BBC that it should not broadcast “Strictly Come Dancing” or “The Great British Bake Off”—and I do not—I would not be able to do so. It is up to the BBC to choose. What I do think is appropriate is that, at the time of charter renewal, we should have a debate about the BBC’s purpose, its scale and scope, its funding and its governance. That is what we are doing, and we are extremely pleased at the very high level of response that we have received.

May I associate myself with your remarks about Michael Meacher, Mr Speaker? Unusually, we shared a member of staff across the House, which I do not think happens very often. He was a great man and your words were very well said. I send my sympathies to his family.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be far better for subscribers to the BBC to determine the scale and scope of its services, rather than the Government? If the BBC is as popular with the public as it claims, it has nothing to fear from moving to a subscription model. Given its international recognition, is it not inevitable that, freed from the shackles of the licence fee, the BBC’s revenue would increase substantially if it moved to a subscription model?

I am, of course, familiar with my hon. Friend’s views on the BBC. He has made his case with customary strength and fluency. We are analysing the responses to the consultation and his view will be taken into account, as will the other 192,000 we have received.

During the charter renewal negotiations, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the level of support for decriminalising non-payment of the TV licence fee across the country and across the House? Some 150 colleagues from all parties, including the hon. Members for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), signed my early-day motion that called for decriminalisation.

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s work in supporting the campaign for the decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence fee. I understand the strength of opinion on the subject on both sides of the House. We are looking at it carefully. However, as he will know, David Perry conducted a thorough review of the issue and came up with a number of important concerns that would need to be addressed if we were to go down that road.

I share the sentiments expressed about Michael Meacher. He was, 30 years ago, the first Member of Parliament I ever met.

In a very interesting speech to the Society of Editors this week, the Secretary of State said, with respect to the BBC’s intention to help local news, that it should not employ more journalists, but should commission content from court reporting, councils and the like. Was that a warning to the director-general of the BBC or a direction? Was it another attempt to top-slice the licence fee, this time in favour of local newspapers?

It was support for a proposal that was first put forward by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I chaired and of which he was a member. He may recall our advocating this initiative that the BBC could take to help local newspapers. I understand the concern of the local newspaper industry that certain actions of the BBC are undermining it. This initiative could support local newspapers, both by making information available more generally and recognising that local newspapers provide an invaluable service in holding to account local institutions. It is still under discussion and I welcome the progress that is being made.

The charter renewal process is a big challenge for the BBC, as is remaining impartial in its coverage of the forthcoming EU referendum. Many of us on the Government Benches are not confident that the BBC is up to that challenge. What is the Secretary of State’s view?

I have followed with interest the discussions in the European Scrutiny Committee on that issue and am aware of the concerns that have been expressed. It is for that reason that I wrote to the chairman of the BBC Trust and the chief executive of Ofcom to re-emphasise the importance of the impartiality requirements on all broadcasters, particularly in matters of some controversy, of which I suspect the European Union referendum will be one.

I, too, attended the launch of UK Music’s great Let it Beeb campaign, which calls on the Government to protect vital BBC music services from cuts during charter renewal. Despite numerous briefings to the press about wanting to cut the BBC down to size and reports that Radio 1 and Radio 2 will be sold off, the Secretary of State told the audience that he would be “very willing” to sign the petition. I hope that he has done so. Given his new-found enthusiasm for the BBC, will he use this opportunity to sign up to another vital characteristic—the BBC is and must be a great universal broadcaster that produces something for everyone? Will he make that promise?

One thing I do not want to do is reach conclusions on every question contained in the Green Paper before we have even started going through all the consultation. [Interruption.] I did express my support for music on the BBC, but we are looking carefully at all the responses that have been received. I share the hon. Lady’s view that the BBC is a great broadcaster, and it is my intention that it should remain that way.

Creative Industries

2. What recent estimate he has made of the contribution of the creative industries to the economy. (901723)

I am delighted to tell the House that our most recent estimate of the value of the creative industries has put it at about £76 billion, and they have grown three times faster than the economy as a whole.

Through its famous annual festivals in literature, food, science, performing arts, jazz and poetry, Cheltenham is a cultural powerhouse, but what are the Government doing to support cultural hubs such as Cheltenham’s Everyman and Playhouse theatres, which are so important for the town’s cultural offer and its economy during the rest of the year?

The Everyman is an outstanding theatre, which is why it is part of the national portfolio and receives a grant from the Arts Council—indeed, it has recently undergone a significant refurbishment and benefited from money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Playhouse, as an amphitheatre, no doubt would still potentially have access to capital grants or programme grants. Of course, we have recently introduced a theatre tax credit, which will help them all.

May I associate myself with the tribute to Michael Meacher, with whom I worked for many years? He gave his life to public and political service, and was respected in all parts of the House.

Is the Minister aware that the UK is a world hub for creativity and the creative industries, but that certain lynchpins, such as the BBC and the Design Council, are at the heart of the creative sector. Please, do not sacrifice either of those. There are dark forces, such as certain media barons, who would like to see the BBC diminished.

I agree with the last Labour Secretary of State, who said that we should not make the BBC a political football. The Government are asking perfectly legitimate questions about the BBC, but I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the UK being a creative hub. I was concerned about his comments on the Bond movie on Twitter this morning. He attacked the Bond franchise, which employs thousands of people in this country and whose producers make such a fantastic contribution to our cultural life. I hope he will stand up for James Bond.

It is a little-known fact that Bristol and Bath have the second largest number of tech and creative industries anywhere outside Hoxton. What more work is the Minister doing with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to grow this sector even further?

We continue to support tech hubs all across the country. I was particularly pleased to recognise Bath Hacked in a speech on smarter cities yesterday. Bath is leading the way in smart city technology and the internet of things; it is so high tech that it would be the perfect place to set the next Bond movie when it is made in the UK.

The Minister will know that Scottish companies are leading the world in the design and export of video games. Does he agree with Chris van der Kuyl, the chairman of Dundee video games company 4J Studios, who told the Scottish Affairs Committee this week that UK immigration policy could prevent companies such as his from recruiting the very best of talent from overseas? Why is this Government’s regressive immigration policy harming world-class Scottish businesses?

We support the video games industry, not least with the £4 million prototype fund, which we recently launched with Abertay University, based in Dundee. I was delighted when Tech North announced last week our new visa policy to allowed highly skilled people into the country to support the highly successful Scottish and indeed UK games industry.

The Secretary of State will recall that when he came before the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on 9 September, he said:

“At the moment, there are no plans to sell Channel 4”.

Shortly afterwards, on 24 September, one of his officials was photographed marching into Downing Street clutching a memo that said:

“work should proceed to examine the options for extracting greater public value from the Channel 4 Corporation…focusing on privatisation”.

That is devastating news for the creative industries and current affairs. I have a simple question: when did his officials break the news to him that they were working on privatisation proposals for Channel 4 behind his back?

May I say what a joy it was to see the hon. Gentleman at the PinkNews awards last night at the Foreign Office where I was privileged to present the public sector equality award to the Ministry of Defence? I wish to put on record my congratulations to the Ministry—[Interruption.] I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say from a sedentary position that it was a mutual pleasure. I can also say with pleasure that of course he would expect us to look at every option when it comes to considering the future of Channel 4.

Sporting Activity (Participation)

The number of people playing sport hit an all-time high in 2012, but has since begun to decline. That is unacceptable. The last time the Government published a strategy for sport was back in 2002, 13 years ago. Later this year, I will be publishing a new, cross-departmental strategy for sport and physical activity which will deliver our vision for an active nation.

I hope that my local football club, Brereton Social FC, is bringing on the football stars of the future. The difficulty that the club faces is that, in the winter, the youth teams cannot play because the pitch is either waterlogged or frozen. It really needs a 3G pitch. What support and funding is the Government making available to clubs such as that to complete projects and, in turn, to help children participate in sport?

Having been involved in grassroots football for many years, I have spent goodness knows how many Sundays wondering whether a stud will go into a frozen pitch or whether a muddy middle is fun or dangerous, so I sympathise with the hon. Lady’s point. Shockingly, compared with the 4,000 plus artificial pitches in Germany, we have only 680 in England, but through the Park Life project we will see more than £60 million going into developing facilities, which will include major investment in, and the expansion of, artificial pitches.

Notwithstanding the early departure of England, holding the world’s third largest sporting event here was always going to provide a good opportunity to encourage people to take up rugby. The festival of rugby, which is running alongside the tournament, has already had 1,000 events and a million people taking part. The Rugby Football Union legacy programme has already achieved its target of introducing rugby to 400 secondary schools by linking with clubs. Does the Minister agree that we have had a fantastically exciting tournament so far, and that these events are great ways to get people involved in the game?

May I take this opportunity to congratulate Scotland, Wales and Ireland on reaching the quarter-finals of the rugby world cup? Some might argue that at least one of our home nations should still be in it. [Interruption.] I know how to play the crowd. The 2015 rugby world cup has been the biggest ever, with attendance and tickets outstripping previous cups. Nearly half a million people have visited the Fanzones to which my hon. Friend refers. I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating all those who have helped to deliver such a successful tournament.

Although some schools make a really good effort in ensuring that their sporting facilities are available to the wider community, others do not. What discussions has the Minister had with her colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that schools do a much better job in ensuring that their sporting facilities are available to the wider community, particularly in the winter months?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I regularly meet my counterpart in the Department for Education and we discuss all matters relating to school sport, including facilities. It is important that we ensure that our schools are properly equipped to deliver an appropriate and adequate physical education curriculum.

I wish to put on record my thoughts and appreciation of Michael Meacher. He was a great support to new MPs in this House.

What plans do the Government have to include transgender people in sport, as they are often excluded? It is important that sport is an inclusive activity.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. The recent consultation on sport ensured that we looked to see that everybody is included in participating in sport and physical activity, and it contains a significant section on discrimination. The responses to that consultation will form an important part of the sports strategy.

Football Supporter Ownership

4. When he expects the expert working group on football supporter ownership and engagement to report. (901725)

The expert working group was set up a year ago yesterday and I expect its report, with a strong set of recommendations, by the end of November.

It is four years since the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport reported on football governance, requesting changes from the FA, Premier League and the Football League, but we still have not seen those changes come through. Will the Government now consider legislation on supporter ownership?

I know that the hon. Lady is a keen football fan and has worked closely with the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, and I know that this issue is very important to her and to her Magpies-supporting constituents. The working group’s report will be published next month and I expect it to contain strong recommendations. We will consider those recommendations when they are given to me next month.

It is five years since the Government stated that they would make changes on fan ownership. Since then, we have had two Select Committee reports and, after four years of waiting, the Government finally set up the expert working group, the report from which is imminent. Does the Minister agree that it is time for bona fide fan groups to be given the right to elect and remove representatives on club boards and the right to buy shares in their clubs? For too long those with vested interests have been allowed to stand in the way of progress on these issues and we must not miss the opportunity that the expert working group offers us.

We all share the view that football fans are the lifeblood of the club they support and many people feel frustration about club ownership. I have been pleased with the level of engagement with the supporters’ representatives group and I am confident that the final report will provide a structured approach for greater collaboration between clubs and fans. That might well include some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The working group report will be published next month and before his ten-minute rule Bill comes before the House in December. I hope that he will look at the report and support us in implementing the recommendations.

Sporting Activity (Participation)

Women’s participation is up by more than 500,000 since we won the Olympic bid in 2005, but recent figures show the beginning of a decline since the high point in 2012. We know that lots of women regularly take part in physical activity that is not measured at present, but we also recognise that various obstacles put women and girls off playing sport. The new sports strategy will help to remove those obstacles.

My great city of Stoke-on-Trent will be the 2016 European city of sport. That is brilliant news for my constituents, but we need to ensure a strong legacy from that accolade. Research suggests that families on low incomes have only £2.55 a week to spend on active leisure activities. Young women prefer to participate in organised indoor sports, but many are precluded from doing so on the basis of available funds. What is the Minister doing to ensure that young women are actively encouraged to participate, regardless of their parents’ pay packets?

I feel very strongly about this issue, having coached a girls football team for many years. As a football club, we have made sure that cost is not a prohibitive factor in involvement. It is important that we ensure that there are many activities out there in which women and girls can participate, and Parkrun has become one of the fastest growing. It has a huge amount of support from women and girls all over the country. There are many different reasons why women do not participate in sport and cost might well be one of them, but we must consider all those issues as part of the wider sports strategy.

Does the Minister agree that parents have a huge responsibility? At about this time parents are thinking of what to buy their daughters for Christmas. It might not make parents the most popular people in the household on Christmas morning, but they might consider buying their daughters gym membership and a pair of trainers.

As someone who is hopefully producing a future sports star, I do not think it is for me to dictate to parents what they buy their children for Christmas. It is important that parents understand that their girls might want to get involved in sport, and perhaps not in traditional girls sport, and that they should be as supportive as possible.

There is a significant drop-off in girls’ participation in sport from 49% in year 7 to a surprisingly low 31% in year 9. Does the Minister agree that more research is needed to understand the reasons for that drop-off, and that we need to start taking action much earlier to make sure that girls are growing up with sport as a normal part of their lives?

There are many reasons why girls stop participating in sport at certain ages and it is important that we understand what those may be. We know that 14, for example, is a key age when girls start to lose interest in sport. It is important that schools and clubs outside schools understand all the competing pressures in a girl’s life at that age and can support them into sport and physical activity at appropriate points. Good places will do that and be as adaptable and flexible as possible, but it always worth looking in more detail into why people stop playing sport or participating in physical activity.

World Football (Governance)

The Government take very seriously the issue of good governance in sport, at both national and international level. Combating corruption in sport requires a co-ordinated and international approach. The Government are therefore discussing the issue of good governance with our colleagues in Europe, the Commonwealth and the wider international community to explore what more we can achieve by working together. The UK is due to host a round-table discussion on tackling corruption in sport at next week’s Open Government Partnership global summit in Mexico.

Before it even knew who the candidates would be, the Football Association came out in support of Michel Platini as the next president of FIFA. He is now under investigation, like Sepp Blatter, for corruption. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with the FA about its support for Michel Platini?

I have regular discussions with the FA and, unsurprisingly, the subject of the presidency of FIFA comes up frequently. Although the decision on which candidate to support is ultimately a matter for the FA, the Government have made it clear that we expect to see a new FIFA, with a new president who can drive reform and not one tainted by the problems of the past.

The Secretary of State says that the issue of FIFA governance has come up regularly in his conversations. Is it not masking the issue in Qatar, where workers continue to die? In the study up to 2013, more than 1,300 people were reported to have died. What representations have the Government made on the humanitarian crisis in that country resulting from the preparations for the World cup in Qatar in 2022?

I am aware of reports of concerns about the workers who are preparing for the World cup in 2022 in Qatar, but I understand that Qatar has put in place measures to ensure that their welfare is protected. We will no doubt continue to monitor that matter carefully and I will certainly look at any further concerns that have been expressed.

Many people believe that FIFA will be incapable of reforming itself and that an independent reform commission should be established. Would the Secretary of State welcome the establishment of such a commission, and would the Government be prepared to offer any assistance that that commission needed?

I share my hon. Friend’s view that those currently involved in FIFA are probably least equipped to advise on how it should be reformed, and there may well be a case for the kind of independent body that my hon. Friend advocates. We would be happy to discuss that further, should FIFA ask us to do so.


8. What progress the Government have made on implementing their five-point plan for tourism published in July 2015. (901730)

This Government back tourism and want to spread the benefits throughout the country. That requires concerted and sustained action across Government, and in partnership with the sector on jobs and skills, transport, regulation, and the great British welcome. Last month, I chaired the first meeting of our inter-ministerial group on tourism to co-ordinate work. The new Tourism Industry Council and Business Visits and Events Board will be meeting later this autumn to advise on our approach.

I assure my right hon. Friend that the Government’s new focus on tourism is hugely welcomed across the west country. He highlighted the fact that part of this plan is the promotion of skills and jobs in the tourist sector. Is he aware that, as a result of our booming food and hospitality industry in Cornwall, there is currently a large shortage of qualified chefs? Can he assure me that the promotion and provision of skills in the food and hospitality sector will be part of the strategy?

I very much agree. We are indeed aware that some of the finest restaurants in the world are based on these shores, not least in Cornwall. All tourists want something good to eat, and we should try to ensure that they get it. We are taking action in this area. For example, one of the Government’s trailblazer apprenticeship programmes announced by the Prime Minister centres on professional chefs, and we will be looking further at the important issue of skills as part of a reformed Tourism Industry Council. I would be happy to hear any other ideas that my hon. Friend has on the issue.

Tourism is worth £3.8 billion and 49,000 jobs to the Liverpool city region. Attractions include the Gormley statues on Crosby beach in my constituency, which I hope the Secretary of State will visit, if he has not already done so. However, those who go to the VisitEngland website would be forgiven for thinking that everything is about London; apart from the odd reference, there is nothing about the rest of the country. Will he address that point and ensure that Government investment and support goes to the tourism industry across the country?

I welcome London’s success in attracting international visitors—it is the most visited city in the world—but I agree that our next challenge is to persuade visitors to this country of the fact that there are many attractions outside London, not least in Liverpool. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation to see the Gormley statues, which I hope I will have an opportunity to do.

12. Does the Secretary of State recognise the importance of infrastructure in promoting tourism? Will he lend his support to the Robin Hood line so that more people can come and enjoy Sherwood forest and all it has to offer? (901736)

A key element of our five-point plan for tourism is ensuring that tourists visit places outside London, as I have said, and that requires good infrastructure covering road, air and, of course, rail. Of specific interest to my hon. Friend and his constituents will be the work that the Rail Safety and Standards Board is doing on a “rail for tourism” programme, which we hope will be launched in January.

National Museums (Free Entry)

Bradford is widely known as a centre of cultural excellence and is rightly proud of the National Media Museum, which is one of our cultural treasures. Over the years the free entry policy has helped support the museum and allowed thousands of families to access a much loved museum and cultural activities that they would not otherwise enjoy. Will the Minister assure my constituents that the future of the museum and the free entry policy are safe in his hands?

I am happy to give that assurance. I am also happy to note that the National Media Museum—part of the Science Museum Group—has through the new Treasury loans scheme refurbished its IMAX theatre and partnered with Picturehouse. The Science Museum is planning to put £1.5 million of its own money into launching a free science Launchpad, and a new marketing drive saw admissions rise over the summer. It is thriving.

Topical Questions

Since the last Culture, Media and Sport Question Time, the England team has won the Ashes; the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland football teams have all qualified for the European championships; Team GB has won four gold medals at the world athletics championships; and, although the home nations are no longer in the hunt for the rugby world cup, the tournament has enjoyed record-breaking attendances and been an organisational triumph.

I am sure that all that is very fine, but people need tickets to see those events. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 was supposed to enforce measures on ticket resales, but yesterday’s Which? report has shown that there are major holes in that. How does the Secretary of State intend to enforce the Act, and what steps will he take to address the concerns expressed by Which?

As the right hon. Gentleman might be aware, the Government are conducting a review of secondary ticketing and have recently appointed a chairman to undertake it. We will obviously look carefully at its findings when it reports.

T2. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State assure me that during the current consultations on the BBC charter the vital role of local radio, particularly stations such as BBC Essex, will not be overlooked in a modernised BBC? (901743)

I share my right hon. Friend’s admiration for BBC local radio, particularly BBC Essex, which does a magnificent job in keeping his and my constituents informed. The BBC does local radio exceptionally well, and it is hard to envisage the commercial sector being willing to provide a similar service. On that basis, I strongly hope that it will continue.

On behalf of everyone on the Opposition Benches, Mr Speaker, may I associate ourselves with the fine tribute that you paid to Michael Meacher?

In a speech on Monday to the Society of Editors, the Secretary of State revealed that he is looking at shelving a central part of the Leveson recommendations, which would make it easier for people to bring libel and privacy cases against newspapers. Does he not agree that any backtracking on this issue would significantly weaken the incentive for publishers to sign up to a royal charter-backed regulator?

Let me begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his position as shadow spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport. It is an excellent job that I am sure he will enjoy. The only job that is better than his is the one on the Government side of the House.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a key element of the Leveson proposals will come into effect at the beginning of November—that is, the exemplary damages provision, which can be awarded against newspapers that are not subject to a recognised regulator. That is a serious sanction, and we will want to see how it operates. However, we are also aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the potentially very punitive aspects of the cost provision, which could damage local newspapers severely—the very papers that are entirely blameless of abuses of the kind that were carried out over the past few years.

Speaking back in 2013 after the cross-party agreement, the Prime Minister said:

“If this system is implemented, the country should have confidence that the terrible suffering of innocent victims, such as the Dowlers, the McCanns and Christopher Jeffries, should never be repeated.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 636.]

If this essential part of Leveson is shelved, it would not only break a promise made by the Prime Minister; it would let down the families and the victims of phone hacking. Will the Secretary of State now make it clear that the Government still stand by the cross-party agreement and are committed to enforcing this key recommendation of Leveson?

The system enacted by Parliament remains in place—that is, the royal charter and the recognition body that has been set up—but it has always been made clear that it is a matter for the press as to whether it chooses to seek recognition, or for a regulator as to whether it chooses to seek recognition. I want to consider this matter carefully before reaching a final decision, but I am keenly aware that the priority for most people is that we have in place a strong, tough and independent regulator. Certainly the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has now been set up, is a considerable improvement on the previous regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission.

T8. As a former local BBC and commercial radio presenter and reporter, I am keenly aware of the vital work that all our local journalists do in scrutinising our councils. Does the Minister believe that the BBC’s bringing in 100 locally pooled journalists will help local journalism to flourish or hinder it? (901749)

As I said to the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), at a time when local newspapers are finding it very difficult in the current economic climate, the BBC can play a role in supporting them. I was concerned by the suggestion that the BBC would directly employ journalists, as that would add to the pressure on local newspapers rather than reduce it. However, I understand that the News Media Association and the BBC working group are making very good progress in achieving an agreement that will be of real benefit to the local newspaper industry.

T3. Will the Secretary of State and his team put heavy pressure on the Premier League to support grassroots football through the TV rights deal, instead of squandering it on already very rich footballers while our children get changed in the winter besides a muddy, often unplayable pitch? (901744)

I read the hon. Gentleman’s recent piece in The Huffington Post and agreed with not necessarily the tone but the principle of what he wrote. The Premier League is incredibly wealthy and we should celebrate that success, but it should contribute more to grassroots football. The Prime Minister announced recently that he wishes the Premier League to double the amount of money it puts into grassroots football. I will continue to have strong conversations with the Premier League over the forthcoming weeks.

Much sporting participation is dependent on the volunteers who give up their weekends to officiate, so what steps are the Government taking to encourage more of that good local spirit of officiating?

Many grassroots sports clubs would not exist were it not for the volunteer coaches and others who run them incredibly well. We should celebrate the people who get involved. The forthcoming sports strategy looks at making sure that we encourage more people to get involved in delivering sporting activities through clubs and in their communities. I hope everyone will welcome that.

T4. The Arts Council will have more than £1.5 billion to invest in the arts across the country over the next three years. Of that sum, 43% will be invested in London at about £81 per head, but in my region the figure will be closer to £15 per head. That is just not good enough. What is the Minister doing to redress the balance between London and the regions? (901745)

We debate this important issue regularly. It is important to stress that a lot of the money that goes to “London” arts organisations goes to organisations based in London that do work all over the country. The chief executive of the Arts Council has made it absolutely clear that he intends to ensure that more lottery money goes outside London. He is quite right and has our full support.

On the issue of nuisance telephone calls, how does the Secretary of State plan to measure whether the steps the Government have taken have been successful?

May I first record my shock at not being asked a single question about broadband in this Question Time? This is a red-letter day, although I am waiting to see whether the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) is going to get to his feet.

We have brought the Information Commissioner’s Office into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so we now have a shocking thing—joined-up Government—and I will meet the ICO and Ofcom to keep a close eye on what they are doing to tackle the scourge of nuisance calls.

T5. I want to press the Secretary of State further on some of his earlier comments. The Central Fife Times, The Courier, the Dunfermline Press and the Fife Free Press are local and regional papers that serve my constituency with diversity and distinction, but I am concerned that institutions such as the BBC, as they develop new platforms, may crowd out such local excellence. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that a local commissioning model for local content is put in place as part of the charter renewal process? (901746)

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to his local newspapers. I believe that local newspapers serve an absolutely vital function in supporting local democracy, and I want the BBC to support that. Any new BBC service has to undergo a market impact assessment, and we are keenly aware of the need to avoid doing anything that causes unfair damage. As I have said, I support the principle of local commissioning.

Have the Government developed a more detailed proposal on territoriality in the digital single market, given the huge impact any changes could have on the UK audio-visual sector?

We are in favour of the digital single market. In particular, we want increased portability in order to allow consumers travelling abroad to access services for which they have paid. I am aware, however, of the concerns expressed by the audio-visual sector that the principle of territoriality might be undermined. I am very keen that it should not be and that we do nothing to damage those industries, which make such a huge contribution to this country.

T6. Will the Minister join me in commending the work of Greg Clarke, chairman of the football league, in encouraging more black and minority ethnic applicants for football roles, including managers and youth coaches, and will she call on the Premier League to follow that excellent example? (901747)

We should be doing everything we can to support BME coaches to the highest level, and the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming this morning’s commitment from the FA to put more money into coaching programmes for people from BME communities.

Does the Minister welcome the National Football League establishing three international games at Wembley this year, and would she welcome a franchise based in London?

As a fan of American football—the Green Bay Packers are doing incredibly well at the moment in the NFL—I welcome more American football, and I look forward to seeing more games here in London.

T7. May I pay tribute to my friend Michael Meacher, who in addition to being a parliamentary champion was also a great advocate for his constituency and his constituents—they always came first? My thoughts are with Lucianne. Sport can play an invaluable role in enabling social cohesion. How will the Minister ensure that that is recognised in the new sports strategy? (901748)

In the past we have judged success in sport by two rather crude measurements: the number of medals we have, and participation. Those aspects are incredibly important, but I am also looking at ways to consider social and community value when developing sport in future.

Does the Minister agree that our national museums that offer free entry—the National Coal Mining museum has free science shows this weekend—are a fantastic free day out for families over the half-term break?

T9. Does the Minister plan to increase competition in the superfast broadband market following last week’s debate that highlighted lack of competition as the main source of current frustrations with the roll-out? (901751)

Let me take one more—I have broken my duck. We have one of the most competitive telecommunications markets, and will continue to work with Ofcom to increase competition in the sector.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—


1. What plans he has to review the effectiveness of the Government's English votes for English laws proposals after implementation. (901712)

The Government will carry out a review of the new system next year, subject to approval by the House today, and I will consult the relevant Committees, including those in the House of Lords, should this House agree the proposed changes. We will consider carefully any observations and recommendations that arise from those reviews, to ensure that the English votes mechanism works as effectively as possible. I expect that the House will return to this issue at that time.

What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that measures on English votes for English laws do not damage the fabric of our cherished Union and lead to a situation where this House could be deemed to be the representative assembly of England, rather than the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and that is why we have chosen not to go down the path of an English Parliament. As we devolve more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we committed to that in our manifesto and we believe it is the right thing to do—we seek to ensure that the English also have a role in that devolution, but not in a way that removes any Member from any part of the current debating process in this Chamber.

I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for probably the first time in my life, so that is a good thing. Will the Leader of the House ensure that in any review he undertakes, the position of border constituencies such as mine in Wales, and those in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, are reflected carefully so that Mr Speaker’s tight discretion on determining what is an English-only Bill is reviewed in the light of pressures on my constituents?

The review and the work we do in the next 12 months should take into account all concerns raised by Members. I give the right hon. Gentleman a commitment that we will of course listen to views from across the House on this and other matters.

I, too, find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). Does the Leader of the House not accept that unless he is very careful in the drafting of the new rules, there will be the unintended consequence of creating certain members of the other place who will be more powerful than Members of this House?

I do not accept that. We have taken great care in drafting the rules. We will monitor very carefully their operation in practice. If the hon. Gentleman and other Members have concerns over the next 12 months, they will undoubtedly want to raise them as part of our review process.


2. If he will take steps to ensure that proposals for English votes for English laws do not give English-only certification to Bills or clauses with consequential implications for Scotland. (901713)

The proposed changes to Standing Orders would mean that clauses or schedules that Mr Speaker considers to relate exclusively to England, or to England and Wales, disregarding any minor or consequential effects for other parts of the United Kingdom, will be subject to the new legislative process.

Minor or consequential, and consequential. This will include any potential spending effects. Any decision on spending that will have a material impact on the allocation of funding to the devolved Administrations will always be taken by a vote of the whole House of Commons through either the estimates process or a money resolution.

In response to a question from me in June, the Leader of the House said that the Scotland Bill could be considered as “English votes for English laws”. When we debated EVEL on 15 July, the Leader of the House committed to producing a list of measures in the Queen’s Speech that he thought might be subject to EVEL. I would very much appreciate it if he could tell me where I could find that list.

It will of course be a matter for you, Mr Speaker, to decide which measures are subject to this process. It is, as I will tell the House this afternoon, my view that there are probably two or three remaining Bills in this Session that are likely to prompt you to issue a certification decision. All this, of course, is entirely academic until the House has decided whether to accept the Standing Orders.

The Leader of the House mentioned the estimates process. Has he discussed with the Treasury the likely increased scrutiny of the estimates process as a result of the can of worms he is opening up with English votes for English laws? The Procedure Committee is very much looking forward to Treasury officials appearing before it. I wonder whether Treasury officials are looking forward to appearing.

Dare I say that it is Treasury questions next week and the hon. Gentleman is of course able to put that question to the Treasury?

Party Conferences

3. If he will make it his policy that the House not adjourn for the period covered by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party autumn conferences. (901715)

We have no current plans to make changes to the conference recess. We periodically review the parliamentary calendar to ensure that it allows for Members and the House to carry out their work in the most effective way possible both in the House and in their constituencies, being mindful of other responsibilities that Members may have.

Her Majesty’s Government love it when Parliament is not sitting, because there is no one to hold them to account on the Floor of the House of Commons. Given that the number of days we have in recess is already far too large and that it is completely unnecessary to have an adjournment for the main party conference season, will the Deputy Leader of the House reconsider her remarks?

This House already meets for over 150 days a year. I recognise the length of the recess. A decision was made in the previous Parliament to remove the extended recess so that we would sit in September. I think that is the right approach. It worked well in the previous Parliament and it worked well last month, too.

These are disappointing comments from the Deputy Leader of the House. There is now a real willingness in this House to reconsider its recess plans. It is simply absurd that we abandon our business for one week to accommodate eight Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament. When we come to consider the recess period, may we also look at when the recess starts? Surely it is within the wit of this House to have a summer recess that includes all the summer holidays of every nation of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman has made this representation before. I note that the Scottish Parliament reconvened the week before we did in September and, as a consequence, did not quite cover all its school holidays. Dare I say that the result in May 2015 was not exactly predicted when the parties set up their initial conference arrangements? As Deputy Leader of the House, I always listen to representations.

My hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the House, the Leader of the House and the Conservative party chairman are talented people, and it cannot be beyond their wit to organise the Conservative party conference into a Friday, Saturday and Sunday so that the House can continue sitting. May I urge her to reconsider this suggested initiative, rather than dismiss it out of hand?

I never dismiss Members’ contributions out of hand. Like my hon. Friend, I enjoyed our party conference in Manchester this year. I am not conscious that I am the chairman of the Conservative party and therefore make our conference arrangements, but, as always, we are a listening Government, and I am sure we will take representations appropriately.

I do not entirely agree with the suggestion from the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) about the party conference season, but there is an issue about how suitable parliamentary scheduling is for modern families, both for Members and House staff. For example, next week is half term, yet we are taking recess the following week. What is the deputy Leader of the House doing to modernise how House business is scheduled to address this problem?

I appreciate the hon. Lady was not here, but in the last Parliament the House resolved to make some changes to its hours. I am conscious of the responsibilities people might have—whether with families, children, parents or other extenuating circumstances—but, as I have advised new Members already, the Procedure Committee looked again at this and decided not to recommend any changes to the House. It is open to the Committee to make further investigations, however, and I am sure that her comments will be passed on to its Chairman and that she can make them directly.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Restoration and Renewal

4. What estimate he has made of the expected cost of restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. (901717)

7. When the Commission plans to bring forward proposals on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. (901720)

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I would like to echo the tributes to Michael Meacher, who gave outstanding service to the House.

The House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords House Committee asked for the independent appraisal of options and costs for restoring and renewing the Palace of Westminster that was published on 18 June. The range of costs for each option is given and explained in the document. The two Houses have appointed a Joint Committee, which will report to both Houses in due course. In the meantime, essential and urgent work to maintain the Palace continues.

Many people up and down the country recognise and appreciate the value of this place, in terms of both our national history and it being at the heart of our democracy and its tourism value. I have been asked locally whether there are any plans to establish a fund that members of the public can contribute to in order to support those restoration works. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any such plans?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion. I am happy to take it away and see whether there is any mileage in it.


5. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of arrangements for meeting hon. Members’ IT requirements. (901718)

The Administration Committee considered this matter in the last Parliament, and its relevant recommendations have been implemented. The most significant changes include offering more choice of equipment, the introduction of a financial limit and the provision of a tablet computer to all Members to facilitate paperless and mobile working. It is possible to secure more centrally provided equipment within the £5,945 allowance than in the last Parliament. Some 75% of Members have placed orders for new equipment.

My staff diligently worked through the options and came up with a direct replacement that exceeded the budget by £5. I offered to top up the budget to allow my staff to operate, only to be told that it was not possible because of bureaucracy. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider this matter so that equipment purchased with office budgets in the last Parliament is not just thrown away and Members can use it in conjunction with other equipment?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I was aware of the background to his concerns. As I understand it, there needs to be a limit, and many Members, myself included, have worked in such a way that they come in just below that limit. I understand that, from an accounting point of view, significant costs would be attached to ensuring the flexibility he asks for.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

House Business Committee Proposal

6. What progress is being made in establishing a House business committee; and if he will make a statement. (901719)

There was an absence of consensus on this matter at the end of the last Parliament, and there is still no consensus now. We discussed it in Westminster Hall last week with the hon. Gentleman and two other hon. Members.

The Wright Committee reported to this House and created a Backbench Business Committee, the election of Select Committee Chairs and the election of Select Committee Members. The House approved all those issues. The one issue that it has not been able to approve or has not approved is the creation of a House business committee by which Members rather than the Government or alternative Government can be represented on it. Will the Deputy Leader of the House allow the House of Commons to make a decision in Government time on whether we should have a House business committee or not?

As I explained at length in the Westminster Hall debate last week, one of our predecessors, the noble Lord Lansley set our four tests. We have yet to receive a recommendation or create a proposal that can pass the four tests that we believe necessary for the creation of a House business committee.

I will take that as a no—that the Minister will not bring forward a motion on this matter. The Backbench Business Committee, however, has put down such a motion and Members will have the opportunity in a week’s time to vote on whether they want to discuss proposals for a House business committee. Does the Minister agree that that is an excellent way forward?

My hon. Friend is a member of the Backbench Business Committee, and I know he has an interest in this issue. He displayed his knowledge of Standing Orders in Westminster Hall last week, and I believe he advised the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) to contest the decision. Of course, that situation has arisen in this Session because we used to adjourn in Westminster Hall but it now considers motions. The Backbench Business Committee has decided that this is a good use of parliamentary time next Thursday—it is a judgment that it has made.

House of Commons Commission

The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Staff Working Conditions

The Commission seeks to provide good working conditions for all its staff. Terms and conditions of staff are kept broadly in line with those in the home civil service. No staff are paid below the London living wage. A range of facilities, including welfare support and learning opportunities are provided. The 2015 staff survey showed increasing job satisfaction, with 86% of staff willing to recommend the House of Commons as a good place to work.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that my campaign has been about not only the payment of a living wage in both Houses of Parliament, but ensuring that we are an exemplary employer—better than John Lewis, better than Waitrose, better than anywhere. We should also set an example in terms of pay, conditions and how we treat the staff of this House. We have not treated them very well in the past.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think he has asked me anything specific. I agree entirely with what he has said about setting an example for the rest of the country when it comes to staff conditions.