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Topical Questions

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015

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.