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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 3 December 2015

Culture, Media and Sport

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

Superfast Broadband

By the end of 2017, 95% of homes and businesses in the United Kingdom will have access to superfast broadband. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last month, by the end of this Parliament people will have a legal right to request a broadband connection, no matter where they live. We will be consulting on these plans, which will put access to broadband on a similar footing with other basic services early next year.

I welcome the universal service obligation to provide 10 megabits of coverage to the whole country by 2020. Point-to-point wireless can provide a solution today up to 30 megabits, but the organisations behind those facilities will not invest because state aid will one day bring fibre to those communities and take away their customers. Can Ministers provide a solution to this important conundrum?

I commend my hon. Friend on his advocacy for his constituents on the importance of achieving superfast broadband as quickly as possible. The universal service obligation will provide a safety net, but it will take some time to work out the details. In the meantime, we would welcome all the alternative suppliers putting forward their solution. It may well be that different solutions will be appropriate for different places.

Some parts of my constituency such as central Rochester, the peninsula and the businesses in Chatham historic dockyard have been suffering from poor fibre-optic broadband coverage from BT for too long. Much-needed upgrades were supposed to be in place from December last year, yet we are having to wait until the 2016-17 financial year at the earliest. What can the Minister do to stop broadband companies from dragging their heels so that all residents and businesses can enjoy the services that they ought to have?

I fully appreciate the wish of my hon. Friend that her constituents should have access to superfast broadband as soon as possible. We are making extremely good progress on phase 2. We have already passed an extra 3.3 million premises, and that will rise to 4 million by early 2016. By the end of phase 2, we expect to have achieved 97% coverage in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We will then work hard on the remaining small number of houses, which will have the possibility of the universal service obligation to rely on.

Those of us who are long and strong advocates of universal service welcome the Government’s U-turn on this matter. Only a few weeks ago, I was told by the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy that this was not possible, and it was not Government policy. I will be taking part in the consultation, but will there be any new Government money from the UK, the Welsh Government or the European Union?

I would be extremely surprised if that was what my hon. Friend said, as he has been a leading advocate of the universal service obligation policy, which will benefit all the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, just as it will every other household in the country. The precise details of how the universal service obligation will work are still to be worked out, and that will obviously include how it will be paid for, and we shall be consulting on that over the coming year.

Given the report that was published this week by Ofcom, which illustrated the differences in broadband speed in Northern Ireland and the fact that Northern Ireland has 73% coverage compared with 88% in the rest of the United Kingdom, what action will the Secretary of State and his officials take to address this matter?

I believe that the Ofcom report showed different possible causes for slower broadband, including, I am told, Christmas fairy lights. That is why it is making available an app to measure the speed of wi-fi. I can tell the hon. Lady that in Northern Ireland we expect that by the end of the superfast broadband project 87% of homes and businesses will be covered. The Northern Ireland Government have received £11.4 million from Broadband Delivery UK for the project.

18 . In some easily accessible areas in my constituency superfast broadband is extremely economically viable; BT has received a huge amount of subsidy since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that this is unacceptable and will he meet me to see what we can do to get this right and solve the problem of accessibility? (902546)

We are making good progress, as I have already mentioned. We are optimistic—indeed, confident—that we will achieve the 95% target by the end of 2017. That still leaves some difficult areas. I will, of course, be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what more we can do to ensure that all his constituents can benefit from superfast broadband.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking with other Departments to enforce broadband speeds? These questions are about superfast broadband, but what constitutes “superfast” on the ground, as it were, is a matter of great dispute. Many providers say that they provide speeds of “up to” a certain number. What enforcement steps is he taking?

I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s concern that advertised speeds are not delivered in practice. We talk regularly with Ofcom about that matter. Ofcom is carrying out detailed research and, as I mentioned earlier, making available an application that will allow consumers to test whether they are achieving those speeds. The universal service obligation, to which the question refers, that is coming into place will require all providers to be able to supply at least 10 megabits —the speed that Ofcom currently assesses as necessary for someone to be able to enjoy most normal applications.

Five years after abandoning Labour’s universal service commitment and having delayed his own super-slow crawl-out at least three times without proper consultation with either Ofcom or the industry, the Prime Minister magics a universal service obligation out of thin air. The Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, with whom I have the deepest sympathy, is forced to pretend that it is part of some strategy that has not been published or even consulted on. The Chancellor, however, is not in on the trick: the comprehensive spending review does not mention the issue once. Does the Minister have any idea of how much the obligation is going to cost—or it just a sop to his Back Benchers whose mailbags are bulging with complaints about broadband?

That was a good try by the hon. Lady, but in actual fact we have been making extremely good progress. The superfast scheme has now passed an extra 3.3 million homes and we will achieve 95% by the end of 2017. The universal service obligation is to allow those few remaining households who do not benefit to have a legal right to require broadband. As to the costing, we are in discussion with the industry about that and we will consult on it. We look forward to hearing all inputs to the consultation, including the hon. Lady’s.

Access to Culture and the Arts

2. What steps he is taking to improve access to culture and the arts for more disadvantaged communities . (902529)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for this question about the important issue of improving access to culture and the arts for people from disadvantaged communities. I was delighted with the Chancellor’s autumn statement, which did not cut funding for the arts and heritage. That will be welcomed very much by Labour Front Benchers, who were predicting doom and gloom. There are a number of schemes that help disadvantaged people, but I want to work on the issue for my White Paper in the new year.

The Arts Council will have more than £1.5 billion to support the arts over the next three years. GPS Culture has calculated that 43% of that will be invested in London—a spend of £81, compared with just £19.80 per head for the rest of the country. Frankly, people in Dewsbury, Mirfield and the rest of Yorkshire feel let down. Will the Minister take action to rebalance funding between London and the regions to ensure that everyone, including those from disadvantaged communities, gets access to culture and the arts?

My understanding is that tonight in Dewsbury there will be a fantastic free arts event for families at Crow Nest park funded by the Arts Council. The creative people and places fund targets funding outside London. More than half of the multimillion-pound Grants for the Arts programme goes to a quarter of the most deprived areas in England. The Arts Council is doing a lot. We are doing a lot more than was done under the last Labour Government. We have massively increased the funding that goes outside London, which Labour never addressed.

Last Saturday evening, my family and I attended the Kettering gang show at the Lighthouse theatre in Kettering, organised by the local Kettering scouts. It was a fantastic show. Given that the scouts do so much very good work with boys and girls in disadvantaged communities throughout this country, will the Minister take this opportunity to praise the scout movement for how it encourages young people to get involved in the arts?

I would love to take this opportunity to praise the scout movement and all the volunteers and voluntary organisations that do so much for the arts. Their contribution should not be forgotten; we should not simply look at those organisations that are funded by the Arts Council.

On the issue of disadvantaged communities and their languages, the Gaelic language is the most endangered in these islands. Why, therefore, in the autumn statement did the Government withdraw their total direct UK funding of £1 million, and can I ask him to reconsider?

As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, there were two one-off grants in the last Parliament to support that important work, and those contributions have made a valuable difference, but they were not annual grants stretching way back into the past. They were two one-off grants strongly supported by the then Chief Secretary.

Does the Minister agree that the £40 million commitment from the Discover England fund will also help to promote arts and culture across Britain?

Yes, I do, and it is extremely important that that fund is co-ordinated with the arts and heritage funding that the Chancellor has kept stable for the next five years. If we combine the funding for arts, heritage and tourism, we can generate some meaningful interventions across the UK.

The Government’s official annual figures, “Taking Part”, published in July, show a marked decline in the percentage of young children participating in key activities including dance, music, theatre, drama, arts and crafts. In 2010, on average, more than 50% of five to 10-year-olds took part in those activities: it is now just 30%. Is it not the case that under this Government access to arts and culture has undeniably gone backwards, and it is disproportionately disadvantaged communities and working-class kids who lose out the most?

Our museums have never received more visitors and our arts organisations are thriving. Rather than criticising the arts, this is the hon. Gentleman’s opportunity to apologise for the appalling scare- mongering he undertook last month, claiming that the arts would be cut by 30%. He should apologise now at the Dispatch Box.

It is an odd request to be asked to apologise for the Government’s figures, but I am more than happy to highlight their poor performance. I shall give him some more figures—not scaremongering, but real figures. Recent research by Ipsos MORI revealed that 70% of children of non-graduate parents spend fewer than three hours a week on cultural activity. That compares with 80% of children of graduate parents who spend more than three hours. Last week’s spending review, which the Minister mentions so much, means that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will face a 5% real-terms cut, and the central grant for local government is being cut by a massive 56%—a £6.1 billion reduction by 2019-20, which is not exactly a cause for a circuit of honour. What assessment has the DCMS made of the impact of local government cuts made by the Government on libraries, museums, galleries and theatres that all rely on local councils?

I take the issue of access to arts by all our communities very seriously, which is why I support all the schemes that the Arts Council is undertaking. But again, the hon. Gentleman can make a difference. He does not have to feel powerless on the Opposition Benches: he can ring up Labour Lancashire now and ask why it is withdrawing all its funding from all its museums.

Broadband Grant Vouchers

3. What assessment his Department has made of the rate of take-up of broadband grant vouchers by small and medium-sized businesses. (902530)

I am grateful for the chance to address this important issue, and I am delighted that more than 50,000 firms in the UK have taken advantage of our broadband connection vouchers, as well more than 1,000 public buildings.

My constituents in Eddisbury will have connections below the Cheshire average for superfast broadband. What steps can be taken to ensure that Connecting Cheshire will prioritise better superfast broadband access for rural businesses and residents in Eddisbury?

My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for broadband and for her constituency. I am very pleased that almost half of her constituency will benefit from our superfast broadband roll-out—almost 15,000 homes in her constituency have already been passed, but by the time the project is finished more than 30,000 will have been passed.

There will not be many successful business parks where the highway stops short of the park and people have to get out of their cars and walk the rest of the way. Can we apply the same logic to another important highway—broadband—and make sure that business parks are properly connected so that small businesses can thrive and prosper?

There is no reason why business parks should not be part of the superfast broadband roll-out programme. It is also important that business park owners, who charge rents and provide services to their tenants, get on board and ensure their tenants have broadband.

Broadband Universal Service Obligation

As the Prime Minister announced, people will, by the end of this Parliament, have a legal right to request a broadband connection, no matter where they live, from a designated provider, at a minimum speed, up to a reasonable cost threshold. We will consult on those plans in early 2016.

I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me and being so patient about my many queries on this issue. Telford residents in the Trench Lock and Lightmoor new-build areas, and residents of historic Ironbridge, tell me that they struggle daily with inadequate broadband. When can they expect the same, increased connectivity as other people across the UK?

The Telford and Wrekin project is set to deliver superfast broadband access to 98% of homes and businesses by the end of phase 2 in 2017. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to press us to ensure that the few remaining constituents of hers who do not have such access obtain it. From this month, they will have a right to a basic broadband service of 2 megabits per second, and will be able to take advantage of the universal service obligation when it comes into effect.

16. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but will he assure me that the pace of the roll-out will be increased so that businesses in my constituency, such as Excel Group in Wareham, can have fibre access? (902544)

We will achieve the 95% target by the end of 2017, when the contractual arrangements we have achieved will enable us to invest more in going beyond that. We will be putting in place the universal service obligation, which will benefit my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of all other Members.

It is all very well having the universal service obligation, and I urge that it be introduced as quickly as possible, but the key question is the definition of “affordable” or “reasonable”. Will the Secretary of State confirm that when it is introduced my constituents will be able to afford what the providers offer?

The universal service obligation is a safety net to benefit those few remaining people who have been unable to access superfast broadband. We are consulting on the precise details, including the costing, and we are discussing with industry how that will be met. I assure my hon. Friend that it is intended that it should be affordable to his constituents and those of all other Members.

Football Supporters Associations

6. What recent discussions he has had with football authorities on the voluntary and community work of supporters associations. (902533)

I have regular discussions with the football authorities on a variety of issues, including the work of supporters associations. The expert working group set up by Government has been looking at building on supporter engagement. I have received a copy of its report, which will go to the football authorities for approval by their boards.

Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Crawley Town supporters alliance for its charity work through the Crawley Kicks project for young people, and for raising funds for Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice in Sussex?

I share a TV region with my hon. Friend, so I also follow the ups and downs of his club. It is nice to be able to congratulate Crawley Town supporters alliance on their admirable community work. Supporters groups up and down the country make a hugely valuable contribution to their communities, as well as raising funds for their club. Football clubs are stronger when working with, and in the best interests of, their supporters.

The Northern league was founded in 1889 and is the second oldest football league in the country. It could not have survived without the dedication and commitment of supporters and volunteers. A shining example of that is Mr Mike Amos, the chairman of the Northern league, who is retiring this year after 20 years. Like many other volunteers in non-league football across the country, he has done a fantastic job. Will the Minister join me in thanking the likes of Mr Amos for their dedication and commitment, and wish him and his family the very best for the future?

Football is nothing without its fans, its volunteers and the communities that it works in. It is important that we celebrate and honour those who dedicate their lives in a variety of different ways to football, so I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Mr Amos on all that he has done to serve the Northern league.

Will the Minister say when the report from the expert working group will be published? We were hoping that it would be published at the end of last month. While the arrests in Zurich this morning highlight the problems in the governance of world football, there are still many concerns about the governance of football in this country, too.

I can certainly give an indication about when I expect the report. If anything, I owe the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) an apology, because in my response to this question last time, I said that it would be published before his Bill comes before the House tomorrow. I have received a copy of the report. It has been done by football for football, so it is only right that the football authorities that need to look through it are given the opportunity to do so. I expect that to be done within the next three weeks and that the report will be published in January.

Sports Strategy

The Department’s own “Taking Part” figures show that children’s participation has dropped under this Government. The number of five to 15-year-olds playing competitive sport outside school has dropped 19%. Given that my city, the great city of Stoke-on-Trent, has been awarded European City of Sport for next year, when are the Government going to give us some detail, stop talking and start delivering so that my constituents can get the most out of next year?

The hon. Lady has to wait only a very short time to see what the Government will be doing to deliver a brand-new policy on sport. Making sure that children participate in sport at a very early age is incredibly important. We know that if children develop the habit of sport at a very early age, it is something that they will continue. If she can bear with us for a few more days, I hope that she will get the answer to her question in more detail.

I know that the Minister is very keen on increasing participation in sport. Is she aware of the work of Wheels for All, a Lancashire charity which allows cycling for those with a disability? It is concerned that its activity levels are not being included in the Government’s activity survey because it does not count as sporting. There is too much focus on elite paralympic sport and not enough on activity levels that benefit the disabled community.

My hon. Friend makes a really good point. The previous sports strategy relied on only two crude measurements around participation and medals. As I have indicated during previous discussions in the House, the new sports strategy will look beyond those two measures to see what social value sport brings to the community. That of course will mean that nobody should be prevented from participating in sport or any kind of physical activity.

Any new strategy should involve the participation of more ladies and girls but must also address obesity, particularly at primary school level. Can the Minister say what discussions she has had with our Health Minister to address that issue?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that I regularly meet Ministers across all Departments, but especially Health and Education Ministers. The new sports strategy is cross-departmental and will deal with many different issues. We will ensure that it aligns carefully with what the Department of Health is doing in the long term to combat obesity and childhood obesity.

Horserace Betting Levy

May I first draw the House’s attention to the written statement in the name of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that was laid in Parliament this morning and confirms that the 55th levy has now been set? Despite this, the Government remain committed to replacing the current levy system to create a level playing field for British-based and offshore gambling operators. Work is continuing and we will make a further announcement in due course.

I am grateful for that response. One of the proposals put to the Minister by the sport of racing is for a racing right. Will she say what work the Government have done in considering the proposal, whether she needs further detail from the industry and what timescale we are talking about?

The previous Government undertook three consultations and we are committed to replacing the outdated levy. Work is continuing and more detailed policy design is under way. We will make a further announcement in due course.

There is growing concern in the five racecourses in Scotland, including Musselburgh in my constituency, regarding the delay in introducing the new horseracing right. May I press the Minister for some form of timetable so that the racecourse industry knows where it is?

Reform of the levy is an incredibly detailed piece of work and we want to ensure we get it right. It is important for everybody involved that we ensure that racing, a huge economic contributor to the UK economy, continues to be strong. We therefore want to ensure we do things appropriately.

I should make people aware of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The total prize money fund for horseracing in the UK is £130 million, and, in one form or another, bookmakers hand to racing almost £200 million—nearly 50% more than the total prize money. Is it not fair to say that bookmakers pay a fair price for the racing product, and was it not irresponsible of the racing industry to turn down the extra millions of pounds on offer to it in the recent levy negotiations?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know he takes a keen interest in this matter. I assure him that discussions on the levy, including the voluntary contribution, took place, as the Secretary of State’s written statement today makes clear. There is an issue with offshore remote gamblers not contributing from the statutory perspective, and that requires reform. We are therefore looking at it in close detail.

It is two years since Labour forced the Government to commit to introducing a racing right to ensure that racing gets a fair return on all forms of betting based in the UK. It is estimated that the industry is missing out on £30 million a year. I press the Minister again: when can we expect a conclusion to the discussions on the horseracing right, and what discussions has she had with the industry about a sports betting right for all sports, which the last Labour Government initiated, that can be reinvested in grassroots sport?

I have already answered the question about the timeframe. We must look at this in detail and an economic evaluation is taking place. The Government have no plans to introduce a sports betting right. The new model for horseracing will replace an existing arrangement for transferring funds from betting to horseracing.

Mobile and Broadband Coverage: Rural Areas

10. What steps the Government have taken to improve mobile phone reception and broadband service in rural areas. (902538)

I am thrilled with the progress we are making on broadband and mobile coverage. [Laughter.] Labour Front Benchers like to mock me, but I want to tell you, Mr Speaker, about the International Telecommunication Union, which states that the UK has risen from 10th to fourth in the broadband rankings, overtaking Sweden, overtaking Holland, overtaking Hong Kong and overtaking Finland. The broadband European scorecard, published this week, showed that once again we are at the top of the EU big five. That is progress.

Yes, progress indeed—but I am interested in Shropshire, which I represent and where issues remain outstanding. I very much hope that the Minister will give me some assurances about the work to improve coverage in Shropshire and to reform the electronic communications code.

Broadband roll-out in Shropshire is now exceeding the number of Michelin stars. Almost 12,000 homes in my hon. Friend’s constituency have been passed by our broadband programme, and we will get to 92% of his constituency. We will reform the electronic communications code to make broadband roll-out go even faster, especially when we introduce our universal service obligation.

15. A report published by Ofcom in August found that 24% of Scotland’s landmass had no mobile signal, and the highlands and islands continue to be the worst areas for 3G coverage in the UK. The 4G mobile option took no account of Scottish Government proposals to set coverage requirements for each local authority. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure connectivity across all parts of the UK with 5G licences? Does he agree that 5G may be part of a solution to provide superfast broadband in rural areas? (902543)

I have to say that 5G is some way off, but I am pleased that we are investing in the research. The hon. Gentleman may be looking at our plans to clear the 700 MHz spectrum, which will provide even better mobile coverage, but I know that he will rise with me to applaud the licence deal that we did with the mobile operators to get 90% geographical coverage around the UK by the end of 2027, with his interests firmly in our hearts.

Welsh Language

Well, what can I say, except that we are committed to the Welsh language? We are committed to providing Government services in the Welsh language, and we are firmly committed to S4C.

Does my hon. Friend agree that S4C plays a key role in promoting the Welsh language in Wales? Does he understand that the widespread disappointment that people in Wales feel about the DCMS contribution was significantly reduced in the autumn statement?

I am afraid that my glass is half full on this one. We secured £83 million of funding for S4C in 2012-13, and that funding remained broadly stable for the lifetime of that Parliament. Even now, if we take into account the contribution made by BBC News, S4C will receive a guaranteed income of some £90 million a year. That is guaranteed income, which any other media company—obviously, apart from the BBC—would cry out for.

But S4C is the only Welsh language channel. It is a national treasure for the United Kingdom. If the Government really have a commitment to the Welsh language, they need to stop cutting the income of the only Welsh language TV channel that we have. Will the Minister please reconsider?

S4C was brought in by a Conservative Government. S4C has been supported by Conservative Government. S4C will continue to be supported by a Conservative Government; but unfortunately, we have had to make difficult decisions about funding across all areas of Government spending, because of the catastrophic mess left by the Labour Government.

In its general election manifesto, the Conservative party promised to safeguard the funding of S4C; yet last week, the comprehensive spending review outlined a further cut of 26% in the UK Government’s support for S4C. Is the Minister aware of his Welsh history and what happened the last time the Tories broke their promise in relation to S4C? Will he now consider the need to ensure that S4C is adequately resourced?

As I keep repeating, S4C is adequately funded. It is extremely generously funded. It is generously supported by the BBC. It will continue to receive a generous grant from my Department. It is more generously funded than any other media organisation in terms of the number of viewers that it receives.

Topical Questions

Since the last Culture, Media and Sport questions, Adele’s new album “25” has enjoyed record-breaking chart success, the latest Bond film continues to do excellent business, we concluded our hosting of a tremendous rugby World cup and, of course, Great Britain has won the Davis cup, but we have seen the ability of sport to bring people together in an incredibly powerful and moving way at the England-France game at Wembley. The positive impact of the many areas sponsored by my Department on our economy, culture and general wellbeing were recognised and reflected in the spending review.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating rugby league star Kevin Sinfield on being shortlisted for the BBC sports personality of the year award? Following the autumn statement, will he say how the Government are supporting the sport of rugby league and, in particular, the bid for the rugby league World cup in 2021?

I would, of course, like to congratulate all 12 contenders for the sports personality of the year award. However, hon. Members might be aware that there are some fans of Leeds Rhinos in the Department, one of whom is not sitting a million miles away from me, and I am sure that she will be very vocal in supporting Kevin Sinfield. However, with regard to the rugby league World cup, when we hosted the competition two years ago, it drew more than 450,000 fans and generated an estimated £9.6 million. Officials are due to meet the rugby league next week to discuss its proposed 2021 rugby league World cup bid.

T6. The Immigration Bill seems to make it harder and harder for people in the creative industries, like all others, to work with people across the globe. Has the Secretary of State considered the benefits to our creative industries of a new short-term visa, and will he speak to the Home Secretary about the possibility? (902524)

The hon. Lady raises an important topic. We have a close relationship with the Home Office and keep in close contact with it in on this important issue. Working with organisations such as Tech City UK, we have reformed immigration rules to allow people with the right kind of high-level skills to enter the country and work in our creative industries, and we will continue to work with the Home Office on the issue.

T2. The Minister will be delighted to know that last night, Telford Town Park was announced as the UK’s best park. Will she join me in congratulating all those involved, particularly in Hollinswood and Randlay Parish Council, Friends of Telford Town Park and Telford and Wrekin Council, for the important work that they do? (902519)

This is excellent news for the people of Telford, and I congratulate everyone involved on winning the best park award. Urban parks are vital in providing opportunities for people to get active in the fresh air, and it is important that we protect them for the benefit of local communities.

T3. As we come to within two days of Small Business Saturday, the Secretary of State will be aware that Channel 4 currently works with more than 350 production companies, including a large number of small and medium-sized businesses. Can he assure us that in the event of any privatisation of Channel 4, the livelihood of those important small businesses will not be threatened by the desire to centralise and rationalise to save money? (902520)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s admiration of Channel 4’s work in supporting our creative industries. I am concerned to ensure that Channel 4 continues to have a sustainable and viable future and deliver its remit. With regard to the possible ownership structures, no decisions have been taken, but we are examining a number of different options, including the one put forward by Channel 4 management. Whatever decision we reach will be designed to ensure that Channel 4 continues to make a considerable contribution to our creative economy.

T4. I am grateful for the work that is currently being undertaken to review the case for greater integration of outdoor recreation in the current sport strategy. What steps are being taken to promote outdoor recreation, to further boost domestic and international tourist activity in rural areas in Macclesfield and across the country? (902522)

Outdoor activity is a hugely important part of the tourism offer in rural areas across the whole UK, and the total annual tourism spending attributed to leisure activities is phenomenal. It is of course a key strand of the new strategy, and as tourism Minister I can say that it links in nicely with some of our other activities.

T9. There is mounting evidence that the BBC and its licence fee are inhibiting local newspapers’ ability to develop online. If the Secretary of State is to water down his previous antipathy to the licence fee, will he at least prevent it from being used in a way that hurts non-licence fee-funded local media? (902527)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about local newspapers, which play a vital role in local democracy. I welcome the fact that discussions have been taking place between local media groups and the BBC to determine what the BBC might do to assist local newspapers. I understand that very good progress has been made, and I hope that the BBC will therefore be able to play its part in recognising the contribution that local newspapers make to news provision and giving them some recompense for that.

T5. With the highly successful Westminster gaming event having taken place earlier this month, does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that computer programming and gaming are viable career options for many young people in our rural communities? (902523)

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point about not only the fantastic broadband roll-out in Cornwall, but the south-west’s fantastic games economy, regarding which we can talk about companies such as the Engine Room, Auroch Digital and Opposable Games. As a strong supporter of games and a successful roller-out of broadband, I wholeheartedly agree with both elements of his question.

I cannot let the Minister get away with his comments about S4C. In May, the Conservatives’ manifesto said that they would safeguard the funding of S4C. How does the Chancellor’s statement last week safeguard the funding of S4C along the lines of that manifesto commitment?

S4C will continue to receive funding from DCMS and the BBC, and it will continue to be the most generously funded media company in the country in terms of the number of viewers that it gets.

T7. In September, a new memorial to the miners who lost their lives in the local pits was unveiled in Rugeley. On Saturday night, one of the four statutes was severely damaged by a driver who crashed into it and fled the scene. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in condemning the action of this callous individual and tell me whether any Government support is available for the repair, maintenance and renewal of local memorials? (902525)

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s feelings. I was concerned to hear about the damage to the memorial to the miners who lost their lives, especially as it came so soon after more than 2,000 people lined the town’s streets for its unveiling in September. I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in condemning the actions of the person responsible. I can tell her that my Department administers the memorial grant scheme. If a registered charity is responsible for the care of the memorial, it will be able to benefit from a refund of VAT paid on repair work.

If the Government are really serious about opening up culture and the arts to disadvantaged communities, will the Secretary of State explain to my constituents why £150 million was announced for London museums in the comprehensive spending review and there is £100 million for a new arts complex in Battersea, yet Hull, which is the 2017 UK city of culture, is getting a share of £1 million allocated by the Chancellor? How does that work?

I have been to Hull twice now to find out what is going on, and it is fantastic to see the improvements—[Interruption.] Labour Front Benchers can mock what is going on there, but the people of Hull will see those Members laughing at their efforts to produce a great capital of culture.

The hon. Lady does not mention the £78 million for the Factory in Manchester. She does not point out that the intention of the £150 million to get storage out of Blythe house is to get objects away from London and out to the regions. I welcome Hull, even if Labour condemns it as the capital of culture.

The Minister is an exceptionally excited fellow this morning. I do not know what he or the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) had for breakfast, but I shall probably take care to avoid it.

T8. The Minister will be aware of the campaign by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association to safeguard sculpture in the outdoor realm either from removal or from being sold off. This is a worthwhile cause, so what can the Government do to safeguard and support public sculpture? (902526)

I feel strongly about this issue, Mr Speaker, but I shall try not to get too excited about it. I was pleased to secure the future of the Henry Moore sculpture on Abingdon Green, as well as to campaign to keep a Henry Moore sculpture from being sold by Tower Hamlets and to prevent a Hepworth sculpture from being sold by a shopping centre, so I will support any public campaign that keeps a sculpture where it is meant to be.

I, too, am delighted by the nomination for BBC sports personality of the year of Leeds Rhinos legend, Kevin Sinfield, who is now of Yorkshire Carnegie, and I am equally delighted by the nomination for Otley cycling world champion, Lizzie Armitstead. Given the popularity of cycling, will the Department and the Government get behind making the Tour de Yorkshire a four-day event so that we can build on its huge success last year?

As I said earlier, I congratulate all those who have received nominations for BBC sports personality of the year. It is a testament to how many successful sportsmen and women we have in this country that this year’s line-up is so strong. I am strongly aware of that cycling tournament in the north and we will certainly consider that.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Sitting Hours

6. What assessment he has made of the potential benefits to the House of Commons of it sitting at 9:30am on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. (902513)

Sitting hours are decided on by the House. They are regularly reviewed by the Procedure Committee and decisions are made by hon. Members based on the options recommended following consideration of the relevant evidence. I say to hon. Members who want change that although this matter was decided on in the last Parliament, there is no reason why they cannot make representations to the Procedure Committee for further consideration.

Our staff have to be here at unreasonable, family-unfriendly hours. May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House what we are doing to ensure their health and wellbeing, and to be a considerate employer?

I do not speak on behalf of the Commission, but it is my understanding that the House is a very proactive employer in managing health and safety, and appropriate conditions for staff. Of course, we are employers of our own staff directly, and it is for us, as their managers, to ensure that they have appropriate conditions.

I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks, and I will take that advice. Does she agree, however, that starting at 9.30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays would not only make the House more family-friendly, but allow some Members to see their family and children of an evening?

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. These matters were debated extensively, and I think it is fair to say that there are probably 650 different opinions on what constitutes something family-friendly. Nevertheless, one of the important things that Standing Orders of the House do is ensure that all hon. Members have the chance to come to Question Time. He will recognise that the sitting hours of the Chamber are not necessarily the sitting hours of Committees and other such meetings. All these things need to be brought into the round.

We need to remember the need for schools to come and visit on Tuesday mornings before we make rash decisions based on the interests of MPs based in the south-east.

Does the hon. Lady agree that some of the coverage about the possibility of moving private Members’ Bills from Friday to Tuesday was absolutely ludicrous? Frankly the busiest and hardest-working day for most constituency MPs is Friday, when we are in our constituencies. We should be able to do that every week, and therefore look at dealing with private Members’ Bills on Tuesday evening.

The hon. Gentleman will know that this option was considered by the House in the last Parliament, and there was a vote on it. At the time, hon. Members decided not to pursue that option. Again, the debate can still be had.

For debates on assisted dying and the European Union Referendum Bill, more than 300 people appeared here on Fridays. If people want to turn up on a Friday, and the issue is important enough, they are perfectly capable of doing so. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if people want a 9-to-5 job, there are plenty of them available, and they should apply for one rather than be a Member of Parliament?

I should say that “9 to 5” is one of my favourite songs by the great Dolly. My hon. Friend is an advocate of many causes on Fridays, and I think he makes a fair point about hon. Members picking issues of significant interest that have attracted Members to stay here. Daylight saving is one example, as is assisted suicide, which has been mentioned, and there are other such matters on which hon. Members will find time to be here. It is for hon. Members to decide how they wish to fulfil their role, including in relation to the introduction of private Members’ Bills.

English Votes on English Laws: Divisions

2. What progress has been made on preparations for the first divisions of the House which will follow the new Standing Orders on English Votes on English Laws (902509)

Preparations for the first Divisions under the new Standing Orders have been under way for some time. The House authorities and the Government have worked together to put in place arrangements for the Divisions, including the use of tablets to assist in the recording of double majority votes. Hon. Members who were here in the last Parliament will have seen the use of iPads as a test ground for that.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she confirm that, going forward, every MP from every part of the UK will still be able to debate and vote on every piece of legislation in the Commons, and make it clear that the accusation that this will create two tiers of MP is simply not true?

I agree with my hon. Friend that every Member in this House will continue to debate on Second Reading, during various elements of Committee and Report stages, and on Third Reading. It is simply the policy that we have successfully introduced that, when it comes to matters that are devolved and that affect England or England and Wales only, it is crucial that measures have the explicit consent of the MPs from those nations involved.

If we are to have English votes for English laws, why, on non-devolved matters that particularly affect Wales, such as the future of S4C, can we not have Welsh votes for Welsh laws, with double majority votes for MPs from Wales?

We were very careful, in our proposals, to ensure that every Member could continue to debate and vote on matters, even if they affected only England. We are still the United Kingdom Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly was established to deal with devolved matters. The hon. Gentleman recognises that, as do we.

Prime Minister’s Questions

3. If he will bring forward proposals for Prime Minister’s questions to take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays in each week. (902510)

I take that as a nod and a wink to start a campaign—I appreciate the Leader of the House’s subtlety. We should go back to having two sessions of Prime Minister’s questions. This week, PMQs was lost, quite rightly, but if we had two sessions, the Prime Minister would at least have been here once, and he is the servant of the House, not a President. Will he encourage me a bit more to start that campaign?

I fear not. The practical problem is that, if Prime Minister’s questions take place on a Tuesday and Thursday, it would be difficult for the Prime Minister to represent Britain internationally. On the whole, I think that the full session on a Wednesday strikes the right balance. I regard yesterday’s decision to postpone questions for the week as something that would happen only in exceptional circumstances. In my view, we should stick with the current arrangements.

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider my suggestion to limit to 10 minutes the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, with no limit on the number of questions that could be asked in that time. Recently, that exchange has been taking up almost half the time available for PMQs—so that we can hear from Mary from Manchester or Olivia from Oldham. Will he look at this proposal and see whether we can get more Back Benchers in?

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but I fear it is for the Chair to decide when to accelerate proceedings.

November Recess

We give careful consideration to how we manage the recesses across the year, but ultimately it is a decision for the House. My colleague the Chief Whip and I are always happy to consider the calendar across the year. We have a November recess because it was originally the time of the Queen’s Speech, and there were always two or three days either side for Members to spend time in their constituencies.

I appreciate that, but that is the point: it was previously the date of the Queen’s Speech, but that now takes place in May. I am still confused, therefore, as to why the Government feel that November is an appropriate time for this recess, especially given that it does not fit with school half terms—if that is what the Leader of the House was thinking: that people could spend time with their families.

The November recess is not particularly designed to be family time; it is for Members to spend time on important constituency work. Those who seek to take part in the important business that sometimes takes place here on a Friday will know that it is not always easy to find weekdays to spend in the constituency. It is sensible, therefore, to set aside a few days across the year primarily for constituency work.

Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government have not yet given the dates for the Easter recess, and can he guarantee that they will co-ordinate it with the school holiday and not make the same mistake they did with the November recess? Announcing the date would enable Committees to organise their hearings and MPs would be able to plan their time in their constituencies?

We will always do our best to give as much notice as possible, but our prime responsibility, as business managers, has to be to ensure that the Government’s business can be delivered across the Session. We will seek to strike the right balance and provide that information as soon as we practically can.

Back-Bench Business

The introduction of the Backbench Business Committee, as part of the Wright reforms, was a great innovation in the last Parliament. It is for the Committee to schedule business on the days allocated to it in each Session and for the Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Chair of the debate to manage them when they take place.

The Leader of the House has protected Back-Bench business very recently with a scheduled time limit for the debate. What is the policy of the Deputy Leader of the House on doing this? May I encourage her to do it far more often so that Members know when a debate is likely to finish?

I am not exactly sure of the procedure that my hon. Friend refers to. It is usually at the discretion of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee to indicate the likely times of debates on each topic if the Committee chooses to split up its days. The concept of injury time for all business was considered by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament, but the Committee agreed with the then Leader of the House that rendering uncertain the time of conclusion of debates in the House would be undesirable.

Leader of the House: Question Time

7. What assessment he has made of whether oral questions to the Leader of the House is an effective use of parliamentary time. (902514)

The oral questions rota is regularly reviewed to ensure that the Government and other answering bodies can be adequately scrutinised, reflecting any machinery of government changes and the quantitative evidence of Members questioning.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s answer, but there are many important issues that need to be raised. Will he consider whether oral questions to the Leader of the House are the best use of time?

I am very tempted by the idea of merging questions to the Leader of the House with business questions, as we seem to cover a lot of the same ground. There are areas of activity where there is a case for allowing more time for scrutiny in the House. I intend to give careful consideration to the matter in the coming weeks. There may well be a case for change.

Has the Leader of the House made any assessment of whether we ought to have more time to put questions to him, given that today, for example, not all Members’ questions on the Order Paper will be reached.

I am very much in favour of all Members having the opportunity. It is a matter of ensuring that we make the best use of parliamentary time and have adequate time for scrutiny. If one listens to the topics covered in this short session today, it is not entirely clear to me why we could not take those as part of business questions and make this 15-minute slot available for another topic, such as Scotland or International Development, where there might be a case for an extended session.

Restoration and Renewal

8. What steps he has taken to assist the work of the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster (Restoration and Renewal). (902515)

As a member of both the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons Commission, I have been working closely with fellow members of those Committees to ensure that colleagues in both Houses will be able to consider the recommendations of the Joint Committee in the new year.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Committee does all it can to contain the costs, while ensuring that the House continues to meet within the confines of the Palace?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have a duty to ensure that we deliver an effective home for our democracy, protect a world heritage site and do that at a cost that is right for the taxpayer. My aim is to avoid a period of change which creates disruption for our colleagues and high cost for the taxpayer, so we are working to find the best balanced solution for all Members.

House of Commons Commission

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

Restoration and Renewal: Costs

9. Whether officials of the House have discussed with HM Treasury the potential costs of restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. (902516)

Officials have kept the Treasury informed about the methodology adopted by the independent options appraisal and have taken advice from the Treasury on the treatment of major projects, such as the restoration and renewal of the Palace, in terms of the Treasury’s Green Book business case guidance. It would be premature to discuss the cost of specific options until the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster has concluded its work.

Given that the project will be paid for by the taxpayer, have there been discussions about how the House will liaise with the Treasury about keeping costs under control and how best to provide ongoing scrutiny for Members?

Clearly, there will be such discussions, given that restoration and renewal will be a costly project. If the hon. Gentleman has strong views, I encourage him to submit evidence to the Joint Committee, which will take evidence until 22 January. I am sure the Committee will want to take his concerns on board.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—


This matter is currently being considered by the Procedure Committee, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to communicate his views to its members.

We were told during the debates on English votes for English laws that there would be opportunities to debate and amend provisions relating to Barnett consequentials during the estimates process. Given that the Chancellor has cut the Scottish Government’s revenue budget by 5.7% over the next four years, when in the estimates process will we have an opportunity to debate, amend and vote on that?

The House can of course vote on the estimates each year. However, if the hon. Gentleman is looking to have an extended debate, it is within the gift of this House to change its procedures in order to ensure that he has the ability to contribute and vote in the way he wishes.