Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 606: debated on Thursday 3 March 2016

Culture, Media and Sport

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

Broadband: Urban Areas

I am very pleased to tell you, Mr Speaker, that the broadband roll-out is going extremely well, particularly in our cities. I am also particularly pleased at the success of our business voucher scheme, under which 50,000 businesses have benefited.

I make no apology for returning to the thorny issue of the frustrations of e-poverty in the city of Gloucester. In 2013, BT promised to upgrade box No. 90. In 2014, it said it was sorry for the delay, but that it would still happen. In 2015, it changed its mind. In 2016, at a meeting with me earlier this week, it asked, “Could you send us the original emails saying we would ever upgrade this box?” At what stage is a commitment from BT a real commitment that will not result in constituents turning around to me and saying, “You lied”?

I am obviously not BT’s spokesman, but I hope BT is listening to what my hon. Friend has to say. He is a fantastic constituency MP. While I am very proud of the success of our roll-out programme, it is incumbent on BT to get its act together in terms of customer service and delivering on its promises.

When the Minister boasts that we have some of the best broadband in Europe, who is he comparing us with? Is he aware of the House of Lords report showing that, for broadband speed, we are the 19th fastest in the world and the 12th fastest in Europe? Is that not really abysmal, and can we not do better?

I do not think we could do better than we are already, actually. When I compare our broadband, I do so first with similar countries, such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, all of whom we are beating. I would not look simply at speed. The hon. Gentleman takes a very narrow view, and does not look at prices. We have some of the lowest prices anywhere in the world. If we look at results—the fact that we lead the world in e-commerce, for example—they show that we are probably the world’s most advanced digital nation.

In urban areas, such as Bath, technology is available to skip the roll-out of superfast broadband and go directly to the installation of ultrafast broadband. Does the Minister agree with the logic of that, which will help to reduce disruption and save money in the long term and give businesses in Bath a huge boost?

It is very important to set realistic targets. That is why we dropped Labour’s pathetic 2 megabits policy and went to 24 megabits. Now is the time to start looking at a gigabit Britain. I utterly endorse what my hon. Friend says. Let us not get stuck in the past with Labour; let us go forward to the future.

Is the Minister aware that the very latest European Commission digital economy scorecard, published in just the past few weeks, ranks the UK below not just the Nordic countries, which we would expect, but countries such as Belgium? Despite the well-known antipathy of his Secretary of State to all things European, will the Minister press the European Investment Bank to put more money into extending broadband, particularly in rural constituencies such as mine of East Lothian?

Order. The question is ongoing. People must not beetle out of the Chamber while their question is ongoing. That is a very established principle. I am sure the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) is interested in views other than his own.

It may be that BT, having heard his question, is already on the phone to my hon. Friend.

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s tone of contempt for small countries such as Belgium. I think small countries—small and perfectly formed countries—are often extremely successful. Just the other day, I was talking to an investor about the extraordinary digital businesses that exist in Edinburgh, such as Skyscanner. Those really groundbreaking businesses are developing thanks to our digital policies. I know that he will support what we are doing. I have forgotten his original point, because I was going on so much about what a fantastic, digitally innovative country Scotland is.

I hope the Minister is right and that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) will get that phone call before very long.

Public Service Broadcasting

2. What assessment he has made of the economic and cultural benefits to the UK of public service broadcasting. (903856)

Public service broadcasting is the powerhouse of the UK’s world-class television industry. In 2014, public service broadcasters invested £2.5 billion in original TV content, and accounted for over half of all TV viewing.

I have had representations from hundreds of constituents in Cambridge who are concerned about the future of the BBC. They are overwhelmingly supportive and positive. We now have the results of the consultation and more than three-fifths of respondents were in favour of continuing with the current funding system. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that there will be no further top-slicing of the licence fee?

I hope to be able to update the House on our progress on the renewal of the charter in due course. We are taking all the responses seriously and taking them fully into account. We have already agreed with the BBC that one of the top-slices of the licence fee—the additional amount that is taken for broadband—will come to an end in 2020.

I know that my right hon. Friend will have noted the BBC’s forthcoming Shakespeare season, which is being held in collaboration with many other bodies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is designed to bring Shakespeare to life for a new generation, using not just TV, but radio and online services. Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of thing the BBC ought to be doing, and something that only the BBC could do?

I agree with my right hon. Friend very strongly. This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It is an enormously important event and the BBC has a crucial role to play. I had the pleasure about 10 days ago of watching the filming of Ben Elton’s new comedy, “Upstart Crow”, which is based on Shakespeare. As my right hon. Friend says, I suspect that that is the sort of thing that only the BBC would do.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the proposals of BBC Scotland to strengthen its news output by investing in jobs and production for an entirely editorially independent “Scottish Six” programme, anchored from Scotland, are a development that all of us across the House can welcome as an example of a long-term commitment to public service broadcasting? Will he just promise us that there will be no interference from Downing Street?

I had a very good meeting with Fiona Hyslop a couple of weeks ago to talk about the way in which the BBC meets the requirement to serve all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I obviously welcome any investment at the BBC that will create additional jobs, particularly in Scotland, which I know the hon. Gentleman will value. How the BBC goes about meeting the obligation to serve the nations and regions is a matter for the BBC. Certainly, neither I nor my colleagues in No. 10 would want to instruct it on how to go about it.

Eighty per cent. of the 192,000 responses to the Green Paper consultation say that the BBC serves its audiences well or very well, and the majority believe its content to be both high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters. The Secretary of State purports to be a supporter of the BBC, so why is he using charter renewal to cut back and restrict what the BBC does, rather than help it to compete in the rapidly changing and increasingly global broadcasting environment?

I was not surprised to find that the responses showed that the vast majority of people value the BBC. As I have said, I value the BBC. The hon. Lady will have to await the publication of the White Paper, but it is not a question of trying to cut back the BBC’s output. Nevertheless, there is a case, which is borne out by some of the responses and by other surveys we have conducted, for saying that the BBC needs to be more distinctive. That is something that the director-general himself said when he set out his plans for the charter renewal.

The Secretary of State’s speech yesterday was rather more about bashing the BBC than anything else. That is what the chair of the BBC Trust said. Bashing the BBC is the one thing the Secretary of State agrees about with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor these days. They all want to use charter renewal to eviscerate the BBC and do its competitors a favour, rather than to deliver what the licence fee-paying public want. They just do not seem to accept that the British people like the BBC and want it to continue what it is doing. When will the Secretary of State accept that charter renewal should be about making the BBC fit for the future, rather than trying to diminish it for the commercial convenience of its competitors?

The hon. Lady must have looked at a different speech from the one I delivered. It certainly was not about bashing the BBC. Indeed, as soon as I finished making the speech, I had an extremely good meeting with the chairman of the BBC Trust, who did not mention anything about my bashing the BBC and welcomed what I had said.

The charter renewal is precisely about making the BBC fit for the future. I intend to bring forward the publication as soon as is possible, but, as the hon. Lady knows, there are a number of very important contributions, including the 192,000 consultations, that we want to take fully into account.

Satellite Broadband Voucher Scheme: Lancashire

3. What assessment he has made of the level of uptake of the satellite broadband voucher scheme in Lancashire. (903857)

I welcome the Government’s commitment to spreading faster broadband to rural areas, but my constituents have found it difficult to find information about the voucher scheme. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with Lancashire County Council and Broadband Delivery UK to ensure that households that could benefit from satellite broadband are made aware of that important scheme?

In my original answer, I was obviously pointing out how well the satellite broadband scheme is going as well. We launched it at the end of December to ensure that people with speeds of less than 2 megabits per second can get the speeds they need. It was a soft launch, but we will make the scheme much more high profile in the next few months. I will happily work with my hon. Friend to make sure that his constituents can benefit from the scheme, although I note that superfast broadband roll-out will be almost 100% both in his constituency and in Lancashire.

On the subject of uptake, nearby Merseyside authorities are not claiming the millions that BT set aside for non-commercial broadband areas. Will the Minister look into that and put some pressure on the councils?

Yes, I will certainly look into it. It is important that councils lead our scheme, because they know what is happening on the ground. We will work with them so that they can access either funding from central Government or European funding.

Tourism: York

4. What steps his Department is taking to support tourism in York since the recent flooding in that area. (903858)

York, along with other affected areas, is currently being promoted with a £1 million publicity campaign, which was announced by the Prime Minister on 28 January. It is designed to encourage British families to spend their Easter holidays in the north of England. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also launched Virgin Trains 30% discount offer on 1 February, as part of his visit to York to promote the city and its wider region as open for business.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. About 200 businesses in York were flooded after Christmas, and thankfully many are now getting back on their feet. Building on what he said about the recent VisitEngland campaign to encourage families to visit northern tourist destinations such as York, will he consider providing individual grants so that local tourist attractions can market themselves and let everyone know that they are open for business again?

I know how assiduous my hon. Friend is in his commitment to the area. I am really pleased that York is open for business following the recent floods and welcoming visitors back. Tourism businesses in flood-affected areas that were directly or indirectly impacted are eligible for the £5 million recovery fund from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and businesses can use those grants to help promote themselves. VisitBritain and VisitEngland are in dialogue with specific flood-affected businesses to spread the message about the areas that are open for business and ready to receive visitors.

It is 1,000 years since King Canute’s accession to the throne. “Campaign Canute” is trying to raise £2 million so that Jorvik Viking Centre can reopen before 2017. What additional support can the Minister bring to that major tourist attraction in York?

The Government’s first priority, of course, has been to deal with the physical impact of the floods themselves in the short term, and we have worked hard to make that happen. We now need to make sure that businesses that were affected attract the bookings that they need over the next few months. I have been to the Jorvik Viking Centre myself in the past and was very impressed with it, and I look forward to going again in the future. VisitEngland and VisitBritain are in discussions with such businesses and are using all their channels to support affected areas.

Nuisance Calls

The Government are taking a range of measures to tackle nuisance calls, including strengthening the regulators’ ability to take enforcement action against organisations that break the law and increasing consumer choice by consulting on making it a requirement for direct marketing callers to display their calling line identification.

Many of my constituents will be very pleased by that answer, but does the Secretary of State accept that they will hope that the action will be taken quickly? Like me, they are fed up to the back teeth with sleazy calls trying to sell them PPI protection or help with personal injuries that never happened. It is time that something was done to stop those disreputable practices.

My right hon. Friend and I are constituency neighbours, so I am very much aware of our constituents’ concerns about this subject. I am sure that neither he nor I would ever be guilty of making nuisance calls, either in relation to our own elections or, indeed, on behalf of candidates in other elections across the pond. However, action is being taken. The new measures are taking effect and in just the last week, the Information Commissioner’s Office announced a record fine of £350,000 against one of the leading firms responsible for nuisance calls.

Nuisance calls are increasingly annoying to me and many of my constituents—the problem may affect people in Scotland more adversely, with nine out of 10 residents claiming to have had them in any given month—and 30 March will mark the second anniversary of the DCMS report, “Nuisance Calls Action Plan”. What plans does the Secretary of State have to publish a revised plan, detailing what success the first plan has had and what future action can be taken to tackle the problem?

We keep the matter under continual review, but we have taken a number of measures, and we will shortly come forward with the outcome of our consultation on strengthening the requirements for direct marketing callers. I am also in contact with organisations such as Which? that have a good record on the matter. If further measures need to be taken, we will certainly do that.

Superfast Broadband

Areas in my constituency fall into the so-called “broadband white areas”, where internet access is virtually non-existent. In 2010, the Government committed to providing every home with a basic broadband connection by the end of 2015. Three months on from that date, I have been contacted by many constituents who are still without a decent broadband service to their homes or businesses. Will the Secretary of State look into that and deliver on the commitment that was made five years ago to give every household and business access to broadband, which, in 2016, is surely a necessity, not a luxury?

I am very pleased to tell the hon. Lady that about 96% of premises in her constituency will get superfast broadband, but also, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), the satellite voucher scheme is now available and all the hon. Lady’s constituents who do not have broadband or have broadband under 2 megabits can apply and have satellite installed for free.

Those of my constituents who have missed out on the roll-out of superfast broadband are now pinning their hopes on the universal service obligation, which the Prime Minister announced before Christmas. How far has the Minister got with the consultations that I understand have to be conducted before the USO can be introduced?

I am very pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we are proceeding at pace with our consultation, the results of which we will issue shortly, and we will probably legislate to introduce the universal service obligation in the digital economy Bill. I am delighted that he will get 99% superfast broadband in his constituency anyway.

I have several cases of superfast broadband not reaching certain constituents, particularly businessmen. In the light of that, what discussions has the Minister had with broadband companies about improving copper cables, thus enabling them to reach further, and connection boxes so that superfast broadband is available to more people?

We constantly challenge the communication providers to provide new technology and I am pleased that Virgin is extending its roll-out and that BT is introducing I am also pleased that superfast broadband will approach around 85% in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Details of all the meetings that I and other Ministers have had with interested parties on this matter are available via the Department’s transparency returns. In addition, my officials engage regularly with all interested stakeholders to discuss gambling policy more generally, including the issue of fixed odds betting terminals.

In 2014-15, people in Wirral lost more than £2 million at fixed odds betting terminals, and more than £290,000 of that was lost in my constituency of Wirral West. Low pay and insecure work is such a feature of our economy that people cannot afford to lose large sums of money. Will the Government realise the seriousness of the risk that FOBTs pose to people on lower incomes and substantially cut the maximum stake?

I understand the concern about fixed odds betting terminals, and we keep the issue under review. The hon. Lady may be aware that last year we brought in new requirements that improved player protection, in particular by putting a stop to unsupervised play for stakes of over £50. It is already clear that that has had an impact on player behaviour. As far as we can see, the rate of problem gambling remains at under 1% and has not shown any sign of rising as a result of FOBTs.

As the Secretary of State knows, the inconvenient truth is that problem gambling rates have reduced since the introduction of fixed odds betting terminals. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling claimed that each fixed odds betting terminal makes a profit of £1,000 a week. As a betting shop is open for more than 90 hours a week, that works out at an average profit of around £11 an hour. Does the Secretary of State think that that is an excessive profit rate? If he does, what does he think an acceptable profit rate would be?

An awful lot of claims and counter-claims are made in this area, and not all of them stand up to close scrutiny. The Government intend to maintain a close watch over the issue, and any further changes that we introduce will be firmly evidence-based.

Online Crime

8. What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on ensuring that social media companies comply with police investigations into online crime. (903862)

Companies such as Facebook often talk about corporate social responsibility, and I can think of nothing more responsible than co-operating with the police about death threats. Greater Manchester police have been waiting weeks for Facebook to help to identify those who made such threats to some Members of this House, not least me. Does the Secretary of State agree that Facebook and other social media need to do more to help the criminal justice system?

I expect all social media companies to assist the police and uphold the law. Those providing communication services to users in the UK have an obligation to comply with UK warrants that request the content of communications, and with notices requiring the disclosure of data. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should bring that to the attention of Facebook, and indeed to Greater Manchester police, if such co-operation is not forthcoming.

Will the Minister join me in roundly welcoming the consultation that is starting today on taking action against cowardly internet trolls who create fake social media profiles and bully, harass and menace others online, and on taking action to help children affected by online bullying?

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s concern, and it is very distressing when such things happen. I discovered that someone had set up a profile of me without my knowledge a few weeks ago, and I swiftly had it removed. It is clear that we must tighten the law where people are using such profiles to cause distress. In some cases they are breaching the law, so I welcome the new guidelines from the CPS.

Internet companies are required to respond to requests from the police, but there is no timescale for that. It takes more than three weeks on average before Twitter provides data to the UK police for criminal investigations. What will the Minister and the Government do to force internet companies to respond promptly and immediately to our law enforcement agencies that are pursuing criminals?

As I said to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk), I expect all social media companies to comply with the law without any unnecessary delay. If there is evidence that they are delaying, I am happy to discuss the matter with my colleagues in the Home Office and to consider what more can be done.

EU Digital Single Market

9. What steps he is taking to bring about the completion of the EU digital single market with regard to telecoms, audio visual policy, IT security and data protection. (903863)

This Government are a great champion of the digital single market, and I know that all colleagues will have read the Prime Minister’s excellent White Paper. It means, for example, that people will no longer pay roaming charges when travelling across the EU, and once the digital single market is in place, we will see a huge increase in our GDP.

According to the No. 10 website, we could create £325 billion of additional growth by fostering a digital single market, and it points to the advantages of that for consumers. Given that, why would anybody campaign to leave the EU rather than energetically work to get the best deal for the UK?

Why indeed would anyone want to leave the EU? We present a united front in this House on the benefits of EU membership.

The Minister will be aware that, at 12.4% of GDP, the UK’s internet economy is by far the largest of all the G20; it is double that of the US, more than twice the size of Germany’s and about four times the size of France’s. Does the Minister agree that getting a good deal on the digital single market is particularly important for the UK, because so many jobs and so much of the economy depend on it?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He points out the share of the internet economy, and it is incumbent on the Opposition to explain why they come to this House all the time to rubbish our digital record and pretend there is no broadband in the UK. How has the digital economy come about if people are not using the brilliant superfast broadband we are delivering?

Tourism: Northamptonshire

Our five-point plan for tourism makes clear the Government’s support for the tourism industry. That includes a commitment to encourage tourists to explore the country beyond London. I am delighted that we have secured the £40 million Discover England fund. That competitive fund will encourage public and private sector partners across the country to come together and improve our English tourism offer.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but what help is being provided to owners of historic homes, such as Rockingham Castle in my constituency, not only to conserve that important historic home and those around the country but to boost local tourism?

My hon. Friend is well known as a real champion for his constituency and for Northamptonshire, and I commend him for that. I recognise the importance of privately owned heritage such as Rockingham Castle in supporting tourism. I am pleased to say that historic houses can apply for Heritage Lottery funding of up to £100,000 on projects that are a public benefit. Sites on Historic England’s heritage at risk register can apply for funding from Historic England. [Interruption.] It is very important for the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) to know the facts.

Mr Speaker, before you reprimand me, may I remind the House that John Clare was a Northamptonshire peasant poet? The John Clare Trust has opened his wonderful cottage to visitors and tourists, and the Minister would be welcome to pay an official visit at any time. Will he also tell the world that the trust supports the Every Child’s Right to the Countryside campaign to get kids out into the country and learning?

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. I endorse his comments and I look forward to visiting the area.

15. Northamptonshire and Rugby share a heritage in leather products: in Northamptonshire it is footwear and in Rugby it is balls for the game that bears the town’s name. The town saw 50,000 visitors during the Rugby world cup, which established an interest in sport tourism. Does my right hon. Friend agree that now would be a good time to develop a permanent rugby-themed visitor attraction in the town? When we get that attraction, I will invite him to come along and visit. (903871)

I commend my hon. Friend’s hard work in ensuring there were visitors to the birthplace of rugby during the Rugby world cup. I am interested in his proposition. I look forward to seeing what progress can be made and to visiting his area.

Internet Service Providers

We have a very competitive internet service provider market in the UK. Ofcom has just published its digital communications review. It promises further changes, which we welcome.

Will the Minister tell the House what discussions he has had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills regarding the potential benefits of encouraging alternative investment and competition in the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure?

We have announced a joint review with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of business broadband, and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills takes a very close interest in that issue. Both Departments are very focused on Ofcom’s recommendations. My message to BT is that I hope it will reach agreement with Ofcom in the very near future.

In areas where there is insufficient competition, tough regulation is required to ensure that existing providers are providing a fair service. In parts of rural Cheshire, there is no competition and insufficient regulation because Ofcom allows providers to charge a premium to rural customers because they live in rural areas. Where there is insufficient competition, will the Minister speak to Ofcom to provide that tough regulation and a fair deal for rural broadband customers?

Yes. I met the chief executive of Ofcom yesterday, and I told her that we were four square behind the digital communications review, which includes, as I say, tough measures on BT—we want BT to reach agreement on that by the end of the year—and pro-consumer mechanisms such as automatic compensation, which we also strongly support.

Northern Powerhouse: Arts Funding

12. What plans the Government has to support the northern powerhouse through funding for the arts. (903866)

I am pleased to say that there is strong support for the arts within the northern powerhouse project. For example, there is investment in the Factory in Manchester, as well as our backing for the Hull city of culture project and, of course, the Great Exhibition of the north.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and his plans for the future. This year sees the return of the Barnaby festival in Macclesfield, with over 100 events, 250 artists and performers—of course, all visitors are welcome. Does he agree that, with £90,000 of Arts Council funding joining the mix of private and public funding, that is a perfect example of how arts funding can help to add fuel to the northern powerhouse?

I agree with that. I understand that the funding has helped, for example, to make the festival director a paid position for the first time. It is a great example of how the Arts Council is working with organisations all over the country, but particularly in the north, to support our world-class arts and heritage.

As the Minister will know, the Royal Photographic Society’s archive was recently threatened with being moved from Bradford’s National Media Museum to London. What assessment has he made of the impact of such a move on cultural provision within Bradford, the wider Yorkshire region and, indeed, the northern powerhouse?

I have been closely involved with the Science Museum on the future of the National Media Museum, and I am pleased that it is now being put on a firmer footing. However, I would say to the hon. Lady that there is extensive support for the arts in Bradford, with something like £9 million of Arts Council funding. I point her to the excellent article by the chief executive of the Arts Council about the support it is giving to Bradford.

The Minister shows great artistry in the picture he paints, but we know that the regions were already losing out on arts funding by a ratio of 14:1 before the Chancellor chose to chop billions from northern local authorities struggling to maintain arts for all. The Sutton report last week said that the arts are becoming less and less accessible. Does the Minister agree that the arts are far too important to our culture and our identity to be left in the hands of a privileged few?

I would certainly agree with the hon. Lady on that. Our forthcoming White Paper will announce new measures to increase access to the arts, but we have already supported, for example, music education hubs, extended the In Harmony scheme and introduced new schemes for the arts in schools, so I take great issue with her implicit criticism that we are not doing anything to increase access to the arts.

Historical Sex Abuse: Broadcasting Sector

13. If he will make an assessment of whether further steps need to be taken to investigate allegations of historical sex abuse in the public service broadcasting sector. (903868)

The report published by Dame Janet Smith last week was the result of a comprehensive and wide-ranging review. This is clearly a matter for the BBC, which commissioned the review and is responsible for responding, but I know that the chair and director-general take these issues extremely seriously, and I have already had a discussion with the director-general about them.

This four-year, £6 million inquiry confirmed that Jimmy Savile molested 72 victims, that he raped a youngster as young as eight and that attacks occurred in the corridors and dressing-rooms of every BBC premises over a period of 47 years, yet no senior manager, past or present, has accepted individual responsibility for failing to stop him. Does the Secretary of State believe that this is an adequate response from Britain’s leading public service broadcaster?

I hope that my hon. Friend will read in full the statement by the director-general, which makes it clear that the BBC takes this matter very seriously. It has offered a full apology and fully accepts the recommendations of Dame Janet Smith. The important thing is that measures are put in place to ensure that this kind of thing can never happen again. A lot has been done already by the BBC, but I welcome the fact that the BBC has also accepted the recommendation that a further review be carried out to ensure that everything possible is being done to stop this kind of abuse ever happening again.

Topical Questions

As you will know, Mr Speaker, today is World Book Day.

Since our last question time, my Department has published a summary of the responses to our consultation on the BBC charter review, Sir David Clementi’s report on the governance and regulation of the BBC, and the results of independent research on the BBC’s market impact. All those publications will inform our thinking.

The House will be delighted to hear that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), has had a baby since the House last met. I am sure that Members will join me in congratulating her, and in wishing her and the new arrival well.

I know that the House will also join me in congratulating the British winners of last weekend’s Oscars, and in wishing our Davis Cup and track cycling teams well this weekend.

The British horseracing industry has an economic impact of £3.5 billion a year, and the Aintree and Haydock racecourses are very popular with my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when he plans to require offshore bookmakers to make a financial contribution to racing, as those based in Britain already do?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of horseracing to this country. I can tell him that we intend to introduce a new funding arrangement for British racing by April 2017. We will create a level playing field for British-based and offshore gambling operators, and will ensure a fair return for racing from all bookmakers, including those based offshore. The racing industry will be responsible for making decisions on the spending of the new fund. We will make further announcements shortly.

Four out of five tourism companies surveyed by UKinbound believe that staying in the European Union is important to their business. UKinbound’s chief executive officer, Deirdre Wells, has said:

“Saying ‘yes’ to staying in the EU sends a clear message that we are open for business.”

Why is the Secretary of State so intent on damaging our tourism industry by campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union, against the policy of his own Government?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, whatever the decision on Britain’s future membership of the European Union, this country will remain open to tourists, not just from the European Union but from across the world. We are already enjoying a steady increase in the number of international visitors, and I expect that to continue.

T2. Fort Fareham is on Historic England’s heritage at risk register; it is listed as priority A. Built in 1861, it forms part of the region’s distinctive naval and coastal history. What support can the Minister give such heritage assets, which are at risk of rapid deterioration, particularly those in private ownership? (903876)

I am well aware of Fort Fareham, which is one of several sites that testify to the important role of Portsmouth in the defence of our nation in the past. The purpose of the at risk register is to enable Historic England and other partners to target their advice and support at the sites that are in greatest need. I am pleased to say that Historic England is working with its partners in south Hampshire to make the most of the fantastic history of Portsmouth harbour.

T3. I am sure that the Secretary of State was as aggrieved as I was to learn that late last year the Royal Society of Arts ranked South Tyneside as one of the lowest boroughs in the country on its heritage index. He should know as well as I do that South Tyneside has a huge amount of history and culture to offer. Would he consider accepting an invitation to come to the borough, with members of the RSA? He could take part in our summer festival, explore our ancient Roman sites, or perhaps pull a rabbit out of a hat during the upcoming annual magic show at our brilliant arts venue, the Customs House. (903878)

That is an almost irresistible offer, given the attractions of South Tyneside. The magic show sounds highly enticing.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to stress the importance of heritage to South Tyneside and, indeed, to the whole country. I hope that I shall manage to accept her invitation in due course, but I know that, in the meantime, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), is being assiduous in trying to visit as many tourism and heritage destinations as possible.

T5. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that all Government Departments get behind the Government’s excellent new sports strategy, particularly in relation to outdoor recreation, with its benefits for physical health and for the tourism economy in rural areas in Macclesfield and far beyond? (903880)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the value of outdoor recreation and sport. We recognise this and we are committed to working across the Government Departments to ensure that the new Sporting Future strategy promotes opportunities for everyone to get involved in outdoor activities, no matter where they are. Indeed, Sport England already invests millions of pounds in activities as diverse as trail running, canoeing and mountaineering, which provide exciting opportunities. We will continue to work with other Departments to make sure that this happens.

T4. Across the regions of the UK, there are some 4,500 miles of road with no mobile phone signals, according to a recent RAC report. That includes 452 miles in the highlands without 4G, 3G or 2G, which means that no texts or calls can be made there. Will the Minister commit to taking action to plug these specific gaps in mobile coverage? (903879)

I am pleased to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the emergency services network proposals will see 300 new mobile masts built, and our mobile infrastructure programme will see 75 miles covered. Our changes to the licences of mobile providers will require 90% geographical coverage, which will also result in improvements in mobile coverage.

T6. My right hon. Friend the Sports Minister pro tem will have seen yesterday’s suggestion from distinguished luminaries in the medical world—including from places such as the University of the Pacific, wherever that might be—that we ban any form of tackling in rugby in schools. Does he agree that it is time to stop this mollycoddling of young people, and, while doing all we can to ensure that sport is safe, to let schools get on with teaching contact sports and the values that they represent? (903881)

My hon. and learned Friend will be well aware that the Government are committed to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get involved in sport from a young age, provided that it is made available within a safe environment. The Department for Education is responsible for sport in schools. Rugby and many other sports always carry an element of risk, and we expect those supervising sport at that level to ensure the safety of all participants. He will be interested to note that as part of our strategy on sport and physical activity, a full review of the duty of care in sport is to be carried out, chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

T7. Local authority budgets are now under extreme pressure, and the Treasury is urging councils to liquidate all extraneous assets. Will the Secretary of State confirm from the Dispatch Box that that should not include the antiquities, paintings and artefacts in local authority museums and galleries? None of us wants to see a fire sale of our national heritage on the back of this Government’s stumbling economic policy. (903882)

One treasure that I hope will not be liquidated is the hon. Gentleman. I hope he will not be liquidated by the Momentum campaign in Stoke and that he will be reselected. We are all praying for him on this side of the House. In answer to his question, it is obviously up to individual local authorities, but they must adhere to the code of ethics of the Museums Association. I take a very dim view of local authorities getting rid of their heritage assets, particularly those that have been left to them by prominent members of the community.

There have been numerous resignations from the board of London 2017. Has the Secretary of State had the chance to discuss the reasons for that with London 2017, and does he have any concerns about its working relationship with UK Athletics?

This is a matter that we keep under review, but I have not had a chance to discuss it recently. I will certainly look into it further and discuss it with the appropriate authorities.

T8. To prevent our pop charts from being disproportionately dominated by acts from private schools, and to prevent another all-white Brit awards like the event that was criticised last week, would the Minister consider starting a scheme similar to the much missed music action zones that the Labour Government created to encourage creativity and talent in music in non-classroom contexts? (903883)

This country produces some of the finest music acts in the world. A lot of the ones that I go to see certainly did not go to public school, and I am looking forward to going to see Muse and, I hope, Rainbow in the coming months. Of course, I want to see opportunity for everybody who has talent to succeed.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic champion, on riding her first winner over fences at Wincanton yesterday, on Pacha Du Polder, a horse owned by Andy Stewart and trained by Paul Nicholls? Her exploits are a big boost for the racing industry. Will the Secretary of State confirm that when he sets the rate of the new levy, he will be taking into account all the current streams of funding that go into racing from bookmakers, such as picture rights?

I of course join my hon. Friend in congratulating Victoria Pendleton. I heard her talking about her success this morning, and it shows how somebody can achieve great accomplishment in one sport and then go on to succeed in a second. On the specific point he raises about the extension of the levy to cover offshore, the amount will be determined by an analysis, which we have commissioned, of the funding and costs of racing. That will take account of all sources of revenue, including media rights, as he points out.

T9. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why his Government have gone from promising victims of press abuse that part 2 of Leveson will happen to saying that it “may” happen? Will he also tell the House how many meetings he and his Cabinet colleagues have had with newspaper proprietors over the past year and whether that was a topic of conversation? (903884)

We have always said that any decisions about whether or not Leveson 2 should take place will be taken once all the criminal proceedings have been completed. We are not at that stage; further criminal proceedings are under way. Once those are completed, we will come back to look at this question. We regularly publish a record of all meetings with newspaper proprietors, with victims of press intrusion and with ministerial colleagues. Of course, I have regular meetings with all of those, and I am looking forward to having a further meeting with Hacked Off to discuss these matters in a few weeks’ time.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Public Engagement in Parliament

1. What steps he is taking to engage and involve more members of the public in the day-to-day business of Parliament. (903885)

The Government are committed to promoting public awareness of Parliament. Much has been achieved in this area in recent years, and this important work must continue. The Government particularly welcome the new e-petitions site, which has increased public engagement with Parliament since it was set up in July. The site collected 7 million signatures in its first six months, and to date 135 petitions have received a Government response and 19 petitions have been debated in Westminster Hall.

I thank the hon. Lady for her response. One way in which we can ensure that more people engage in politics is by reaching them at a young age, and I therefore welcome the increase in school visits to this place under your speakership, Mr Speaker. What assessment has the Deputy Leader of the House made of the effectiveness of schools visiting Parliament and of the education centre in getting young people interested and involved in politics? In addition, has she given staff their bonuses for now having to try to explain the Government’s incomprehensible English votes for English laws process?

I visited the education centre for the first time earlier this week to speak to children from Sandlings primary school in my constituency. It is a really impressive facility and I am sure that Mr Speaker is rightly proud of it. The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about our effectiveness at getting children from around the United Kingdom to come here, and as a constituency MP I have written to the Administration Committee to ask it to look at the effectiveness of that programme.

Further to the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), will the Deputy Leader of the House join me in welcoming the news that 224 students from seven Pendle primary schools will be visiting Parliament in the next three months? Will she also join me in reminding teachers from across constituencies such as mine, which are more than 200 miles from London, that a travel subsidy is available for school trips to this place?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that he has got so many children engaged in this. Of course, the subsidy regime varies, but this is also about initiatives such as the Speaker’s school council awards. I have written to every school in my constituency encouraging them to enter it, and I think the closing date is in April.

Will the Government look at the level of school subsidies? I looked at it in relation to people from my school coming down, and found that they are only allowed to claim the subsidy if they are coming to the House of Commons as the main part of their business. If they are going to be doing other things in London, they cannot claim the subsidy. There are too many rules for the scheme to work for people in my constituency.

The rules on the school subsidy are not a matter for the Government, but there are members of the Commission in the House. The Administration Committee is probably the best avenue for taking this matter forward.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that the use of the internet, particularly developments such as, has the potential to increase hugely the engagement of the public in proceedings of this place?

The internet is a marvellous form of communication—whether we are talking about social media or People can also watch us on the BBC Parliament channel if they so desire, and I am sure my mother is watching right now.

It will be of great concern to everybody in the House that more and more people think that Westminster politics is remote, corrupt, boring—inexplicably—and unclear. A third of eligible voters in Britain chose not to go down the road and cast a ballot in last year’s general election. What does the Deputy Leader of the House believe are the main problems with Parliament that put people off, and what are the Government doing about it?

Voter engagement in terms of general election turnout collapsed in the 2001 election, after four years of a Blair Government. I am pleased to say that voter turnout has increased. The hon. Lady talks about this institution potentially being corrupt. That is not the case, as we have high levels of integrity, but where MPs have been found to break the law, they have been sent to jail and that is where they belong.

Barnett Consequentials

2. What parliamentary mechanisms are available to hon. Members to scrutinise Barnett consequentials within the estimates process. [R] (903886)

7. What parliamentary mechanisms are available to hon. Members to scrutinise Barnett consequentials within the estimates process. (903892)

8. What parliamentary mechanisms are available to hon. Members to scrutinise Barnett consequentials within the estimates process.


Estimates are formal requests for authorisation of expenditure proposed to the House by the Government. Scrutiny of these, which are effectively departmental budgets, is undertaken in a variety of ways, including debates selected by the Liaison Committee, and it is also open to Select Committees to examine these budgets. The Procedure Committee has recently announced that it will look at the House’s procedures for examining estimates and the passing of legislation that authorises this expenditure—the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, which we dealt with yesterday.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for her answer. May we have a commitment today that steps will be taken to modify the estimates process so that Members representing Scottish constituencies can properly scrutinise the impact of legislation on Scotland?

I think the hon. Lady is on the Procedure Committee. Is that right? [Interruption.] I think she is. She will be aware of the inquiry that is happening right now. I believe that the Committee is accepting written submissions till 25 March. I really want to emphasise this point: when I served on a Select Committee, we certainly dedicated time to scrutinising budgets. I encourage all Select Committees to do likewise.

Yesterday, this House approved a budget spend of more than £600 billion without any real debate or breakdown of the Barnett consequentials. As fewer than half the Secretaries of State have taken oral questions since the estimates were published, how are Scottish MPs—or indeed any MPs—meant to hold the Government to account?

I believe that there are avenues to do that. I welcome this inquiry by the Procedure Committee, especially as it might open up some new ideas, and I hope that all political parties will contribute to it. I really encourage this idea that Select Committees are one avenue. Of course Ministers are always held to account at this Dispatch Box, and by written questions as well.

The hon. Lady keeps telling us that the Procedure Committee is reviewing the estimates process. Will she tell us whether, when giving evidence to that Committee, she or the Leader of the House will be supportive of reform of the estimates process?

I am not sure whether the Procedure Committee has invited me or my right hon. Friend to give evidence, but I am sure that it will. Our Government have always been in favour of modernisation of the House, and there is no reason why that journey will not continue.

Back-bench Business Debates

3. If he will make it his policy to protect the time available for Back-Bench business debates on the Floor of the House. (903887)

It is for the Backbench Business Committee to schedule the business for the days allocated to it in each Session, and for the Chair to manage the debates when they take place.

This afternoon or perhaps late this morning there will be a debate on gangs and serious youth violence, which is an extremely important topic. The Leader of the House will know that this debate was scheduled for an earlier day, but because of urgent questions, statements and other business overrunning for legitimate reasons, there was no time left for that important debate to take place. That situation could have been avoided had the Leader of the House allocated that debate protected time. Using that experience, will he look to protect Back-Bench business on future heavy business days?

As I have said to the Chair of the Committee in recent weeks, I keep that under careful review. It is certainly the case that the gangs debate moved to today because of a number of other parliamentary events that took place on the original day. However, the Backbench Business Committee has been able to bring the debate back to the House shortly afterwards. and as there are no urgent questions or statements today, there should be a full day available for today’s important debates. I will keep the matter under review, but I will need to be persuaded that things are going badly wrong before we could countenance a change to the way things work at present.

Surely the Leader of the House will agree with me that it is not just Back-Bench business and debates that are affected, but the rights and privileges of Back Benchers. Is he aware that very often the Opposition get squeezed by Front Benchers, with all their privileges, acting as Back Benchers as well, so it is much more competitive for us? Will he also bear in mind the fact that after my point of order to the Speaker, we had better behaviour from the Leader of the House and his Front-Bench colleagues at business questions, but after one week they have reverted to type?

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that Members on his Front Bench, particularly on this occasion, go on for much too long? That view might not command agreement on the Opposition Benches, but it certainly does on the Government Benches.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the fact that when Back-Bench business debates are scheduled in this House, Members on all sides take the opportunity to come along to participate? We on the Backbench Business Committee try to arrange for 15 speakers, and if the debate gets squeezed and pushed to another day, that is very unacceptable to Back Benchers who have made the time to speak on important subjects?

Of course, that is an important point. That is why I say we will keep the matter under review. This is the first occasion that it has happened in recent times. Clearly, if it becomes a regular feature, we may have to think again, but I do not want to manage processes unnecessarily. We need to see whether there is genuinely a longer-term issue.

Short Money

The Cabinet Office published a document on 18 February seeking views from members of the parliamentary parties panel, political parties, individuals who were elected to the House of Commons at the last election, and the Clerk of the House, with a deadline of 7 March for written submissions. I understand that there will also be oral discussions. These responses will be considered before any decision is taken. We will then put forward a proposal for Parliament to approve.

Government consultation is ongoing, but there is clearly a pressing need to know what resources will be available in a few weeks’ time. Can the Deputy Leader of the House assure us that no changes to the Short money allocation formula will take effect until the beginning of the 2017-18 financial year at the earliest?

The Government have not yet reached any conclusions, but my understanding is that that is part of the ongoing discussion between the parties.

When making decisions about Short money, will Ministers ensure that appropriate arrangements are put in place for transparency about how those moneys are spent?

I welcome that contribution from my hon. Friend. That is indeed part of the proposal in our call for views, and I am sure he can write in to that formally to add weight to that argument.

English Votes for English Laws

5. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the introduction of procedures on English votes for English laws. (903890)

We have fulfilled our manifesto commitment to introduce English votes for English laws, which I believe will strengthen the Union. We have undertaken two Legislative Grand Committees, and several statutory instruments have been passed without Division. There have been some technical issues, but they relate also to the introduction of electronic counting in this House using iPads, which is routine in the other place now and which the House authorities are working on. Clearly, we would not wish to be left behind by the other House in the technologies that it uses. We will undertake a review of English votes for English laws procedure later this year.

Does the Leader of the House not agree that the current Gilbert and Sullivan system for EVEL is simply unsustainable? It is confusing, haphazard and totally incomprehensible to the public. Will he therefore join my call for a referendum on an English Parliament so that the voice of England has clarity in our representative democracy? After all, we know how much he enjoys a referendum.

I am not necessarily certain that that is the Labour party’s policy. It is an interesting concept, but the Government were elected on a manifesto to deliver English votes for English laws in this place. It is set out in detail how we will do that, and we have implemented our commitment, as the electorate would have expected.

6. Mr Speaker, you will be aware that Coleg Cambria in my constituency has students resident in England who are directly affected by issues you have certified under the EVEL procedure as relating only to England. Will the Leader of the House urgently consider this issue, which is directly affecting the livelihoods of people in my constituency? He is limiting my voice on these matters. (903891)

I have to admire the hon. Gentleman for his persistence in this matter, but as I have explained to him time and again, he has no say over matters such as health and education in his own constituency. It is not obviously logical that we should make special arrangements for him to have that say across the border in constituencies represented by other Members of this House.

There has barely been a more disastrous and divisive innovation than English votes for English laws. It is totally unnecessary, and the Tory majority in England and the UK is crushing any hope of a Tory revival in Scotland with this anti-Scottish tone. Is not EVEL now ripe for abolition, and should it not be confined to the dustbin of history?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with his customary reserve and understatement. I have to say that I totally disagree with him.