Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 9 June 2016

Culture, Media and Sport

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

First World War Commemoration

1. What steps his Department is taking to ensure the greatest possible engagement by children and young people in the commemoration of the first world war. (905288)

All our first world war programmes, including the school battlefield tours, the great war debate series and the 14-18 NOW culture programme, are designed to engage children and young people. Only last week, young people played a prominent role in our commemorations to mark the Battle of Jutland. I was delighted to be in Orkney and I commend the young people who participated. On 30 June and 1 July, we will commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, when young people will again play a key role at national events taking place at Westminster Abbey, in Manchester and at the Thiepval memorial in France.

My “Forget Never” project, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is already getting young people from across Basildon thinking about the important events of 100 years ago. Will my right hon. Friend therefore join me in encouraging more young people to get involved in commemorating the Somme by calling on all remaining schools in Basildon to sign up to this project so that their students might also benefit from its opportunities?

I endorse my hon. Friend’s comments and am delighted to hear of the fantastic work being done in his constituency. I endorse all efforts to encourage young people to engage with the programme and to discover history. Young people can also get involved in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s “Living Memory” project in their local area and find out about events near them run by schools and not-for-profit organisations that are part of the Imperial War Museum’s centenary partnership.

It is important that young people engage with the commemorations, but it is also important that we in the House do so too. Does the Minister share my concern that, just a few weeks ahead of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, we do not have a planned moment to debate the matter in the House? My concern is shared widely across the House. If he agrees, will he use his good offices to raise the issue with the Leader of the House so that Members might have that moment here to reflect on this important moment in our history?

I totally endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I will have a word with the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, as the responsible authorities, but I would certainly back such a debate.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the first world war is commemorated, too much emphasis is not placed on the set-piece battles. On average, every day during the first world war, 450 servicemen lost their lives, which is equivalent to all the losses in Afghanistan. It was not just a few set battles; it was every day for four years.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is funding for communities to explore local first world war history, through the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as through the War Memorials Trust for the repair and conservation of local war memorials. Local communities should be commemorating every aspect of their local communities to highlight what happened and remember those who served and gave their lives.

I thank the Minister for acknowledging the contribution of the young people of Orkney to the Battle of Jutland commemorations last week, at which he was present. Is not the lesson that involving young people makes it meaningful and poignant for those of all ages and that, if we want to engage young people, we should involve them, not lecture them?

I was delighted to be in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency to experience the moving ceremonies for the Jutland centenary commemorations. It is vital that we engage everybody, particularly young people, so that they might learn about what happened.

I welcome the Department’s work to engage young people so that they might understand the suffering and sacrifice. What steps is it taking, however, to make young people understand the wider implications of world war one, such as the Balfour agreement and the redrawing of boundaries in the middle east, and how, in Europe, it sowed the seeds for world war two?

It is important that we get across the whole of this, and what the hon. Gentleman says is very important. At the moment, we are determined to focus on the particular events being commemorated, but more widely we also want to make people, particularly young people, aware of our 20th century history, of people’s experiences and of the tragedy of war.

Will the Minister congratulate everyone who was involved in the first world war, including those from the rest of the world, particularly Ireland—for us in Northern Ireland—but also the Indians, the Africans and all those who were part of it, so that children might learn that it included most areas of the world and that an awful price was paid by many?

Indeed. It is very important, for the empire and the Commonwealth, to recognise the contributions of all parts of the communities in the four nations of our country and particularly people from Commonwealth countries such as the Indians, the Canadians, the Australians and the rest. This lies at the heart of what we are trying to do, as we commemorate all those who participated in the Somme.

Leveson Inquiry

Criminal proceedings connected to the subject matter of the Leveson inquiry, including the appeals process, have not yet completed. We have always been clear that these cases must conclude before we consider part 2 of the inquiry.

Let me pin down the Secretary of State. Are we saying that when criminal proceedings have finished, there will be a part 2 or there might be? He told us on 3 March that a decision

“about whether or not Leveson 2 should take place”—[Official Report, 3 March 2016; Vol. 606, c. 1097.]

will be taken afterwards. Is it when or whether?

This will need to be considered in detail once those cases have been concluded. There are still areas that were not fully explored in the original inquiry. There have obviously been events since the original inquiry, not least the proceedings in the courts. All these matters will need to be taken into account when we consider how best to proceed after the conclusion of those cases.

The Secretary of State was one of three Chairs of Select Committees, along with myself and the now Lord Alan Beith, who went to see the Prime Minister and we were given a cast-iron guarantee that there would be a part 2. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about criminal proceedings, which is exactly what the Home Secretary said on 16 December, but there is no reason why we should not have a timetable to prepare for the eventuality. These cases cannot go on for ever—even in our criminal justice system. There has to be an end. May we not have a timetable and perhaps the selection of a head of the inquiry so that we can begin that very important process?

I am delighted to hear that the Home Secretary and I are singing from the same hymn sheet on this matter. I have talked to her about it, but that was at a time when it looked as if the cases were going to come to a conclusion in the reasonably near future. Fortunately, or unfortunately, new cases have been brought, and one or two of them have not even started yet, which makes it very difficult to put a timetable on developments. I obviously agree with right hon. Gentleman that these cases cannot go on indefinitely, but they are already going on rather longer than was initially anticipated.


The Prime Minister’s five-point plan for tourism sets out how this Government will help to grow the British tourism industry. The year 2015 set new records for inbound visits and spend, but we are not complacent. To boost tourism in England further, the Chancellor announced a new £40 million Discover England fund at the last spending round. This will support visitors to discover even more of England’s hidden gems.

The Secretary of State may be aware of the many great tourist attractions in north Lancashire along the Fylde coast, including the historic Lancaster castle with stunning views over Morecambe bay and the area of outstanding natural beauty, the forest of Bowland? Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the tens of thousands of jobs that are supported by tourism in my area are helped or hindered by the potential threat of fracking wells appearing in north Lancashire?

I very much share the hon. Lady’s appreciation of the beauties of the Fylde coast and the north-west. Fracking offers terrific opportunities for accessing further low-cost energy, and I do not believe that it should represent any threat to the tourism industry.

I would like to take advantage of this moment at the Dispatch Box to pay tribute to the fantastic work of the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr Evennett), who is responsible for tourism. He has done a great job. We look forward shortly to welcoming back to her role the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), but my right hon. Friend has done a fantastic job in her absence. I have no doubt that he will continue to advocate sports, tourism and heritage in the extremely effective way that he has over the last few months.

Our coastal communities are particularly important to the tourism sector, but they are also the communities that have been particularly badly affected by our membership of the EU over the last 40 years. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that the initiatives he mentioned will be directed particularly at coastal communities?

I share many of my hon. Friend’s views on our membership of the European Union, although I have to say that I do not think EU membership has a great bearing on tourism. People come to this country because of our fantastic heritage, our wonderful landscape, our arts and our sport, not because we are members of the European Union.

The north-west does have many attractions, and I hope it will take advantage of the Discover England fund, which I described earlier. The fund is designed to raise awareness of the many attractions that England has outside London, and, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), many of those are indeed in the north-west.

Has the Secretary of State had any recent discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive about Tourism Ireland, that strange body which is responsible for marketing the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland overseas? There is concern in Northern Ireland about the possibility that its identity will be lost and it will be unable to benefit from the inflow of tourists visiting the rest of the United Kingdom, although it currently has a tremendous amount to offer them.

I am aware of the slightly different arrangements for the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland, although I have had no discussions with the Minister responsible for it. I think he has only just arrived. I look forward to meeting him in due course, and I shall be happy to talk to him about the issue then.

I join the Secretary of State in applauding last year’s success, when a record number of people—36.1 million—visited the United Kingdom. As he will know, 67% of those visitors were from the European Union and 74% were from other European countries. Will he join me in saying, “Thank you, Europe—thank you, our European colleagues—and please come more and spend more”?

I am extremely happy to join my hon. Friend in saying that. My view is that this country would prosper better outside the European Union, but that is in no way reflected in my attitude to our fellow citizens in Europe coming to visit us in the UK. I hope that they will continue to do so in ever-increasing numbers, whether or not we are in the European Union.

4. What steps his Department plans to take to increase the level of tourism in England from (a) domestic and (b) foreign visitors. (905292)

We now have the full domestic and inbound figures for 2015. As we have just heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, there is good news on both fronts, but there is particularly good news about domestic tourism. The number of overnight trips in England reached 102.7 million, up 11% on 2014, and spending reached a new record of £19.6 billion, up 8%. However, there is more to be done, and we are determined to increase the number of both domestic and foreign visitors in the coming year.

What support can the Minister give the Derwent valley cycleway scheme, which allows visitors to cycle from Derby silk mill in the city centre through the Arkwright mills world heritage site at Belper, and on to Cromford and beyond? The scheme not only provides safer cycling for people of all ages, but encourages much-needed local and international tourism in the area.

I give my full support to the Derwent valley cycleway. This is an excellent scheme that safely opens up the beautiful Derwent valley, a world heritage site, so that more people can see it. Cycling has many health and environmental benefits, and the increased number of local and international visitors using the cycleway will benefit tourism in the region even further.

Will the Minister—for whom I have great respect—use his common sense, ground his boss and bring him to Yorkshire, so that he can talk to real people in the tourism business who are dreadfully worried about the impact of our leaving the European Union on jobs, investment and so much else? Yorkshire is a prime tourism destination, and we do not want to harm that.

Yorkshire is indeed a prime destination for tourism, and it has so much to offer. I have been going around the country—I am off to Devon and Dorset today and tomorrow—to promote tourism and heritage again, and I will do all that I can to persuade domestic and foreign visitors to come to Yorkshire and the rest of our great nation.

Rugby Union

Sports such as rugby union bring tremendous benefits to the individuals and communities who engage in them. Between 2013 and 2017, Sport England is investing £20 million to get more people playing rugby.

We certainly know how lucky we are in Devon.

There are 47 rugby union clubs across Devon, and they provide people of all ages and backgrounds access to the game and a chance to get more involved in their community. What further support can the Government give those clubs and Devon Rugby Football Union to enhance further their role of getting more people involved in the game and their community?

I take this opportunity to congratulate Devon RFU on the work that it has been doing to provide so many opportunities for people to get involved in the great game of rugby. Across Devon, Sport England has invested £319,632 to upgrade, improve and repair nine grassroots rugby clubs since 2010. As I have said—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) should listen. We listened to her yesterday when she was waffling on about the BBC, so she should listen today to get some facts. We are focused on getting more people from all backgrounds involved in sport and physical activity.

Talking about the BBC, rugby union is only one of many sports covered by the corporation with its editorial independence. Has the Minister taken time to reflect on yesterday’s BBC debate, reviewed today’s press coverage and realised that Government interference in editorial issues such as the proposed “Scottish Six” is deeply unwelcome?

I was here listening to the debate yesterday, and I commend the excellent speeches of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy.

With the support and the help of the Minister’s Department, we had the first ever mixed ability rugby world cup in my constituency last year. Will my hon. Friend’s Department continue to help and support mixed ability rugby, and will he use his good offices to extend the mixed ability format, which has been so successfully run in my constituency, to other sports as well?

I have noted what my hon. Friend has said, and I know what a champion he is for his area and his constituency. We very much believe in inclusion and getting as many people involved as we possibly can. I will look at what he has to say and reflect on it.

Has the Minister had a chance to look at the success of schemes such as Rugby Get Onside, which is run by Saracens Rugby Club with young offenders at Feltham? Rugby has a great role in rehabilitating young offenders. Will he discuss that with the Justice Secretary and consider the role that rugby can play as part of his Department’s reforms of prisons?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and I will certainly do that. Rugby is a fantastic game that brings together all sorts of different people from different backgrounds and has great opportunities for community.


6. What steps his Department is taking to accelerate the roll-out of broadband in (a) rural and (b) urban areas. (905294)

I am very pleased to tell you once again, Mr Speaker, how well the rural broadband programme is going. We have reached our target of 90%, with 4 million homes passed, and we will reach our target of 95% by the end of 2017.

My constituents in the parishes of Dallington, Brightling, Mountfield, Ashburton and Penshurst will welcome the Government’s new legal right to fast broadband. May I ask the Minister whether the reasonable cost test will be benchmarked against, first, the realistic cost to install in rural areas that are not currently connected to fast broadband and, secondly, the cheapest cost that any provider would charge rather than the cost that BT Openreach may calculate?

We will certainly consult on the reasonable cost test, and it may well be that a number of providers do provide the universal service obligation, which will potentially provide welcome competition. That will be open for consultation once we have passed legislation, which I know will have the support of the whole House.

Earlier this week, I received an email from the Minister, which helpfully informed me that 3,198 premises in my constituency—that is 8% or nearly one in 12—are not currently planned to be connected to superfast broadband. What has the Minister got to say to the sizeable number of my constituents who face the prospect of never being able to access an adequate broadband connection?

I would say to her constituents that we said that we would get to 90% by the end of last year, which we achieved, and that we would get to 95% by the end of 2017, so we have been completely transparent about what we are planning to do. We are now consulting on a USO precisely to help those constituents of the hon. Lady who are not in the rural broadband programme. We are bringing in important changes to planning in the digital economy Bill, which I hope will have the support of the Opposition Front Bench team. She should congratulate the Government because the way the contracts have been constructed means that almost £300 million is coming back, so we are going to go further than 95% and reach more of her constituents. She should be telling them that rather than complaining.

Residents in Denford are extremely frustrated at the lack of progress in securing superfast broadband. Will the Minister encourage Superfast Northamptonshire and BT to redouble their efforts to get Denford connected?

What discussions are the Minister and his officials having with Welsh Government Ministers and officials about the universal service obligation to ensure that we can have joined-up thinking when the Bills, which I support, come through? To cement this relationship between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, may I repeat my offer of Ynys Môn as the location for a pilot scheme?

I would happily work with the hon. Gentleman and the Welsh Government. I have always found him and the Welsh Government to be congenial colleagues in regard to the roll-out of superfast broadband.

We know that the Secretary of State wants to leave the European Union, but his Minister appears already to have left the United Kingdom to inhabit some fantasy “Broadbandia” in which everything is, in his words, an “unadulterated success”. For the rest of us in the 21st century United Kingdom, however, the reality is different. One in five broadband users still has less than half the speed that Ofcom classes as acceptable, and 70% of smartphone users in rural areas have zero access to 4G. Rather than living in “Broadbandia”, the rest of us are living in “Broadbadia“. Will the Minister stop fantasising and acknowledge the view of the Countryside Alliance:

“This rural broadband betrayal is devastating”?

I know that the hon. Lady will want to join me in commemorating this important day, which is the 33rd anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s landslide election victory in 1983. In that year, there was no broadband and the Minister you see before you was sitting his O-levels. The Secretary of State, however, was on the great lady’s battle bus.

The hon. Lady might quote the Countryside Alliance, but the gardener Robin Lane Fox wrote an article in the Financial Times, which I know she reads, in which he talked about a move to the rural arcadia brought about by our broadband roll-out programme. He said that, like Falstaff, he was looking forward to dying babbling of green fields because he could live in the countryside with a superfast connection. Let us remind ourselves that Labour had a pathetic megabit policy, and that is still its policy. Let us also remind ourselves that we are two years ahead of where Labour would have been, and let us talk up the success of this programme instead of constantly talking down great broadband Britain.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s performance is greatly enjoyed, not least by the hon. Gentleman.

EU Digital Single Market

7. What assessment he has made of the potential benefits for the UK digital economy of completing the EU digital single market. (905296)

As I was saying, we have a great broadband Britain in a great European Union. Britain sits at the centre of the digital single market, which, if it is implemented, will increase GDP for Europe by 3%, or some £300 billion.

This time, I think the Minister is on to something. The UK is Europe’s leading digital economy, and we have the most to gain from the digital single market. That is why 70% of techUK members and 96% of the members of the Creative Industries Federation want us to remain in the European Union. Will the Minister have a go at persuading his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State how damaging it would be for digital jobs in the UK if we left the EU?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a mind of his own, and he quite rightly often takes the view that it is not worth listening to me, which is probably why he is such a successful Secretary of State. I do wish he would listen to me on this issue, however, because tech and digital companies do benefit from our membership of the European Union and they will continue to thrive if we stay in the EU.

Does the Minister agree that the internet has been a huge source of economic growth in this country and that the last thing it needs is to be stifled by the Brussels bureaucrats, which is exactly what will happen under the proposals in the EU’s single digital market strategy?

That intervention reminds me that this is the 41st anniversary of the first radio transmission from the House of Commons, and quality interventions such as that keep the British public listening to and watching our proceedings. However, I do not think that the Brussels bureaucracy is stifling. In fact, 500 broadcast companies are based in Britain precisely because of European regulations.

Conflict Zones: Cultural Heritage

8. What steps his Department is taking to support the protection of cultural heritage in conflict zones overseas. (905297)

The protection of cultural heritage affected by acts of destruction is a priority for this Government. The Government are providing £30 million for a new cultural protection fund, and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, which will enable the UK to ratify the 1954 Hague convention and accede to its two protocols, had its Second Reading in the House of Lords earlier this week.

As one of the few archaeologists in this House, I feel that we as a country need to take a lead in protecting cultural heritage. Will the cultural protection fund and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill do that?

We certainly benefit from my hon. Friend’s expertise in this area. He is absolutely right: this country has long been a strong advocate of cultural protection, but the perception of our commitment has perhaps been undermined by our failure until now to ratify the 1954 Hague convention. I am delighted that we will be doing so through the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, reinforcing our position as one of the leading voices in advocating the importance of cultural protection around the world.

Domestic Tourism

9. What assessment he has made of recent trends in (a) the level of and (b) regional variations in the level of domestic tourism. (905298)

As I have already said, there is good news on domestic tourism. The number of overnight trips in England in 2015 was up by 11%. Five regions—the east midlands, the west midlands, the south-west, Yorkshire and the Humber, and London—saw double-digit growth in domestic overnight trips on the previous year. Last year, there was positive growth in tourism in the east of England, including in both inbound and domestic visits and stays.

As you know, Mr Speaker, Colchester is the oldest recorded town in Britain and our first capital city. We have Roman walls, Britain’s only discovered Roman circus, and the largest Norman keep in Europe. May I invite the Minister to visit Colchester to see the amazing tourism potential that our town has to offer?

I commend my hon. Friend for being a champion for his city of Colchester. It is a place of huge cultural significance and history, and I encourage tourists to discover what is on offer there. I thank him for his invitation, which sounds like a fantastic opportunity, and my office will see what my diary permits regarding future visits.

As someone who spent several years as a bus driver, I know that one factor that encourages tourism is integrated ticketing on public transport. Will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State for Transport about amending the Bus Services Bill to allow more integrated services and to enable councils to run bus services?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not in my remit and is not for me to comment on. I can say, however, that the Chancellor has been rather generous with his spending on transport in this Parliament—50% higher than in previous years. We want to ensure that visitors have the confidence to explore Britain using public transport.

As my right hon. Friend will know, we only have a new cathedral in Lichfield: the original, built in 650, burned down, so our current cathedral was built quite recently, in 1280. What can we do to encourage people to visit places such as Lichfield, which, beautiful though they are, are regarded by bus and coach companies as slightly off the beaten track?

My hon. Friend has been a tremendous champion for his constituency over many years. Thanks to the Chancellor, we have the £40 million Discover England fund to incentivise the development of world-class itineraries. I hope that my hon. Friend’s area and others like it will be looking to make applications to see that we get tourists to their parts of the world.

I thank the Minister for his response so far. We have an increasing number of tourists visiting Northern Ireland, not just because Liam Neeson is voicing the tourism adverts or because we have the Titanic, the SS Nomadic and the Giant’s Causeway, but because more people are holidaying at home. What can the Minister do to ensure that all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland work together so that we can all take advantage of the tourism attractions in each of them?

I know the fantastic opportunities that there are for tourist visitors to go to Northern Ireland and see what is on offer. We are trying to encourage people to have holidays at home—staycations—but we are also working with the devolved authorities to try to promote tourism, along with VisitEngland, Discover Northern Ireland, VisitScotland, Visit Wales and VisitBritain, so that we have a joined-up approach that shows the fantastic offer we have in our four countries of the United Kingdom.

Football: Television Rights

11. If he will take steps to ensure that football supporters from all nations of the UK have non-paying access to watch their national team play on TV. (905302)

The Ofcom code on listed events ensures that key sporting events are made available for free-to-air channels. Our sport strategy, published last year, made it clear that the Government do not propose to review that list.

Like every other football fan on these islands, Scottish fans are looking forward to Euro 2016. We have our wallcharts at the ready and will be watching keenly. During qualification, however, we were unable to watch significant matches, including those against the world champions, Germany, on free-to-air channels. This month, we will be able to watch matches such as Romania versus Albania and Iceland versus Austria. How can those fixtures be regarded as of national interest when those of our national teams are not?

Scottish football fans will have the choice of the three home nations that have qualified in the championships to support, and I am sorry that on this occasion Scotland did not make it through. However, the question of which matches are shown by which broadcaster is essentially one for the sporting authorities. The limited list applies only to a very restricted number of sporting events, but beyond that it is for each sporting body to decide how best to strike the balance between maximising revenue for their sport and reaching as large an audience as possible.

I am sure that the whole House will want to wish the teams of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all the best in the European championships. Football shows us that we have more in common with our European neighbours than divides us, as I am sure the Secretary of State will agree. That was demonstrated by the singing of the Marseillaise at Wembley in defiant response to the attacks in Paris. In that spirit, will he join me in urging fans to enjoy the tournament peacefully, whether they are travelling to France or watching in the company of their friends at home or in public places, and to assist the police and security services in trying to ensure that we have a safe and secure tournament?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am grateful to him for putting the case as he has done and giving me the opportunity to endorse everything that he says. We look forward to the matches in the championships to come and we wish all the home nations success. I have a second interest in that I drew England in the departmental sweepstake and will be supporting England in their match against Russia, which, sadly, was drawn by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), so she will have torn loyalties. We hope nevertheless that that match and every other match pass peaceably and to the maximum enjoyment of those participating and watching.

Topical Questions

Since the last DCMS oral questions, Andy Murray has reached the final of the French Open and boxing has lost its most famous and greatest exponent, Muhammad Ali. The South Bank Sky Arts awards in June honoured British talent, including the Minister for Culture’s favourite rapper, Stormzy, and I am sure that the whole House will be looking forward to the Euro championships, which begin in France on Friday, and will join me once again in wishing success to all the home nations taking part.

Colchester Borough Council, Essex County Council and Arts Council England are all contributing to the Mercury theatre’s £8.8 million expansion plans. Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in the arts is an investment in our local economy and that we should all get behind these exciting and impressive plans?

I certainly do join my hon. Friend in that. I think he was 10 at the time, but he might recall that I represented part of Colchester in the House of Commons, so I am very familiar with the Mercury theatre. I am delighted to hear about the investment in its expansion. I think that any investment in the arts brings real benefits, not least in economic terms, for the local community. I wish the Mercury continuing success into the future.

On Tuesday, the Secretary of State told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in his evidence that there had been no discussions within government about Channel 4 privatisation, and that the examination of such an option had not been started by 9 September 2015, when he had previously answered questions before the Committee. However, in answer to an FOI request on 27 April, received in my office, the Department confirmed that he himself met the Minister for the Cabinet Office to discuss Channel 4 reform options on 3 September—six days before his appearance in front of that Committee. Can he explain the discrepancy?

Yes. The first discussion that I had with the Cabinet Office Minister was about Channel 4 and what possible options there would be for its future. At that stage, no decisions had been taken. Following that, the Department did begin to look at whether or not there was a case for having a fundamental examination, and the decision to go ahead with that was actually taken after my appearance before the Select Committee; it was taken later in the month of September.

Well, on Tuesday, in answer to questions from the Select Committee, the Secretary of State was asked whether or not any discussions at all had taken place before 9 September, and he replied—I have the transcript—“No not within government.” That seems to me a clear discrepancy, and it seems to me he may have misled the Committee, and I invite him to correct his evidence to it now on this very important matter, which matters to a lot of us in this House—the future of Channel 4.

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that the future of Channel 4 is an important matter. Whether or not the discussion with the Cabinet Office Minister, which took place on 3 September, constituted the beginning of an examination, when actually a decision was not taken to begin that examination until about four weeks later, does not seem to be a centrally important matter in the future of Channel 4. We did decide that it was sensible to carry out an examination. That examination is still under way. We have still not yet reached decisions about the best way forward for Channel 4, but I look forward to having that discussion with Channel 4 in the very near future.

T3. There is a great aspiration in Cornwall to have a sports stadium. The Minister will know of this aspiration. What financial or other support can his Department give to deliver the stadium for Cornwall? (905315)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I pay tribute to his efforts particularly to bring about the stadium for Cornwall, which the Government are committed to. As he knows, I have already held two meetings with interested parties in Cornwall, which he was able to come to. I understand that good progress is being made, and that a draft planning application is now going before the council. I hope that that will lead to progress, and that we will see commencement of work on a stadium in the near future.

T4. What protections can my constituents and others expect on mobile phone roaming charges in Europe in the event of an exit on 24 June? (905317)

That is a very good question. Britain was at the forefront of negotiating the reduction in roaming charges, working with our European partners, and it is yet another example of the benefit to consumers and citizens of being a member of the European Union.

After the huge success of the London Paralympics, we all saw how Paralympic sport can inspire. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating my six Worcester constituents, who have been selected to represent ParalympicsGB in the wheelchair basketball at the Rio Paralympics?

I should be absolutely delighted to do so. I think it is very important that we wish all our athletes great success in Rio. The Paralympics are just as important as the Olympics and we wish them all success in their ventures.

T2. On Tuesday I met Jean Cameron, the project director for the Paisley 2021 bid for UK City of Culture, for the third time. Despite my asking the Deputy Leader of the House a few weeks ago to give the Secretary of State a nudge, the bidding cities for 2021 are still none the wiser about the dates involved in the process. May I encourage the Secretary of State to get on with it and allow them to plan appropriately? (905312)

I certainly take the hon. Gentleman’s points on board. We will make sure that the bidding process is as transparent and clear as possible and we will make the rules as clear as possible. While we are talking about culture, it is important to mark today as the anniversary of the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer by Archbishop Cranmer on 9 June 1569, following the Anglican Church’s break with Europe—I mean Rome!

I thank the Minister for his email on Monday about superfast broadband which I am sending out to my parishes. May I raise with him the problem of not spots in rural areas? What is being done following the cessation of the mobile infrastructure project run by Arqiva?

You will be pleased to know, Mr Speaker, that I have run out of anniversaries.

The mobile infrastructure project was a fantastic success, with 75 sites established, but it has been overtaken by the emergency services programme, where the plan is to build 300 sites to complete the network cover—5,000 km of roads. I hope my hon. Friend’s constituents will benefit. In the next few months we will have a clearer idea of where those masts are going and which not spots they are tackling, and I will keep him informed.

There has been much discussion in the House in recent days about world war three. There is a real risk that world war three will start in my constituency between residents and a local school on the subject of footballs that keep falling into residents’ gardens. Can one of the Ministers advise whether there might be grants available that would help stop this problem?

I am sorry to learn of the problems faced by residents in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We are keen to encourage sporting participation and excellence in sport. Perhaps better aiming in kicking the balls will help to alleviate the problem. That is certainly something we would seek to encourage.

House of Commons Commission

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

Palace of Westminster Artwork

1. What assessment the Commission has made of the effect on hon. Members and visitors of the level of diversity represented in artwork displayed in the Palace of Westminster. (905328)

No formal assessment has been made. However, the strategic priorities for developing the parliamentary arts collection are reviewed by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art at the start of each Parliament. The Committee makes targeted acquisitions that reflect the interests of the House, and makes changes to the presentation of works of art to promote engagement by the visiting public. The Committee has already decided to give further consideration in the current Parliament to the representation of the collection of parliamentarians of black, Asian or minority ethnic origin.

In the six years that I have had the privilege of serving in this House, I have often felt that the dead white men in tights who people the walls of this Palace follow me around, sometimes into the Chamber itself. As the answer to my parliamentary question showed, there are only two representations of BAME people in the whole of this Palace. In a few weeks, children from English Martyrs Primary School in Newcastle will make the journey to visit Parliament. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that they should be overawed and impressed by the Palace, but feel that they are part of its present as well as its future?

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady’s point. She will, I hope, be pleased to hear that on 5 July the Advisory Committee will discuss this very subject. I hope the Committee will be able to provide her with a clear action plan that will help to address her concerns.

It is vital that we embrace diversity at all levels to ensure that history is remembered correctly. We have portraits and statues of Queen Victoria in the House of Lords. Does the Commission agree that Members and visitors, particularly the latter, are astounded by the architecture, colours and sheer splendour of the Palace, and that there is unlikely to be anyone who leaves feeling negative or even discriminated against?

House of Commons Employees

2. What discussions the Commission has had with trade union representatives on the terms and conditions of employees of the House. (905330)

The Commission delegates to the Executive Committee responsibility for negotiating changes to terms and conditions of House staff with the recognised trade unions. The House is currently in pay negotiations for the financial year 2016-17 with the unions representing staff in the main A to E pay bands and the catering pay bands. These negotiations are being undertaken in the context of the general pay constraint within the public sector and the requirement for the pay of House staff to remain broadly in line with that of the home civil service.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. I am concerned to learn that certain members of the catering department are having to work double shifts in order simply to make ends meet. Can he confirm that, as part of the pay negotiations, staff will be paid the London living wage, not the Government’s bogus living wage? Does he agree that perhaps paying an extra 5p or 10p for a cup of coffee or a meaty wrap would be money well spent if we were paying our staff correctly?

I am happy to confirm that staff are indeed paid the London living wage, and to ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a response to his question about double shifts. I am also happy to raise his suggestion that a tariff should be applied to sandwiches in this place to ensure that pay is raised in the way he has indicated.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Northern Ireland Question Time

We gave this matter careful consideration, but the Leader of the House recently wrote to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee stating the reasons we will not be introducing topical questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As a consequences of devolution, the range of issues that are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office is narrower than for most other Departments. The introduction of topical questions might lead to a situation in which some questions fall outside the range of the Secretary of State’s responsibilities.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer. I do not want to stop all of us playing a part in each other’s areas and constituencies, but when we look at Question Time we see that the same questions are repeated, which minimises the number of Members who can get in. Topical questions might be another way of increasing participation and having more varied questions.

Each Member is responsible for the questions they submit. Because of the way the process of tabling questions works, the Table Office is able to ascertain whether a question relates to a devolved matter or is the responsibility of a UK Government Minister answering at this Dispatch Box.

Would not one way of increasing participation in Northern Ireland affairs, especially by Northern Ireland Members, be to have more frequent meetings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee?

That is an interesting suggestion. It is not one to which I can commit, but I will certainly take it away.

I appreciate the comments of the Deputy Leader of the House. However, in relation to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, I suggest that members of the public are entitled to expect members of the Government representing those posts to be subject to the same level of scrutiny as their peers around the Cabinet table. I therefore hope that further consideration will be given to introducing topical questions for all those areas.

As I have already indicated, we have given this matter careful consideration and, for the reasons I have set out, decided that it is not appropriate to introduce topical questions at Northern Ireland Question Time—and that would also be true for Wales and Scotland.

In response to the rather disappointing answers from the Deputy Leader of the House, may I ask whether she will consider introducing topical oral questions for Scotland and Wales?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place; I think that this is the first time he has asked a question from the Dispatch Box. I genuinely want to put across quite carefully the level of consideration that we have given to this matter. The Table Office is a very useful filter that enables us to ask questions that are in order. The risk is that Members could end up being ruled out of order while trying to ask their topical questions, which would not be good for their reputations either.

House of Commons Commission

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

Parliamentary Estate: Refurbishment

4. How much was spent on the refurbishment of the north entrance to the parliamentary estate in the last Parliament. (905333)

Some £55,958 was spent in the last Parliament, and £240,997 has been spent to date in this Parliament. The total forecast budget for the project is £423,902. All those figures include VAT.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. My point is about cyclists being excluded from the Curtis Green entrance, even though it is on the new cycle super-highway. Given the need for cyclists to be able to negotiate busy junctions safely, and the fact that they have to use the Derby Gate and Carriage Gates entrances, what assessment was made before the decision was taken not to allow them to use the Curtis Green entrance?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am quite happy to investigate that matter and to write to her setting out the reasons for that. As a cyclist, I too would certainly like to see enhanced cycle facilities and entrances to the Palace.

It is not just a question of cycles being able to enter the estate; it is a question of the danger to cyclists. As a car turns in—I have had this experience in a car—it has to cut across the cycle lane and there is a real risk that, if the driver is not really attentive, a cyclist may hit the car and be in danger of death.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is certainly important that car drivers are attentive to the risks cyclists face every day as they cycle through London.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—


The Government do not collect this information and do not have the information available. However, the House publishes a record of the time taken on all types of business in the House, and that will be available in the next Sessional Return when it is published in due course. As has been published, hon. Members had the opportunity to participate in 269 Divisions during the last Session, but the total time taken for all business that gave rise to one or more Divisions was 471 hours and 46 minutes.

We will all be aware that on Monday night we began voting on the Investigatory Powers Bill at 8 pm and finished voting at 11.14 pm. Members’ meetings and other engagements were disrupted for three and a quarter hours for only four votes. Our colleagues in the Scottish Parliament are able to vote on all Divisions at once. What consideration has the Deputy Leader of the House given to a daily unified decision time?

The Government made sure that on Monday a decent amount of time for debate was protected rather than compressed. On having a decision time, as in the Scottish Parliament, I suggest that separating decisions on an important piece of legislation from the discussion of them is not to the benefit of that discussion. We should try to ensure that we vote on matters that the House has debated. As we have seen in many debates, people have changed their minds as a consequence of listening to what was said.

One of the defences the Leader of the House has previously given for the current voting system is that it allows Members to grab a Minister in the voting Lobby. The thing is that guys on the SNP Benches are never in the same voting Lobby as Ministers. The 269 Divisions in the last Session meant that we spent roughly 60 hours of our time hanging around in the voting Lobbies, which is equivalent to a football player’s entire season in the premier league, so are we going to see electronic voting or the continuation of an inter-party league?

The hon. Gentleman has made an estimate based on the information I have just given him, but a lot of Members value the opportunity to see each other in the Lobbies. I recognise what he says about SNP Members often being in a different Lobby from the Government, but perhaps he should learn from his more experienced neighbours on the Labour Benches, who certainly use the voting process to grab Ministers when they leave the Lobby. Frankly, this Parliament spends more time scrutinising legislation than any other Parliament in the world, and I genuinely believe that our voting system is appropriate for that.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House for changing the list of initials under which we go through the Lobbies to vote. Moving the Gs to the left-hand column has speeded up the voting process, and as an H, it is now bliss to vote. I might add that I know from personal experience that it is very easy to vote against the Government and then to nip to the other Lobby to wait for the Minister to come out and ask them a relevant question.

I was trying to suggest that that was what Opposition Members tend to do, but I recognise what my hon. Friend has said. As a C, getting the Gs in with us has seemed—apart from the fact that I now vote in the same queue as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is a G—to increase the time it takes for us to vote. Nevertheless, we are all happy together in our Division Lobby.

While I am sure we are all very sorry that the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) had his dinner plans messed around on Monday night, may I urge my hon. Friend not to listen to those people who come here and within five minutes want to change long-established proceedings in this House that many of us value?

Of course, matters of voting are ultimately for the House to decide, although I do not sense an extended appetite for the changes suggested.

English Votes for English Laws

We have fulfilled our manifesto commitment in introducing English votes for English laws, which we believe will continue to strengthen the Union. However, the Government will undertake a review of the English votes for English laws procedure in the autumn, as we said we would, drawing on the work of the Procedure Committee, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and the House of Lords Constitution Committee.

Some aspects of the Wales Bill currently before the House are solely Wales matters on which every Member of this House can vote, and yet if similar provision were put in place in England, my vote as a Welsh Member of Parliament would not count. Is that fair?

All Members’ votes in this House count. The process is very clear. The change that we introduced ensured that matters that are devolved must now have the explicit consent of English Members. On the Wales Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are transferring powers from this House to the Welsh Assembly, creating a stronger Welsh Assembly, and as a consequence we believe that all Members should be involved in that discussion.