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Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 8 September 2016

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

Rural Broadband

We continue to support the roll-out of superfast broadband to reach 95% of UK homes and businesses by December next year, and we are reinvesting funds from project savings and revenues specifically to help those people in harder-to-reach areas, such as rural communities.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her promotion and wish her well in her post, which I am sure she will make a great success of. Is she aware that, while 84% of properties in my constituency have access to superfast speeds, 9.5% still do not have access to 10 megabits per second and 2% have no access at all to even basic broadband? Many of those remote communities include farms and businesses that want to expand and get on and diversify, but they are being held back, so what more can she and her team do about that?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words; I do appreciate them. He has pointed out that more than four in five properties in his constituency have access to superfast broadband; it is very important that they know that and make sure, if they wish, that they can access it. I know that very well, given that I also represent a rural constituency.

We are looking to make sure that there is access to superfast broadband for all in rural areas. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that the project savings and revenues for reinvestment are already being made available to local projects across the UK, which can then determine how and where that money is best spent. So far, nearly £130 million of take-up revenue has been confirmed for reinvestment in local projects nationwide, and we expect up to £150 million of savings in addition. More than £10 million of that is being reinvested in hard-to-reach areas in Norfolk.

A lot of my constituents have written to me recently about the problems with superfast broadband and lack of access to it. Obviously, if people do not have access to it, their non-access is 100%. They want certainty in timescale and when it is going to happen. What can the Secretary of State do to increase that certainty?

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s comments, which are exactly the same as those I receive from my constituents. I am working, together with the Minister for Digital and Culture, to make sure that we communicate to all people and businesses when they can expect access to superfast broadband. We are also making sure that universal service is available to all in the timeframe set out.

The village of Harrington in the borough of Kettering is just two miles from the town of Rothwell, and yet it has had tremendous difficulties in persuading BT to provide it with superfast broadband. Farms on the outskirts of Harrington are almost in despair that they will never get it. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that they will be connected?

I encourage my hon. Friend to contact me and the Minister of State, and we will make sure that we speak both to BT Openreach and to other service providers, to find out exactly that information.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the existence of not spots in urban areas is often the result of a combination of cock-ups, including commercial rivalries between companies, which are sometimes overlaid with developers taking their eye off the ball at the wrong time and local authorities not getting their act together? Whose responsibility is it to sort that out?

The hon. Gentleman has nailed some of the problems in urban areas, the Minister and I are working very hard to rectify them.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place. As a fellow graduate of Imperial College, I hope to find in her a fellow champion of the digital economy. However, although I welcome her to her place, she should be ashamed of the situation we are in. In 2016—four years after the last Labour Government’s commitment to universal broadband for all would have come into force—hundreds of thousands of British citizens do not even have the speed to download an email and can only dream of the speed necessary to watch the parliamentary channel and see your good self, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State disavow her predecessor’s laissez-faire attitude and tell us what she is going to do to end that disgraceful situation?

The hon. Lady and I are both alumni of Imperial College, a great institution that does so much to further science and technology and to ensure that we have the right skills in the digital market so that we can be a world leader. I have to take issue with some of the comments she has made, however. This Government have done more than many others and this country is well ahead of, many others in broadband provision. I fully appreciate that if an individual does not have access to broadband, they feel somehow that that is not right. It is not right; we are determined to get it right, and we will get it right. I absolutely and totally disagree with any suggestion that there is a laissez-faire attitude in the Government. This Government are a Government for all the country—for everyone—and we will deliver.

Local Television

2. What recent assessment she has made of the contribution of local television services to broadcasting. (906185)

Local TV makes an important contribution to British broadcasting, with around 1.5 million households watching it each week. Twenty-one channels have launched since November 2013, with a further 13 due to come on air next year.

The Minister has highlighted the successful development of local TV. That success is underpinned by a partnership with the BBC, which provides an income stream in return for sharing news content, but the arrangement is now at risk with new proposals for commissioning local content. Will the Minister agree to meet the local TV network to discuss how the proposed public service content fund could be used to provide continued support to local TV?

Yes, I would be delighted to do so. The detailed arrangements that were set out in the BBC White Paper are a matter for the BBC, but it will clearly want to consult and engage with all local media. I would be enthusiastic about meeting local TV providers with the hon. Gentleman. It is disappointing to have sedentary voices from the Opposition shouting that local TV is not relevant. I think it is hugely relevant, and I look forward to working across this House to deliver it.

May I draw the Minister’s attention to Estuary TV, which was established 12 years ago at Immingham in my constituency, and is now based at the Grimsby Institute? It is a long-established channel. May I invite the Minister to follow his predecessor and visit the station, which I am sure will give him an extended interview?

Well, how could I turn down an offer like that? I love Grimsby. It is great to come to Cleethorpes with my hon. Friend, and to Grimsby, too. I hope that even these exchanges may find their way on to Estuary TV. As with other brilliant local TV stations that I have appeared on in the past, I look forward to visiting this one in the future.

May I also welcome the new Secretary of State and her team and wish them well? Has the Minister had any opportunity to read the report on the BBC by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and in particular the Committee’s unanimous recommendation that there be a separate Scottish six o’clock news? Moreover, have the Minister or his colleagues talked about that with anybody senior at the BBC, and can he reassure us that there will be no Government interference to try to thwart the “Scottish Six” when it is launched?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I know that there have been extensive discussions with the BBC at all levels about the draft charter and the framework agreement. I am afraid that he will just have to wait a short while longer for more detail about that.

May I take the opportunity to congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment and welcome her team to the Front Bench? May I also add my congratulations to our brilliant Olympians on their stunning success in Rio and wish our Paralympians similar success?

Local television services face the threat of serious cuts if the Government press ahead with their plan to make the BBC pay the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s. As a social benefit, that has hitherto been paid for by the Exchequer, and rightly so. Transferring the cost to the BBC could mean a loss to the corporation, and effectively to other licence fee payers, of up to £608 million a year, threatening programme cuts across the board. Will the Government think again about this utterly misguided decision?

I simply do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation. There was a very good licence fee settlement, which the BBC welcomed. If he is coming out against providing free TV licences to the over-75s, he ought to say that that is the Labour party position.

Culture: North-east

The Government support culture in the north-east through Arts Council England investment and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The north-east has a thriving and growing arts scene that we want to support, such as the National Glass Centre and the Cultural Spring programme.

I am thrilled to hear the Minister talk about culture in the north-east, and I would love to take him to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland and the Arts Centre in Washington. Does he agree with me that the disparity in Arts Council funding between the north-east and places such as London is one of the reasons why it would be excellent for Sunderland to become the city of culture 2021 to showcase our city’s cultural contribution to the rest of the UK and to the world?

The hon. Lady has made an excellent case for an application to become the city of culture 2021. I am hugely looking forward to the city of culture 2017 in Hull next year. No doubt her comments will be picked up. I would love to come to Sunderland soon to see some of these things for myself.

Leveson Review

4. What recent progress has been made on the implementation of the Leveson review; and if she will make a statement. (906187)

May I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment? The long grass into which the Government have kicked the Leveson review is getting ever longer, but the issue is not going away. The previous Prime Minister signed a cross-party agreement, and this House overwhelmingly passed section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, so when will she implement it?

I am taking my time to make sure I listen to all sides on this matter. I have already had a meeting with Hacked Off and I am going to meet all representatives; I wanted to hear from all victims of press abuse. I will take my time and make sure I make the decision in the right way.

May I join hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend on becoming Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—the best job in the Government? Does she share my concern about the continuing loss of both jobs and titles in the national and local press? Does she agree that there may be a case for saying, if there is a recognised regulator, that its members will be given the protection afforded under the Leveson recommendations, but that to impose the cost penalties would simply result in the loss of yet more newspapers?

I am having to fill my right hon. Friend’s really enormous shoes as best I can, because he did an absolutely fantastic job in this role. He sums up the dilemma that we face. We want to have a free press, and we want to make sure that we have a strong and vibrant local press. I know from my own local titles just how important they are to people. They read the Leek Post and Times, the Biddulph Chronicle and The Sentinel, and they want to have such a strong local press.

12. . There has been some suggestion in the national press that this has been kicked into the long grass by Ministers. What assurances can the Secretary of State give the victims that it is not being kicked into the long grass, that Leveson part 2 will be implemented, and that we will see an end point to this? (906197)

The hon. Gentleman will know that some cases are pending, and until they have been completed there can be no progress on Leveson 2. I assure him that this is not being kicked into the long grass. We are looking very carefully at all the arguments from all sides to make sure we have a free press that protects the citizen.

I warmly welcome the whole of the new ministerial team. I am particularly delighted at the survival of the Sports Minister, whom I daily want to hug—[Interruption.]—still want to hug. However, as one of those whose phone was hacked back in 2003, I would just say to the Secretary of State that the victims of phone hacking—many of them were not politicians, but were other victims of crime, including members of the armed forces—are desperate for the Government to stand by the promises they made to them. First, they promised there would be Leveson 2. Can she say today that there will be? There is no reason why she should not do so, because every previous Secretary of State has done so. Secondly, why on earth have they not implemented section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013? It was a cross-party agreement. We would love her to death—I would hug her, too—if only she implemented it.

Oh my goodness—the promise of a hug from the hon. Gentleman is difficult to resist. He will know from my previous time in government that I always listen to victims of crime, make sure that their voices are heard and take note of everything they say, and I would very much welcome the chance to sit down with him and discuss his point of view. I want to make sure that we do this based on the evidence, and that we do it properly.

Historic Buildings

I am disappointed that there was no hug offer straightaway. Historic buildings provide an important tangible connection to our past and bring alive our heritage in real and exciting ways. Grant support is provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for historic buildings through Historic England, the church and cathedrals repair fund and the architectural heritage fund, among others. In addition, funding is available from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

If the Minister would like a hug, I am very willing to give her a hug. I also welcome the Front-Bench team to their places. Kedleston hall is a grade I listed building, and Kedleston Voice, an action group in my constituency, has campaigned against the granting of planning permission on land that used to belong to the estate, only for the planning inspector to overturn the council’s decision. The group believes that is damaging to the environment of the hall. Will the Minister put measures in place so that no other grade I listed building is affected by housing too close to an historic setting?

I have been made aware of that particular case in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Across the House I think we all face similar frustrating outcomes in planning matters in our own constituencies when the local authority has made one decision and the planning inspector another. Ultimately, it is an issue for her to take up with colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government. However, there is protection of the historic environment through statutory designation and planning policy. When determining planning cases, local planning authorities must have regard to the national planning policy framework, including its policies on conservation enhancement of the historic environment. We shall continue to stress the importance of that aspect of consideration.

13. Even those of us who are very interested in protecting our listed buildings and heritage get really rather angry when the heritage sector seems to stop all development, including development that could actually improve heritage sites. Will the Minister look into that, and also look at the spread of money being given by the Heritage Lottery Fund to see whether parts of the country are getting less than their fair share? (906198)

We work closely across all Departments on heritage matters. I am very proud to be heritage Minister, because it is an incredibly exciting part of what we can deliver in this country. I have regular conversations with the Heritage Lottery Fund. There has been an incredible distribution of its funds across the entire country, but there is of course always room for improvement. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss that further with me, I am very happy to do so.

Must farm near Whittlesea and Flag Fen bronze age centre near Peterborough are among the finest bronze age settlements in western Europe. Peterborough City Council is the lead agency for developing a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for £3 million to develop a bespoke bronze age heritage centre. May I warmly invite my hon. Friend to visit the site and, more pertinently, to support that unique project?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, as it enables me to thank the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (David Evennett), for his excellent maternity cover in my absence. He visited the site that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) alluded to. There was an excellent Westminster Hall debate on this matter. I will of course be pleased to visit if my diary allows.

Topical Questions

I would like to use this opportunity to hail Team GB’s historic medal haul in Rio. I am sure that the rest of the Chamber will join me in paying tribute to the incredible achievement of all our athletes.

You may remember, Mr Speaker, that the last time I was at the Dispatch Box you arrived a little late to a debate, as you had been watching your hero Roger Federer at Wimbledon. It was a shame that he was not at the Olympics because of an injury, but I am sure you enjoyed watching our flagbearer Andy Murray’s wonderful gold medal-winning match, alongside all the other British successes. Our greatest Olympic performance in a century owed much to UK Sport’s no-compromise approach and an increase in funding.

Since we were last at the Dispatch Box, the Office for Civil Society has moved into the Department and I have a fantastic ministerial team. I pay tribute to all the previous Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and Baroness Neville-Rolfe for their sterling work.

The Paralympic games began yesterday. I know the whole House will join me in wishing Paralympic Team GB well. I am delighted that Lee Pearson was selected as the flagbearer at the opening ceremony. He is a stunningly successful Paralympian who has won medals, most of them gold, at four different games. I am very proud to say that he is one of my constituents.

I can also announce that Sir Nicholas Serota is the new chair of Arts Council England. Sir Nicholas has a superb pedigree in the arts and is stepping into the shoes of Sir Peter Bazalgette, who did a brilliant job.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. I wrote to her in July, as co-chair of the all-party group on women’s sport and fitness, to tell her of our concerns about the impact we felt the loss of listed events could have on women’s sport. There is a threat to listed events, because the threshold of qualifying criteria of 95% reception for public service broadcasters is at threat due to the level of streaming used to watch programmes. Can she let me have a response to my letter? If we do not have reassurance, this matter should be dealt with in the Digital Economy Bill.

I am aware of the issue; it has been raised by a number of Members. We need to ensure that we have sport on free-to-air, so that we increase participation and make sure people enjoy sport. The Minister for Digital and Culture will be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this matter further.

T4. I welcome my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour to her place. I also welcome the positive progress the Government are making in promoting the benefits of outdoor recreation. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps she is taking to promote outdoor activities in the Peak district, which our constituents hold so dear? (906147)

The Peak district is most definitely a very important part of both the Macclesfield and Staffordshire Moorlands constituencies. I know my hon. Friend is a great hill walker and often walks in The Roaches. I enjoy walking in his constituency, too. I absolutely agree that we should be promoting the Peak district and all national parks as great places for outdoor activities. The Sport England inspired facilities fund has invested nearly £170,000 in mountain biking, gliding and sailing at venues and clubs across the Peak district. I am sure the whole House will join me in welcoming that.

In the Secretary of State’s keynote speech in Liverpool on 9 August, she set out plans for social impact bonds to address deep-rooted social problems, notably drug and alcohol dependency. She failed, however, to make any reference to the nightmare of gambling addiction, in which fixed odds betting terminals play such a major role. Why have the Government refused consistently to address this scourge in our communities, which damages so many lives and families despite being raised so often by hon. Members in this Chamber.

I am aware of the issues relating to FOBTs, not least through my work in the Home Office. I am well aware of the problems and we will speak to the hon. Gentleman further about this in due course.

T3. Lindsey Lodge hospice in my constituency does wonderful work locally. It was an early signatory to the Fundraising Standards Board, but is concerned about the arrangements for the Fundraising Regulator. What is the Minister doing to make sure that the Fundraising Regulator does not increase pressures and costs on charities such as Lindsey Lodge? (906146)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. At one point I thought I was going to be like the loser’s ribbons at the FA cup final—taken to the game but not used. [Hon. Members: “Aah.”] The sympathy vote.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I will take a look at that particular instance. The proposals come from the sector itself and are necessary to ensure that elderly and vulnerable people are protected from poor fundraising practices, including high-pressure tactics. Committing to a proper fundraising practice should not be viewed as a regulatory burden, but as a means of restoring and increasing public trust in charities.

T5. With the continuing success of Formula 1—and, incidentally, the success of teams based here—does the Minister agree that we should be encouraging more young people to go into engineering and engage in motor sport? (906148)

I was weaned on Formula 1. It is always exciting to see success for British drivers, and, indeed, for teams. The Government are working closely with the engineering community to boost employer engagement with young people, teachers, schools, colleges and universities, and to showcase the exciting and diverse careers that are available, including careers in motor sport.

T7. I am very glad that you marked the death of Thomas Kettle MP, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister join me in wishing the Northern Irish and Irish Paralympians—along with everyone else from Great Britain—the very best, following the thrills that we experienced during the Olympics? Will she also note the extra bit of funding that they need to cross over to this side of the water, where the excellent facilities exist? (906150)

I am pleased to join the hon. Gentleman in wishing our Paralympics GB team all the very best. I look forward to heading out to Rio myself next week to watch our team, as I did during the Olympics. We have increased funding for Tokyo 2020, working with UK Sport to ensure that all our Olympians and Paralympians are well funded in the future.

T6. When in opposition, we conceived the National Citizen Service. Our ambition was that, while it would never be compulsory, it would nevertheless become universal. Is that still the Government’s ambition? (906149)

Yes. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the Government are committed to ensuring that there is a place on the NCS for every young person who wants one. This summer, more young people than ever before have taken part in its life-changing programme. We will publish national data soon, but I am pleased to report real progress in my right hon. Friend’s own area: more than 1,500 young people in Hampshire are participating.

T8. Figures published yesterday by the National Police Chiefs Council show a lasting rise in hate crime. Sections of the press share a responsibility for creating the climate in which that is happening, and all of them have an opportunity to change it. Will the Secretary of State meet newspaper editors to discuss their contribution to building social cohesion? (906151)

The last time I stood at the Dispatch Box, we were discussing this very issue of hate crime. Let me now reiterate that there is no place for hatred in our society. There is no excuse for it, and anyone who is a victim must report that crime. I am, of course, meeting editors and others to discuss many points, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will raise this one.

T9. Does my right hon. Friend agree that superfast broadband should be a statutory function in all new build properties? (906152)

We are introducing the universal service obligation to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from high-quality superfast broadband when that is possible, and fast broadband when necessary. Broadband is no longer merely a “nice to have”; it is vital to participation in modern society, and we want to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to acquire it.

As many Conservative Members accept, it was a terrible mistake to hand over all the superfast broadband funding to one company, and communities throughout the country are suffering as a result. Will the Minister make a fresh start, and recognise the key role of competition in driving the adoption of superfast broadband?

I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that competition is incredibly important to the delivery of superfast broadband, especially in fibre. I am glad to say that in the second round of Broadband Delivery UK there is competition, rather than just one company dealing with the delivery. I can also report that more than 91% of properties in the United Kingdom now have access to superfast broadband, and we will not rest until the figure becomes universal.

T10. I recently had an opportunity to visit the Corby Smash Table Tennis Centre and see those excellent new facilities, and also to meet the staff and volunteers who work there. What steps are the Government taking to promote the sport, and does the Minister fancy coming along for a game when she is next in the area? (906153)

I am glad to learn that my hon. Friend has been inspired by Paul Drinkhall, the first GB player in 24 years to reach the last 16 in the Olympics. I would love to come and visit, but I should warn my hon. Friend that I am not sure whether my officials would allow me to do so. The last time I visited a table tennis event, I got a bit over-competitive with some table-tennis-playing pensioners.

May I take this opportunity to welcome the two new Front-Bench teams? I do not know whether my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are as surprised to see them there as I am. None the less, will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating UK Sport on its successful Olympics? Team GB won more gold medals in more sports than any other country and came second in the table, but there is still an issue with team sports. There is more work to be done in sports such as basketball, possibly handball and others. Will she therefore join me in congratulating UK Sport but also urge it to do more work on team sports?

I of course congratulate UK Sport. Like the sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), I was in Rio and I will be visiting it again for the Paralympics. I am incredibly proud of all the achievements in all our sports, but I have to take the hon. Gentleman up on his comment about team sports. I was at the women’s hockey semi-final. There is no doubt that the women’s hockey team is one of the greatest teams we have and we should all congratulate them on their gold medal success.