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Topical Questions

Volume 618: debated on Thursday 15 December 2016

Last week I visited China, along with the largest cultural delegation ever to accompany a Minister from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport abroad. We made key partnerships with Chinese travel companies, the Chinese television sector and the Beijing Winter Olympics, as well as announcing the forthcoming terracotta warriors exhibition in Liverpool.

The BBC royal charter has been approved by Her Majesty in Council, and printed and sealed. I laid copies of the royal charter and associated framework agreement in both Houses today, with an accompanying written statement.

Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind my promoting the MP4 single—the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is part of the band—that is supporting the Jo Cox Foundation. I hope we all download that single and get it to No. 1 for Christmas.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, under its commercial expansion through Project Lightning, Virgin Media is committed to rolling out fibre to 2 million premises across the UK, including in my constituency, thereby helping the Secretary of State to meet her vision of a fibre future. Will she clarify whether the fibre fund will be limited to areas of market failure?

My hon. Friend represents a constituency with 97% superfast coverage, which I am sure he welcomes. He is right to highlight our announcement in the autumn statement of additional funding to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure. We will announce further details about the fund in due course.

Happy Christmas to you and your family, Mr Speaker, and to the staff of the House.

In the light of recent data security breaches, does the Secretary of State have confidence in the operational security of the National Lottery, and that Camelot is operating within its regulatory obligations?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that we should all be very aware and alert to our cyber-security, and that we should take advice issued by cyber-security experts with regard to updating passwords and so on. I met the National Lottery and continue to work with it to ensure that it is cyber-secure.

Can the Secretary of State give the House her absolute assurance that Britain’s national lottery is safe? Will she commit to come back to the Dispatch Box if there are any further revelations of security breaches at Camelot?

I repeat that I met Camelot and am working with it to ensure that it is as secure as it possibly can be, and that it takes all possible cyber-security measures. I am sure the hon. Gentleman and I will discuss these matters over the Dispatch Box. I wish him—and you, Mr Speaker—a very happy Christmas.

T3. The respected independent media monitoring organisation News-watch published research showing that over the past 10 years just 3% of the 4,000 people interviewed about the EU on the BBC’s “Today” programme were supporters of Brexit. Given this demonstrable bias, which since the referendum is now conflated with almost daily doom and gloom from the show’s business section, how can the licence fee payer funded BBC be held to account to deliver the impartial news service its charter requires? (907906)

I am sure my hon. Friend welcomes the charter, which sees a new regulatory regime for the BBC and includes Ofcom having regulatory responsibility, that is being laid today. I am sure he will support the Digital Economy Bill, which is making its passage through the other place, to ensure that the regulatory regime comes into force.

T2. BT owns a massive 42% of the UK’s useable mobile spectrum, meaning that challenger companies suffer capacity constraints. Will the Minister ask Ofcom to include a cap considerably below 42% in the forthcoming spectrum auction? (907905)

Making sure we have a fully competitive mobile market is very important. Ofcom will take a view to ensure that that continues. That is in its remit. We will ensure that the spectrum is auctioned in such a way to get the broadest possible coverage.

T6. The National Citizen Service has done a great deal to encourage young people in north-east Lincolnshire, and in Cleethorpes in particular, to broaden their horizons. What further action is the Minister taking to promote participation in the scheme, and will he commit to visit some of the projects in Cleethorpes? (907909)

My hon. Friend is a big supporter of the NCS and I am aware that coastal areas face significant challenges. The NCS can and does have a significant impact on helping those areas. It is therefore great news that there is a place in the NCS for every young person who wants one. This summer alone, 285 young people in north-east Lincolnshire have taken part. Subject to my diary, I am very happy to visit the schemes in his area.

T4. The Minister says he is considering all options on Channel 4. Does that include privatisation and part-privatisation? (907907)

Channel 4 is not paid for but is owned by the Government. It was set up under Government ownership, but it pays for itself through its advertising, and delivers brilliantly—I think—within its remit.

T5. I have arranged for Sport England to attend my constituency in January to meet local sports clubs, many of which are struggling to stay afloat because of a decrease in grants and huge cuts to local authority funding. In the light of the child obesity strategy, does the Minister agree that the Government should make it a priority to engage with and promote these small sports clubs? (907908)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her initiative, and I hope that others in the House will do something similar, because getting Sport England funding involves a lot of work and paperwork. We would encourage all local sports clubs to do it, however, and I congratulate her on her initiative.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says it is investigating 43 premier league players and 12 clubs, including, it is believed, Manchester United, for image rights tax dodging. Does the Minister agree that fans are right to be angry that big clubs and players, including England captain, Wayne Rooney, stand accused of dirtying the beautiful game with a culture of excessive greed and tax dodging?

I agree with my hon. Friend that those in football should protect the reputation of football, but he is asking me to comment on a matter that HMRC is still investigating. Football players, clubs and managers are treated no differently from others and are expected to adhere to the same principles.

T7. I welcome the Government’s announcement yesterday of a review into volunteering, but will the Minister confirm that the Government will provide a full response to each of the review’s eventual recommendations, particularly on the question of the legal status of full-time volunteers? (907911)

May I begin by saying how proud I am of the fantastic work already being done by the NCS and the I Will campaign, which is making a dramatic difference to young people and volunteering? I announced a review yesterday, and of course we will respond in detail to the report’s findings.

It is widely acknowledged that the BBC is institutionally biased in favour of the EU. Will the Secretary of State explain why the BBC does not acknowledge that itself?

I repeat the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone): not only does the new charter require impartiality, but we have Ofcom to regulate that, a new unitary board with management responsibilities for the BBC and the National Audit Office looking at value for money. I think that that package of regulation and value-for-money auditing should give my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) the comfort he needs.

Will the Secretary of State speak to the BBC about the role it can play in the future of Gaelic language broadcasting? It currently spends less than 0.25% on Gaelic programming, and as a result the otherwise excellent BBC Alba is left with a 74% repeat rate.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that this is an 11-year settlement that will guarantee Gaelic language broadcasting. I would be happy to discuss the matter further with the BBC, but I am sure that he welcomes the fact that this is a long-term sustainable settlement.

Our community libraries could be places of study and multi-media use and real community hubs. What steps will my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities to develop our libraries so that they become such community hubs?

We recently published a report, the “ambition” document, which highlighted how libraries are an important part of local communities able to act as community hubs and providing a range of activities in respect of support for reading, digital skills, culture, health, employment and learning. I urge local authorities to think innovatively and to use their libraries to deliver services to their communities so that they are sustainable and can thrive in the future.