Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 1 November 2018

I am sure that the House will join me in offering heartfelt condolences to all those impacted by the tragedy in Leicester last weekend. Football clubs are at the heart of our communities and, just as Leicester’s magical premier league win inspired the city, this tragic loss of life will be deeply felt. My thoughts and sympathies, and I am sure those of the whole House, are with the friends and families of all those who lost their lives, with everyone at the club and with the people of Leicester.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about Leicester City?

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect thousands of children born every year, and that includes entirely preventable permanent brain damage. Will he include alcohol advertising in the 9 pm watershed consultation on the advertising of unhealthy food?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have not yet given the details of that consultation process, but it is important that we address harms such as the one he mentions in a variety of different ways. If that is not the right way to do it, we will certainly consider what may be, and I am grateful to him for raising it today.

T2. What assessment has the Minister made of the UK’s ability to support any bright new businesses starting up in our regional towns, particularly start-up tech businesses, and to help them grow? (907412)

We do indeed have many bright new businesses across the UK. Research published a week ago by Tech Nation showed that British cities such as Manchester and Cambridge have the same number of tech companies now valued at $100 million, and that, I think, shows that we as a nation are really supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in their growth aspirations.

It is disappointing that the Minister who led the review that concluded that high-stakes fixed odds betting terminals were a social blight is not here with us this morning, although, contrary to what the Secretary of State said, I understand that Patrick Kidd of The Times is reporting that she is actually with the Chief Whip at the moment, and not in transit, as he hinted. May I ask him whether when he hinted to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he was minded to delay the reduction in stakes on fixed odds betting terminals he had actually read the 78 pages of the devastating report, which his ministerial colleague had dedicated three years to compiling?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Civil Society was travelling back this morning, and it seemed unwise to rely on public transport or London traffic to ensure her being here, so we made arrangements for me to answer questions. I apologise, Mr Speaker, if the hon. Gentleman objects to my answering questions that are targeted at me, as you announced at the beginning of the session. On the issue that he raises, there has never been an announcement of the time at which this change to fixed odds betting terminals’ stakes would come in. There were early-day motions and all-party parliamentary group reports urging the Government to bring this forward from April 2020 and we have done exactly that. He will know that, in a few moments’ time, there will be an opportunity to discuss this subject in more detail and I will happily set out the rationale for this choice.

The Secretary of State did not answer the question, nor did he confirm that the Minister for Sport and Civil Society is actually in the building. The announcement in the Budget of the delay in implementing the stake reduction was a betrayal of his ministerial colleague and his two predecessors as Secretary of State, as well as the victims and their families, whose lives have been blighted by gambling addiction. Why has he chosen to back the bookies rather than the gambling addiction victims and their families, his own Minister and the overwhelming public interest?

No, there has been no delay. Mr Speaker, I am in your hands: I am very happy to set out now the detailed explanation of why we have done what we have done. The shadow Secretary of State has asked for an urgent question on this very subject at half-past 10, which you have granted, so it is a matter for you as to whether you would like me to address the question now or at 10.30 am.

The answer is very simple. The normal rules apply at Question Time—topical questions and answers are brief. The Secretary of State has perfectly properly given an answer. As he says, there will be an urgent question today; the matter can and will be explored further then.

T3. I will try to be brief, Mr Speaker. The all-party parliamentary group for rural business recently recommended mobile data roaming for areas that are quite isolated, such as my constituency of North Cornwall. The group reckons that this could boost mobile data by 8%. Will the Government apply pressure in this regard to ensure that my constituents get the best coverage? (907414)

I heartily agree with my hon. Friend’s concerns. I was delighted that the Budget confirmed that there is now £200 million to kick-start connectivity for superfast broadband around the edge of the country, and the Red Book shows that one of the places that this process will start is in my hon. Friend’s county of Cornwall.

May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) in welcoming Channel 4’s hub, which is great news for Glasgow and the Scottish screen sector?

Will the Secretary of State apologise to the families who have been blighted by gambling-related harm due to the delay in the announcement of reducing the fixed odds betting terminals maximum stake to £2? Will he look into diverting the £1.8 billion bonus that is going to bookies to the affected families instead?

There has been no delay, but the hon. Lady is right that a large part of the rationale for this decision was to protect exactly the people she refers to. This Government have made that substantive change, and it should be recognised that there are a number of factors in the process of determining when the change should come in. Once again, we will get into those—in some detail, I am sure—at about half-past 10.

I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the decision that has been made about Glasgow. This will be an important move to get broadcasting talent out of London and into the rest of the country, so that the whole country can benefit from it.

T4. As well as the world’s best beer, one of the things that brings people into our pubs is live music. What assessment has the Minister made of the importance of the music industry’s contribution to our economic and cultural health? (907415)

It is a vibrant industry. Just today, UK Music has published a report showing that the music industry is outstripping the rest of the economy in terms of growth, and I know that it is doing very well in my neighbouring constituency of Dudley South.

T6. A few months ago, some vandals burned down Spennymoor cricket club in my constituency. It is proving very difficult to get the insurance money and raise enough funds for a rebuild, so will the Secretary of State tell me where we could get some money so that a second season is not lost for the young people in the area? (907417)

I do not think the hon. Lady will be surprised to know that I had not heard of this incident. Now that I have, perhaps she will allow me to look into it and write to her about what might be the best way forward.

It is extremely important that young people participate in sport. My hon. Friend will be aware of our recently announced school sport strategy to enable just that to happen. We think it important that young people remain active and, of course, that they participate in competitive sport, too, for all the many benefits we know it brings.

T7. With the world transplant games due to take place in less than a year’s time in Newcastle Gateshead, may I ask the Secretary of State what support he is giving to the games and urge him to give the best possible support that he can? (907418)

We wish those games every success, and if there is practical assistance we can provide, we are very happy to talk to the hon. Lady about what we might be able to do beyond what is already happening.

On the principle of better late than never, I shall call the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) to ask a question now as she missed her question earlier. It is perhaps a good idea always to get here a bit earlier. Nevertheless, I wish to hear the hon. Lady, and I am sure the House does.

Many thanks, Mr Speaker, and apologies.

Next week, I will be holding Cheadle’s ScamSmart event to inform local residents about how to deal with consumer protection and address nuisance phone calls. Does the Minister agree that the bosses of companies that bombard people with unsolicited phone calls should feel the full force of the law and be directly liable for fines, to prevent them from doing this in future?

It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend, who raises a very important issue. Nuisance calls are not a victimless crime; they are a source of fear and intimidation to many older people and vulnerable groups. So I agree that those who flout the law on a persistent basis should be held to account, and that means directors being personally liable. That is why we have just completed a consultation on how we bring this into force, and company directors will face, potentially, fines of up to half a million pounds if it is decided on.

I am sorry, but unfortunately demand massively exceeds supply, so this will have to be the last question.

The Minister may not be aware that I am currently in discussions with the National Audit Office to establish its right to examine BBC commissioning contracts worth less than the threshold of £1 million. Does she agree that that would be a good idea, particularly for openness and transparency at the BBC, and that failure to do so will leave the suspicion that it has something to hide?

The hon. Gentleman is right that we are hoping for greater transparency from the BBC. Ofcom recently identified this as an area for improvement in its report on the BBC.