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Topical Questions

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 13 December 2018

As advertised, Mr Speaker, may I wish you, and indeed, all Members of the House and all the staff of the House, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year?

Last month, we saw a poignant programme of events to commemorate the centenary of the world war one armistice, at the end of four years of moving moments of remembrance. I thank again all those who were involved in the organisation of that programme, including officials in my Department and several Members of the House, including—if I may single him out—my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), who played a pivotal role.

I am also pleased to announce today that Black Cultural Archives, the UK’s largest archives dedicated to the history of black people in Britain, will be given a £200,000 cash boost by my Department to help to secure its immediate future. We are continuing to work with the archives, Lambeth Council and others to ensure that there is a sustainable long-term funding strategy to enable its work to continue.

Finally, on behalf, I am sure, of the whole House, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate David Dimbleby on his last appearance chairing BBC’s “Question Time” tonight and on his 24 years of service to the programme, and to offer our best wishes to the incoming chair, Fiona Bruce, who is, of course, the first female chair in the programme’s history.

Growers and farmers in Chichester are very high-tech— we have cows wearing collars that upload real-time health data, and computer-controlled hydroponics—but all that requires high-speed connectivity, and many businesses are now taking a hit. A business recently told me that it had invested £16,000 in connectivity improvements. What is my right hon. and learned Friend doing to improve access to superfast broadband for rural businesses?

My hon. Friend raises an important point and a matter of concern to many of us. She will know that in relation to the existing superfast programme, there is further to go, and some of that additional benefit can be delivered in rural areas. She will also know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated £75 million of grant funding from the rural development programme for England for these purposes. She may also be aware that in relation to further technology, we will seek to test out what can be done in rural areas with a test bed and develop 5G technology, which can deliver further benefits, particularly to agriculture.

I add my congratulations to the new Minister for Sport and welcome her to her place. I look forward to working with her.

Moments of sporting history were made during the London Olympics, with billions of pounds invested in what was meant to be an everlasting legacy. Since 2016, 800 grass pitches have been sold off, 100 swimming pools have been drained, a dozen athletics tracks have been closed, and 350 sports halls have been shut. The Olympic legacy is in tatters and it is fuelling our country’s obesity crisis. We need urgent change, so can the new Minister confirm how many new sporting facilities will be opened in 2019?

I very much welcome my welcome to the Dispatch Box. I will have to write to the hon. Lady about her question, but I dispute the premise that London 2012 is not delivering a legacy. My Eastleigh games has been going since 2012. You can try out boccia and rugby, and get involved in all sorts of different sports. As a local councillor, I set up a staggered marathon, which is still going on and bringing people into running.

Some of the legacy projects, particularly those in the park, will not finish their benefits until 2020, so the inspirational power of London 2012 continues. We also have the stadium. The legacy of 2012 is there in the fact that so many sporting events are coming to our shores. We are leading in this area, and are perhaps looking at having the Ryder cup going forward. I understand the concern around grassroots and we will look at the new sporting strategy next year—we are three years on. It is absolutely right to question London 2012, but its legacy is there in many constituencies.

T4. What importance does the Minister for Digital and Creative Industries attach to ensuring the digital security and integrity of elections by protecting secret ballots from digital or photographic interference? (908193)

I think I know what has driven my hon. Friend’s question. I should like to take this opportunity if I may to apologise to the chairman of the 1922 committee. He apparently issued a rule about last night’s election, news of which did not reach me. It appears that I may have been in breach. I apologise to my hon. Friend if that is the case.

T2. Team Scotland, the national dance and cheerleading team, will participate in the 2019 international cheerleading world championships in Florida. More than 100 athletes from across Scotland will travel to Orlando—some travel from as far away as Stornoway to participate in training sessions. A future foundation is being built to participate in the Olympic games, in which the sport has been fully recognised. Will the Secretary of State join me in the fundraising attempt to keep costs minimal and be inclusive? Will he also join me in wishing them and other nations well in next year’s championships? (908190)

I will certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wishing the teams well, and congratulate them on reaching this point. The fundraising question was an ingenious budget bid, but not one that I should answer now.

T6. Residents in my constituency who live in Gustard Wood near the village of Wheathampstead have continually complained to me about the lack of mobile and broadband access. What can the Minister say from the Dispatch Box that I can take back to them to let them know that this problem will improve very soon? (908195)

I assure my hon. Friend that many measures are being taken. The forthcoming universal service obligation should ensure that households that have a speed below 2 megabits per second have the right to request high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second. That will come into effect in 2020. There is more to be done through Broadband Delivery UK—there are numerous voucher schemes. If my hon. Friend wants further information, I am happy to meet him to discuss the options available to him.

T3. Scotland’s land mass is two thirds the size of England’s, and Scotland clearly has many more islands. What needs analysis was carried out that resulted in Scotland’s receiving a fifth of England’s broadband budget? (908191)

I am not aware of the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I am aware that the UK and Scottish Governments are working together to bring about better speeds and access to superfast broadband, which is already at 93.5% in Scotland.

T7. Soft power is one of the golden assets that this country possesses, but it is not nearly well enough co-ordinated; indeed, it is badly co-ordinated. This should be done better. Will my hon. Friend consider what steps his Department could take to ensure that co-ordination is greatly improved? (908196)

Britain is rated No. 1 in the world for soft power, and my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about its importance. Our Department works very closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in this regard. We have a large number of bilateral seasons of culture with other countries, we promote UK culture globally through the GREAT campaign, which is an extremely successful marketing campaign—one of the most successful in the world—and, of course, we visit countries on a cultural basis. For instance, I was in Rome recently, and I have also visited the United Arab Emirates. A great deal goes on.

T5. Will the Government give football fans an early Christmas present by announcing their intention to sanction the introduction of safe standing at stadiums next season? (908194)

I have already met representatives of the Sports Ground Safety Authority, and a small analysis is currently under way. This is a hot topic on my desk, and I will make further announcements in January. In respect of sports ground safety more broadly, I have asked the authority to work with those in charge of the Qatar 2022 World cup to ensure that travelling fans also have a safe experience.