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Philip Hollobone: "We spend far too much time in this country celebrating cultures other than our own"

Philip Hollobone The House of Commons returned yesterday, and launched into questions to ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Kettering MP Philip Hollobone ensured that he won't get an invitation to join the front bench any time soon:

"Given that we spend far too much time in this country celebrating cultures other than our own, is it not time to start redressing the balance by creating a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he does in promoting Englishness and the flag of St. George. I would have to discuss with Government colleagues the idea of holding a public holiday to celebrate St. George’s day, but I hope that people will follow the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and celebrate St. George’s day, while also remembering that we will also be celebrating the birth of William Shakespeare."

Shadow DCMS Minister Tobias Ellwood asked about lapdancing clubs:

"As the Minister will be aware, the so-called designated premises supervisor is legally responsible for the conduct of any pub, club or lap-dancing establishment. However, there is no requirement for that supervisor to be present in his establishment at any time; he can verbally hand over responsibility to an untrained manager with no qualifications. Will the Minister examine whether that is the best way to ensure that pubs, clubs or lap-dancing operations are run properly? The feedback from local authorities with vibrant town centres is that it is not.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Designated door supervisors have been a force for good in the sense of working with establishments, the police and local authorities. I made an enjoyable visit in my Bradford constituency to police on the licensing route late one Friday night, to see at first hand how door supervisors were working. [ Interruption. ] No, lap dancing was not on at that venue that evening. We are trying to ensure that local authorities, the police and the industry are working together in trying to protect the public."

David Jones, MP for Clwyd West and Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales, wanted to know about the spread of broadband:

"What recent progress has been made on the “Digital Britain” review. [269385]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Good progress has made been since publication of the “Digital Britain” interim report on 29 January. On 13 March, we published, jointly with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, a discussion paper, “Copyright in a digital world—What role for a Digital Rights Agency?”, and on 17 April we held a successful “Digital Britain” summit at the British Library. We remain on course to publish the final report by the summer.

Mr. David Jones: As the Secretary of State knows, the interim report proposes a universal service commitment to broadband speeds of a minimum of 2 megabits per second from 2012. However, given that speeds of up to 15 Mbps are regularly available in urban areas, does he acknowledge that that is a very unambitious target that is likely to push rural areas even further behind urban areas by 2012?

Andy Burnham: These are primarily matters for the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, but Lord Carter is looking at them closely in the context of the final “Digital Britain” report, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s comments are brought to his attention. In any universal service obligation it is important that all parts of the country are able to benefit; indeed, that is the purpose of such a commitment. It has an historic potential to ensure that, as with postage and telephony, all citizens of this country have access to the highest quality communications infrastructure —and that applies to all parts of the United Kingdom."

John Whittingdale, who chairs the Common Culture Select Committee, repeated the suggestion that the licence fee be spread around a number of organisations:

"In following up the excellent question from the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), will the Secretary of State take account in the “Digital Britain” review of the fact that this year licence fee income to the BBC is likely to exceed total advertising revenue for commercial television? Does that not strengthen the case for making part of the licence fee available for other public service broadcasting objectives such as regional news, children’s television, and supporting Channel 4, as was recommended by the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee more than 18 months ago?

Andy Burnham: I always listen very carefully to the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Last week the hon. Gentleman’s Committee made some broader points—although on the more narrow subject of BBC Worldwide—about preserving high-quality public service broadcasting. I would say to him, if I may, that it is a little premature to make assumptions about any supposed surplus in this licence fee period. We are only at the very beginnings of digital switchover. We will not have a clear picture of how the costs of the digital switchover help scheme are panning out until the Winter Hill transmitter for the north-west region is switched over later this year. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s objectives. Of course, Labour Members want to see a strong BBC as well as high-quality provision beyond the BBC. We are working through our final consideration of these issues and we will come forward with clear proposals in the final “Digital Britain” report."

This idea has merits, but in a multi-media age, I don't think people should be compelled to pay for any television or radio service.

Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey asked about ITV:

"The future of public service broadcasting is at the heart of the “Digital Britain” review. The executive chairman of ITV has described the Government’s decision not to reduce the regulatory burden on ITV as “perverse” and as leaving the channel

    “in a curious twilight zone”.

Given the Secretary of State’s refusal to deregulate, what is his alternative solution to the pressures that ITV is under?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman is somewhat pre-empting the final discussion on “Digital Britain”. We have had discussions with ITV, and I have said on the record that I will take a pragmatic approach to ensuring that it can make the transition from the old media world to the new, as all media businesses are struggling to do.

The hon. Gentleman’s comment related to product placement. I know that he favours a relaxation of regulations in that area, but I have said strongly that I believe that British broadcasting has a reputation around the world for integrity, quality and high standards in programme making. Those things should not simply be thrown away because we feel pressure as we move to the future. It is right to say that we should keep what we are known for and good at, which is high-quality programming. Let us keep the line between editorial and advertising where it should be, so that people know which is which, but at the same time let us face the future pragmatically and help good British businesses keep quality programming at the core of everything that they do."

Shipley MP Philip Davies had a question on the levy system for gambling on horseracing:

"We all agree that the levy needs modernising, but does the Minister agree that the three-year deal offered by the bookmakers will provide stability for racing through difficult economic times and give some breathing space to allow a new, modernised levy to emerge, which probably would not happen if we continued with a year-on-year roll-over of the levy?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work with the all-party group. He is right to say that, in these difficult times, a three-year deal would give a stability that no other sector would have, but that would certainly not prevent any modernisation from taking place. The two can go together in tandem. I would be very happy if a three-year deal could be agreed, but I would also want to ensure that we continued with the modernisation agenda."

Peter Bone is MP for Wellingborough. He raised the important issue of the Government's raid on the Lottery:

"Since Labour came to power, lottery funding for sport has halved, yet administration costs have doubled. Is that a record to be proud of?

Andy Burnham: There is a fact that Opposition representatives continue to overlook when it comes to the lottery and sport: the new good causes fund—previously called the New Opportunities Fund and more recently named the Big Lottery Fund—has put considerable funds into sport. The average figure for the past five years is £100 million a year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stop misrepresenting this position—

Mr. Bone: Pardon?

Andy Burnham: I hope that he will stop not giving a fully accurate reflection of this position. Because of the changes that this Government have made—including the creation of the New Opportunities Fund, which enabled lottery funds to be spent in schools and hospitals for the first time—a £1 billion investment was put into school sport in 1999. That enabled the creation of floodlit astroturf pitches in schools up and down the country, and those that were created in my constituency at that time are still heavily used to this day."

Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt went on the same matter:

"May I first congratulate the Secretary of State on the success of his team in yesterday’s FA cup semi-final?

The right hon. Gentleman sent me a letter just before Christmas refuting the claims that I had made about the decline in funding for grass-roots and community sport—claims that have been echoed today by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). Just a few weeks ago, however, the Secretary of State supplied me with parliamentary answers that confirm precisely the fact that there has been a dramatic fall in lottery funding for grass-roots and community sport. Which of his two answers is correct?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. It was a marvellous day at Wembley yesterday, and I apologise for being a touch croaky today. It is not always possible to be an impartial Secretary of State, and that has produced a bit of a rift in the Department today, although we are patching things up as best we can.

I will give the shadow Secretary of State a similar response to that I have just given the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). The figures that he cites not only miss out the funding from the Big Lottery Fund, significant sums of which have gone into grass-roots sport, but exclude funding provided by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in accordance with the PE and school sports strategy, which the DCSF and my Department co-sponsor. We are now talking about £200 million a year in that regard, so I hope that, if we are to have a debate about funding for sport, we can put all the facts on the table and take into account all the investment that is going into grass-roots and school sport. If I have heard the shadow Chancellor correctly in recent times, I must conclude that if he were standing where I am now, he would be having to explain to the House on what level he was cutting sport funding. I understand that it is Conservative policy to cut Department for Culture, Media and Sport spending now, this year, and we would be interested to hear where the axe would fall on grass-roots sport.

Mr. Hunt: If we are to believe what we read in the papers this morning, Government briefings suggest that it is the Chancellor, not the shadow Chancellor, who is talking about spending cuts of £15 billion. The last Conservative Government set up the lottery precisely in order to support grass-roots sports, the arts and our heritage when times are tough. Is not the reason that funding for grass-roots sport has halved under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government the appalling way in which the Government have managed the national lottery, in particular by diverting more than £1 billion to supporting Government spending programmes, so that, in the crucial run-up to 2012, when we want more people to be able to enjoy community sport, fewer people will actually be able to do so?

Andy Burnham: It is simply inaccurate to say that funding has halved. This Government have invested at every level of sport—school and community sport, club sport and elite sport—which is why sport in this country is in a better position today than it has been for many years and why nine out of 10 young people do two hours of sport in school every week. What was the position when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in government? It was appalling; it was terrible. I was at school and I remember what happened—sport simply dried up. The hon. Gentleman keeps talking about a big diversion of funds and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must make progress down the Order Paper; otherwise, it is unfair to Back Benchers."

Congleton MP Ann Winterton is worried about the future of local news. (I wouldn't normally share her concerns, but I bought a copy of my local paper last night and there was a photo of me in it. Well OK, a photo with me in it.)

"If he will bring forward proposals to provide support to news media organisations for the provision of local news. [269393]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I am well aware of the intense challenges facing local news providers, including radio and television as well as local newspapers. Building on my recent discussions with relevant bodies, I will hold a summit at the end of this month to discuss options for local news services.

Ann Winterton: While the town of Congleton retains its local newspaper, the Congleton Chronicle, which is not part of a national news media group, many offices in rural constituencies, including mine, have closed because of the centralisation of news coverage to places such as Manchester. Is the Secretary of State concerned that local people will not be able to access news about court proceedings, council proceedings and so forth unless they have a local news service? How can that best be delivered?

Andy Burnham: I certainly understand the hon. Lady’s concerns; indeed, they are shared across the House. Part of the answer is market forces, as newspapers operate in a market, but I think we would all agree that local newspapers perform a vital public service at local level and are crucial to the health of local democracy. I hope that the hon. Lady will attend the seminar I have called in Portcullis House next week, as I would be interested in debating the available options. It is, of course, difficult for local news organisations to make the transition to the fully digital era. There is pressure in respect of the cost of newsprint and a difficult advertising market, and structural challenges are arising together with the pressures in the economy. We all care enough to hope that we can plot a way forward for local news organisations, which we should work towards."

David Cameron's PPS Desmond Swayne spoke about illegal file sharing on computers:

"If the Government are successful in achieving their target, announced in “Digital Britain”, of reducing illegal file sharing by 70 per cent., that will still leave 2 million individuals to be sued. That is clearly an unrealistic possibility. Will the Secretary of State look again at the technological possibilities of excluding the miscreants, rather than clogging up our courts? “Digital Britain” should be a huge opportunity for creative industries to lead the country out of recession, but at the moment, for every file legally downloaded, 600 are stolen.

Andy Burnham: I find myself in the unusual position of wanting to agree with the hon. Gentleman—a very unusual position—because I do not believe that the right way to approach this matter is via a legislative route. Clearly, behavioural change on a large scale is required. Lots of downloads are not paid for. That is true of music in particular, but other creative content could follow shortly.

The right approach is to encourage better dialogue between rights holders and internet service providers so that new opportunities emerge for how people may pay differently for music, film and other content in future. That would keep within the spirit in which the internet has been so good: people could explore music and could have full access to all the creative content they wanted. We believe that that is the right approach, but be in no doubt that the Government are determined to find solutions, because unless we have a workable system of copyright in the digital age we will weaken our creative industries in the long term."

And Mark Harper, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, paid tribute to an excellent project:

"I know that the sports Minister shares my desire to widen opportunities for those with learning disabilities to participate in sport. Will he join me in congratulating the initiative of Wingate and Finchley football club? I visited the club recently, along with the leader of Barnet council, Mike Freer. It had worked with the local branch of Mencap to host a disability open day on which more than 30 adults with learning disabilities were able to play football and then watch a match. That set a very positive example, and I believe that we should encourage similar initiatives throughout the country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I am happy to congratulate the club on that event, because it showed that we can provide sport for all. People with learning disabilities should have an opportunity to play sport at a number of different levels. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s local authority on the work it has done, and congratulate him on his own work in the House."

Tom Greeves


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