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House of Commons

Monday 10 March 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Digital Switchover

1. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with Digital UK on digital switchover in the south-west. [192283]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): I met the chair and the chief executive of Digital UK at a reception of the all-party group on digital TV switchover and I will meet Digital UK regularly to discuss all aspects of digital switchover.

Linda Gilroy: I was pleased to note that Eaga has been appointed to help deliver assistance to those over 75, disabled people and those who are otherwise vulnerable. What plans has my right hon. Friend to help those who fall outside the help scheme?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is right that Eaga has been appointed to run the digital switchover help scheme, which will be available to people aged over 75, those with a severe disability or those who are registered blind or partially sighted. The Eaga partnership will be well known to hon. Members through its work on the Warm Front scheme. Experience from Whitehaven shows that the help people received was rated good or very good, so there is some encouragement. For people outside the scheme, Digital UK has a helpline and website to give advice to everybody who has any questions as we get closer to switchover, which is about a year away in my hon. Friend’s region.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Is the Secretary of State aware that, due to the arrangements for digital switchover, many thousands of my constituents will be unable to access digital radio perhaps until 2015, when the Irish turn off their analogue signal? Has he discussed the matter with the Irish? If not, will he do so and report to the House?

Andy Burnham: Wales is set for digital switchover in the third quarter of next year. I must be honest and say that I was not aware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. I will be glad to discuss it with him further and ascertain whether we can hold discussions with our Irish counterparts to tackle the matters that he brings to my attention.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The Secretary of State will know from the experience in Whitehaven, which he mentioned, that only 33 per cent. of those eligible contacted the help scheme. What steps will he take to ensure that, in other areas of the country, older people, for whom television is a necessity not a luxury, can contact the relevant scheme and get the help that they require?

Andy Burnham: Of some 8,600 households who were eligible, approximately 6,400 responses were received, which suggests a good take-up. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s challenge that we need to work hard to
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ensure that people know about the help that is available. As we get closer to some of the switchover dates, people’s questions—and possibly anxieties—will increase, so there is a challenge for Ministers to ensure that people are informed. However, there is also a challenge for local Members of Parliament to ensure that we give timely answers to constituents’ questions. I am sure that, if we work in partnership on those matters, we can ensure a smooth switchover, which is in all our interests.

Creative Industries

2. Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): What assessment he has made of the contribution of the creative industries to the economy. [192284]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): Estimates published in October 2007 indicate that the creative industries accounted for at least 7.3 per cent. of gross value added in 2005, equivalent to £60.8 billion.

Mrs. Dorries: A few weeks ago, the Government announced that they would launch a creative industries strategy. Where exactly is the financial boost to the creative economy that we all expected? After two years, does not the Minister think that the creative industries expect a little more than rehashed ideas and old announcements?

Margaret Hodge: I am sorry that the hon. Lady feels so negative about the strategy that we published, which has been warmly welcomed by most of the people in the sectors that we represent. The strategy is not a one-off attempt to respond to the issues that face the creative industry, but part of a continuing dialogue. Global competition and the fast-changing information technology environment mean that we must continuously revisit the strategy. The 26 practical and pragmatic recommendations in the document are all relevant to the industries and are not old, as she suggests.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Minister accept that the success of the creative industries depends heavily on their continuing to be able to benefit from copyright? Will she therefore give the Government’s support to Commissioner McCreevy’s proposal that the term of copyright protection for performers should be extended, as was unanimously recommended by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport?

Margaret Hodge: Copyright is a key issue across many of the sectors in what we have defined as the creative industries. There are two strategies. One is to do all that we can to protect existing copyright, but equally, all the industries have to think about new business models, which will enable them to prosper in a fast-changing environment, with convergence and all the new methods of communications. That said, we are looking with interest at the proposition that the European Commission has put forward. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have so far been guided by what Gowers said in his review, based on evidence. However, we treat such matters with an open mind and look forward to debates in Europe and elsewhere, as we reconsider the evidence that is around.

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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The creative industries are doing well for Britain, both economically and culturally, and one that does really well for us is our orchestras. The Minister is not going to believe this but she was apparently quoted as attacking one of the greatest British institutions where those orchestras have an opportunity to shine, which is the Proms. I am sure that she is keen and eager to get to the Dispatch Box to put the record straight and back the Proms.

Margaret Hodge: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his creativity. I do not expect that he has read what I said in what was a complex argument about the role of our cultural institutions in building British identity. It was not an attack on the Proms, but the way it was portrayed, being trivialised and sensationalised by the media, undermined the debate. I should like to quote, if I may, from what I said:

If hon. Members listen, I will explain.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the rest can go in the Library.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Minister understands the importance of the creative industries and I am glad that she has given them a thumbs up. One important aspect of the creative industries is the teaching of media studies, which we debated in the House when she was Minister for Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. Will she ensure that much more rigorous media studies degrees are offered in our universities by doing her little bit to bring together experts from the creative industries to ensure that the curricula are much more robust?

Margaret Hodge: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will know that people who undertake media studies are more likely to get a job than those who undertake many other disciplines studied at university. Nevertheless, it is hugely important to ensure that the content of what is studied meets the needs of people in the industry. One of the propositions in our strategy is that Brighton university should undertake a review to see whether we can build a closer relationship between the contents of the curricula in media studies courses and the needs of employers.

Cultural Olympiad

4. Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): If he will make a statement on the Cultural Olympiad. [192286]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): The Cultural Olympiad is a four-year nationwide programme of cultural and artistic events
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inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, including major national flagship events and a UK-wide festival of local events. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will announce further details tomorrow about how local groups can get involved in the Cultural Olympiad.

Mr. Sanders: That is a great pity, because I was hoping to get the answer today. One of the problems for local authorities and local communities that are keen to engage is getting the detail. Does the Secretary of State agree that we are talking about a tailor-made enterprise for a part of the visitor economy that wants to put on events to attract more people? If local groups can engage with this festival of events around the nation, that has to be to their benefit.

Andy Burnham: The short answer is: they can. When the details are announced tomorrow, I would expect the hon. Gentleman to be encouraging his local authority to get involved quite quickly and ensure that it can play a full part. I am sure that he will have been as encouraged as I was to see the Torbay leisure centre and Torbay Olympic gymnastics club listed in the guide of facilities last week, which is more good news for him. Seriously, however, all communities can play a full part and can have a piece of the Olympic games, but it is important that people go out there and create that for themselves, rather than expecting things to fall into their laps.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that the British Federation of Brass Bands, which is based in Barnsley—the home of good football—will play a vital role in making a success of the Cultural Olympiad?

Andy Burnham: It absolutely will, and may I say a brief word about Barnsley football club, which demonstrated the true grit and spirit of the FA cup to the whole nation on Saturday evening? I was about to say that we were all cheering the team on, but I do not want to rile any Chelsea supporters. It was a pleasure to watch them triumph.

On brass bands, I am absolutely confident that the rich heritage that my hon. Friend describes—celebrated in the film “Brassed Off”—will play a very important part in our Olympic celebrations.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State, without quoting from a speech that, for clarity, would do justice to the Archbishop of Canterbury, unequivocally assure the House that, when we come to the Cultural Olympiad in London, the Proms will have a central part?

Andy Burnham: Of course, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Proms will have a role to play, as will all cultural organisations. He will be encouraged, as I am, that we have long said that we want to make an international Shakespeare festival part of our Olympic celebrations. This is a time when all the best bits of our national heritage can be available for the whole world to see, and I absolutely include the Proms in that.

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Schools (Culture)

5. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What contribution the find your talent scheme will make to ensuring that children receive five hours of culture each week. [192287]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): The find your talent programme of 10 pilots will trial ways of offering children and young people a range of high quality cultural experiences for five hours a week, in and out of school. We are seeking applications from partnerships across the country. The pilots will give us the information that we need to make decisions about rolling out the offer nationally.

Rosie Cooper: Will my right hon. Friend give the time scale for the pilots and say a little more about them and whether areas such as West Lancashire will be eligible for such schemes?

Andy Burnham: Local partnerships have until 7 April to submit their bids, but we have already received more than 50 expressions of interest in the find your talent programme, which is a tremendous endorsement of the scheme’s principles. It is important that in setting up the pilots we ensure that different parts of the country with different characteristics are chosen, so that we can consider how best to make arts activities and cultural activities available to all children in that area. I very much hope that my hon. Friend will work with her local organisations to make such a proposal.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): I was tempted to ask the Secretary of State whether he thinks that the Proms could count towards to the five hours of culture, but I should like to ask him about a more serious point. Does he think that culture is something that can be quantified and enforced through targets or is there a risk that such a scheme will undermine the essence of culture, which is surely about quality, not about curriculum box ticking?

Andy Burnham: What is important is that this is not about five hours of curriculum time, but about young people having the chance to take part in a range of activities, both within the school day and beyond it. It is absolutely right that we should set the highest possible aspirations in that regard. I was at school in the 1980s, and I remember lots of after-school activity simply drying up, not to be reinstated at that time.

Mr. Hunt: It was a Labour council.

Andy Burnham: It was not Labour councils but a Conservative Government who were responsible at that time.

We should not limit our ambitions about the possibilities that we can put before young people. The worst thing that we could do is be narrow-minded or too downbeat about what we can achieve. Let us aim high and see whether we can give young people the full range of possibilities.

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Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): I spent last evening in the Birmingham symphony hall, listening to Staffordshire Sings, where hundreds of young people—180 of them from the Tamworth constituency alone—presented a varied orchestral and choral programme. It was a marvellous event for those young people. Will he take the opportunity to congratulate Staffordshire on what it is doing and see how we can tie that into the find your talent scheme and roll it out across the country?

Andy Burnham: I will certainly take up my hon. Friend’s invitation to look further at what Staffordshire is doing. What is important about initiatives such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend is that while some young people who take part will develop an interest and passion for singing that lasts throughout their lives, others, simply by participating, will develop greater self-confidence and better communication skills and feel that they are capable of performing in front of an audience. It does not matter whether people go on to develop a particular talent, because taking part in itself gives young people good life skills that stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

Listed Buildings

6. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What account is taken of recommendations by English Heritage when decisions are taken to list buildings. [192288]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): The Secretary of State has a statutory duty to consult English Heritage on listing decisions. Full account is taken of English Heritage’s advice and recommendations, together with any other relevant representations that may be made.

Mr. Swayne: I understand that English Heritage made a very strong recommendation that Ibsley control tower should be listed. Given that the Minister is accountable to Parliament, will she give us a detailed explanation of why the Secretary of State chose to overrule that recommendation?

Margaret Hodge: After careful consideration of all the evidence, as the responsible Minister I decided that the building did not have sufficient architectural or historical interest to merit listing.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Is the Minister aware that there is a serious problem in getting buildings listed as a result of English Heritage being understaffed? Will she look into that and, for starters, see how English Heritage can go into Britain’s oldest recorded town, where many buildings are historic, but threatened with demolition?

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