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House of Commons

Monday 12 May 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—


1. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with publishers and others on the protection of copyright in relation to the creative industries. [204448]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): My Department has held two publishing seminars, involving the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild, among others. In addition, I have recently met representatives of the British Library, the British Phonographic Industry, British Music Rights and the Advertising Association.

Tony Baldry: The Secretary of State will know that demand for e-books is growing. Penguin made as much on e-books in the first two months of this year as it did in the whole of 2007. How does he hope to protect the nascent development of e-books from peer-to-peer and other piracy involving internet service providers?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. New technology, of which e-books are a good example, can help us to enjoy music, literature and culture more freely, and that is to be celebrated. However, there is a genuine issue to do with the illegal sharing and downloading of material to which he alludes. It is already causing serious damage to our creative industries, particularly the music industry. Our first preference is for rights holders and internet service providers to reach voluntary agreements about access to content. I must say that I am disheartened by recent comments from within the ISP community to suggest that providers do not have any responsibility for illegal downloading. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that jointly with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we will shortly publish a document that includes options for legislation if voluntary agreements cannot be secured.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): But is my right hon. Friend aware of the anger felt by the community of writers, especially freelances—creative artists—about the swindles that deny them their property: their copyright? Mainstream papers, especially left-wing newspapers, are the worst culprits in that regard. We on the Labour
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Benches are short of a few votes; there are scores of thousands of people whom we could help. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet a delegation from the recently formed all-party writers group? I am its vice-chairman, although I have not yet published any memoirs or diaries, and have no money that results from such publications in the bank account. Will he agree to meet members of the all-party group to discuss how we can be fair to the writers, creative artists and journalists of Britain, and get them all to vote Labour?

Andy Burnham: I certainly accept my right hon. Friend’s invitation, and I look forward to receiving his recipe for our return to popularity when I meet him. I repeat that these are incredibly urgent questions, not just for writers but for creators of all kinds in our society. We have to come up with ways to ensure that the creative process is respected and valued in the online world. If we cannot come up with solutions, we face the risk of damage to sectors in which Britain has traditionally been strong for many, many years. We all need to apply our minds to the issue with some urgency, and come up with solutions that are fair to industry and, crucially, to the creators of the high-quality content that people want.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the importance of copyright, and particularly his commitment to putting pressure on the ISPs to address the issue of illegal file-sharing. When he comes to look at the proposed copyright exception for format shifting, will he accept that the ways in which consumers enjoy music and video are different, so the proposals might be appropriate for the music industry, but not necessarily for the video industry? Will he listen carefully to the video industry’s representations on that point?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, and I thank him for his general approach on the issue; I think that we can strike a lot of common ground. I have read the report that his Committee—the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—produced on the subject, and it raises incredibly important points. He is right to say that the internet has affected creative industries in different ways. Music has been the first in line to be affected; other industries have had more time, presumably because their files are larger, so it is harder to get the same traffic in file-sharing. I will apply a careful mind to the questions. We want to ensure that we have proportionate systems in place in all sectors. Coming up with solutions that protect our creative industries is absolutely at the top of my in-tray. If we do not do that, we risk doing serious damage to the industries in the short term, which will damage the country in the long term.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Tonight I will be chairing a meeting of the London branch of the National Union of Journalists, called to discuss the issue of copyright. What messages does my right hon. Friend have for journalists, who see themselves as particularly threatened by the new technology and want some reassurance?

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Andy Burnham: There is a balance to be struck, is there not? It is a good thing that people can freely access information and the work of writers, but we must get the balance right. I urge them to read the Gowers review of intellectual property, which the Government commissioned and on which we have been consulting. The answer is always in voluntary solutions. All of us would prefer voluntary solutions that are proportionate and balanced, but I say again, in line with recommendation 39 of the Gowers review, that if such solutions fail to emerge, we will legislate. As a sign of our intent, we will shortly publish a consultation document containing some of those options.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Has the Secretary of State had time to consider the proposal from Commissioner McCreevy to end the historic discrimination against musicians and increase term copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 95 years? Is he prepared to back that enthusiastically and do the right thing for UK musicians and the UK music industry, to end the ludicrous situation where musicians lose payments in their old age?

Andy Burnham: I still have an open mind on the matter. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Gowers review did not back the extension in the same way as Commissioner McCreevy has done. I think I am right in saying that he is due to issue his detailed proposals in the summer. I will examine those proposals closely and take a view about whether it is in the interests of the music industry to take them forward. As I said, there is a balance to be struck between protecting the creative process and rewarding performers as well as composers, and creating a disincentive for any industry to invest in new and emerging talent, which none of us would want. That balance always needs to be struck.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I do not know whether the Secretary of State, like our right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), a marvellous journalist in his own right, saw The Guardian last Thursday, where Stephen Fry wrote that the BBC executives were naive in believing they could control the distribution of programmes online via their iPlayer service. I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that the BBC seems to be throwing out valuable content free of charge, which shows a naiveté about how the internet works. Will he comment on the article and that vulnerability?

Andy Burnham: I have not had a chance to read the article, but I will look it up, following my hon. Friend’s question. I would issue a note of caution. The iPlayer is proving incredibly popular extremely quickly. We have all paid for the content as licence fee payers, and there is a strong argument that we should be able to access it at our own convenience. I understand my hon. Friend’s point that it could undermine public service broadcasting in the long term if we allow people to access that content through other formats and they end up not paying a licence fee, but the BBC is to be congratulated on introducing a service that is already proving highly popular.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): On the subject of protecting our creative industries and copyright, the Secretary of State is aware that nine out of 10 illegal films that come on to the market do so as camcorded
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videos. America, France, Italy, Russia, Spain and the Czech Republic have all made camcording a criminal offence. The Cinema Exhibitors Association says that the UK is becoming

Will the Government take urgent action to protect our film industry and ban camcording in cinemas?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman correctly says that that is an important issue for the film industry, and that the industry would like camcording in cinemas to be made a criminal offence. He is right to warn us that the improving quality of such films makes this an issue that we need to tackle. We have asked the industry to provide further evidence to support the case for action. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is due to meet the industry shortly to discuss the matter further. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We will consider any evidence that is produced, but in line with the general theme that I have adopted in response to all the previous questions, we see it as a top priority of the Department to protect the creative process and ensure that the people who create the content that we all want to see are properly rewarded for that work.


2. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the future of the Tote; and if he will make a statement. [204449]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): As I said in my written statement to the House on 5 March, the Government are preparing for an open-market sale of the Tote and have appointed advisers to undertake a strategic review of sale options. I expect to receive the report before the end of May. The Government will then decide on the next steps.

Mr. Hands: The Minister mentioned that the Tote is to be auctioned off, and I understand from the Financial Times that Goldman Sachs is acting for the Government. It is reported that Gala Coral is the front-runner in the auction. However, Goldman Sachs also acted as the chief adviser to Gala Coral last year, during its bid for the Tote. We all know that Goldman Sachs is the Government’s favourite banker, but it surely cannot be providing advice for both the bidder and the Government.

Mr. Sutcliffe: The normal procedures are being followed in terms of the appointment of Goldman Sachs. It acts on the basis of giving the Government the widest range of options. I am aware of a large number of interests in the sale of the Tote. Obviously, we have to get the best value for the taxpayer and make sure that we honour our commitment to give 50 per cent. of the proceeds to racing.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): The Minister will be aware of the importance of the Tote to the Wigan economy, given the flexibility and high quality of the jobs that have been provided since its administration centre was moved to Wigan. Will he undertake to ensure that in any sale the jobs in the Tote will be
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preserved for a considerable period, so that they have the opportunity to bed in? We have had informal discussions for some months on the issue, but in addition to those, will the Minister meet my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and me before he makes any decision on it?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and the Secretary of State for their involvement in relation to the jobs in Wigan. Clearly, we want to make sure that we protect as many jobs as possible, and that will be a consideration when we look at the various options. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield to make sure that we go through every opportunity.

There is great interest in the House about the sale of the Tote; the issue has been with us for some time. We need to make sure that we get the best possible return. I should like to put on the record my tribute to the work force in Wigan and to the Tote’s management, who have been keeping going under difficult circumstances.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): Did not the Minister hit the nail on the head in saying that the issue had been going for some time? Is not the real issue chronic indecision by the Government? This move was a manifesto promise in 2001; since then, there have been a botched nationalisation, the chaos and U-turns of the Gambling Act 2005 and consistently different signals. Can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the issue will be resolved in the lifetime of this Parliament, so that this damaging shadow can be lifted from one of Britain’s most important and most loved sports?

Mr. Sutcliffe: It is our intention to deal with the issue as quickly as possible, and in the best interests of the taxpayer. We will make sure that we do all the things that we said we would with regard to racing and making sure that the work force are protected. However, I will not take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman. Recently he was on the radio, talking about the Tote. He talked for 10 minutes, and at the end he said that he supported what the Government were doing.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): The best option in terms of the rate of return for the public sector—for ourselves, for the Exchequer—would be to keep the Tote in the public sector, rather than privatising it. Will my hon. Friend, even at this stage, reconsider the decision and not sell the Tote off for what will be a knock-down price for privateers?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Our intention is not to sell the Tote at a knock-down price, but to get the best value for the taxpayer and make sure that we honour the commitments that we have made. Clearly, my hon. Friend has a point of view about where we are at, but for the reasons that I gave earlier, we think it important that the work force should be protected and that we act in the best interests of racing.

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Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend seriously considering the option of retaining the on-course operations of the Tote while its off-course betting shops are sold? The on-course operations may be of less interest to commercial bookmakers and private equity houses, are best exploited by racing and would provide an income for racing.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his interest in this subject. We are looking at a whole range of options, including the one that he has just outlined, from the Goldman Sachs report. I am delighted to say that this time there is great interest in the sale of the Tote. Some wonderful options are coming forward, and we will be able to act in the best interests of the taxpayer, of racing and of the work force.


3. Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with Sport England on financial support for lacrosse. [204450]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I have had no recent discussions with Sport England regarding financial support for lacrosse. The English Lacrosse Association has received over £1.6 million since 2005 from Sport England. Of this, £1.26 million is to support the delivery of the lacrosse whole sport plan during 2005-09. Sport England will soon begin discussions with the English Lacrosse Association for its whole sport plan 2009-13 and the associated funding.

Ann Coffey: Lacrosse is a very popular sport in my constituency; indeed, four of the men’s under-19 team live in Stockport. However, while it is recognised as a development sport and funded at club level, it is not recognised as an Olympic sport, so players cannot get funding from UK Sport for international events. The young men going to compete in the world championships in British Columbia in July are having to fund themselves. In the current review of Sport England, will the Minister consider introducing flexibility in its funding remit so that a sport that has financial support at club level is also properly funded at international level?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue and for the work that she does for the English Lacrosse Association, particularly in the north-west. I pay tribute to the youngsters who are going through to the world championships. She has hit on an issue that we have to deal with. These people have fallen through the gap in terms of the relationship between Sport England and UK Sport. UK Sport funds élite-level Olympic sports and Sport England deals with development sports. Following the review, I will undertake to look at what can be done to support lacrosse as an élite sport through UK Sport. This must also be accommodated in the whole sport plans that we have to develop with Sport England. I will be back in touch with my hon. Friend in due course.

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4. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What his most recent estimate is of the UK’s tourism deficit; and if he will make a statement. [204451]

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): In 2007, the deficit was £19.4 billion, reflecting the fact that greater prosperity and cheaper air fares mean that British people want to travel. However, record numbers of visitors came here from abroad in the past three years, and I am working hard with the industry to make sure that our tourism offer gets ever better.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Tourism is a very important industry for my constituency, with 1.9 million visitors and £100 million of spend. However, our market share in terms of visitors and spend has fallen consistently over the past 10 years. I know that under this Labour Government people are desperate to leave the country, even if it is just for a two-week holiday, but what is the Minister going to do to arrest that decline?

Margaret Hodge: First, I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is going to tell his family or his constituents’ families that they should not take holidays abroad. That sounds a bit odd. In a free society, people will choose to take holidays, particularly with cheaper air fares and greater wealth and prosperity. I think that what the future holds for what is a very strong tourism industry lies in domestic tourism—where we spend our holidays. Eighty per cent. of the money earned through the tourism industry comes from domestic tourism. With increasing prosperity, it may be that we take a couple of breaks a year. We are aiming to get more and more people to take some, if not all of their breaks in many of the wonderful resorts and locations that we have in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and across the whole of England. Tourism has grown year on year. The most recent figures that I have available indicate that inbound tourism grew by 5 per cent. in terms of numbers and 6 per cent. in terms of income. That shows that we are being successful.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We have a great product in the United Kingdom, particularly with the constant sunshine that we enjoy here—over the past couple of days, at least. Part of the problem, though, is that the first thing that people see when they come into this country from abroad and when they leave is the airport. In too many cases, they spend more time at Heathrow, for instance, than they would at any visitor attraction, so that they should send their postcards from the airport and take a photograph of their luggage as an enduring memory of what it used to look like. What can the Minister do to ensure that when people visit the UK they can come through Heathrow without all the hassles that have befallen them recently?

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