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House of Commons

Monday 2 March 2009

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—

Football World Cup

1. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with FIFA on the hosting of the Football World cup in 2018. [259226]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): Last month, I joined Lord Triesman in Zurich for the formal presentation to FIFA of the Football Association’s bid to host the 2018 World cup finals. Following the presentation, Lord Triesman and I had constructive discussions with FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, on the bid and a range of football governance issues.

Jim Sheridan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I genuinely wish the FA every success in its bid for the World cup, because it could be the only route to qualification that the team get, and it makes it easy for us Scots to come down and compete. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will encourage the games authorities to do more to establish a lifetime legacy for a World cup bid to ensure that grass-roots football is delivered to people, particularly those in poorer countries such as Africa and, indeed, throughout the rest of the world?

Andy Burnham: What provocation! I am barely out of the traps at DCMS questions and my hon. Friend goads me in that way. I hope that we will both see the 2018 World cup in England. I very much agree with him that we should learn from the failed bid of 2006 about how to go about bidding. At that time there was a sense of “Football’s coming home. It is our turn; give it to us”, but this time we must bid differently and more cleverly and recognise that English football has a reach in Africa and Asia that other national leagues do not. Because of that, there is so much that English football can take to the world to the benefit of football. That should be the spirit of the bid; I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support in that endeavour.

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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I warmly support the bid. Does the Secretary of State agree that in this very deep world recession the strongest case that we have to put at the next meeting with FIFA representatives is that we already have the infrastructure and ability to take on the games? In the present financial circumstances, FIFA would be ill advised to take a chance on a country that does not have the facilities already available.

Andy Burnham: The right hon. Gentleman makes a solid point, and I very much agree with him. FIFA is taking the World cup to South Africa and then to south America; I think it would be in everyone’s interest to have a World cup in 2018 that can do so much to reach out around the world. He is right that, because of our football grounds infrastructure, unlike others we can spend time working with other countries through our status as host nation. That is one of the compelling aspects of our bid. It feels to me that this is the right time for the country to get the FIFA World cup—not because we deserve it or because it is our turn, but because we can do so much more to enhance football around the world.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): What representations has my right hon. Friend received from FIFA about its wish to remove the World cup finals from the A list of protected events that must be shown live on free-to-air TV? Will he continue to resist any link between that desire on behalf of FIFA and our bid for 2018?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend will know that we recently appointed David Davies, the former Football Association executive, to consider the protected list. It is 10 years since we last reviewed it, and the time is right to look again at what shape the list should have in a world when we will all be watching digital multi-channel TV. That review is ongoing and I am sure that all interested parties will feed into it. My hon. Friend should also know that the issues are being tested at the European level. The UK has offered support to Belgium, which is currently facing a test on its own list. We strongly believe in the importance of a protected list to ensure that all people can watch for free events that are of national significance, which can help them to be inspired by sport. That will remain our case.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am sure that the Secretary of State saw the remarks of FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, over the weekend. He supported the view of the Scottish Football Association, the tartan army, and the overwhelming majority of Scotland fans that a “team GB” would threaten the independence of the Scottish football team. Given that it has all been about FIFA assurances, will the Secretary of State now drop those plans and instead support our proposal to have all the home nations participating in the 2012 Olympics, just as they did in London in 1908?

Andy Burnham: I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Late last year, the FIFA executive passed a resolution specifically saying that the independent status of the four Football Associations would not be affected by the fielding of a British team at the London 2012 Olympics. Might I say that FIFA takes issue with some of the reporting published at the weekend and has today resolutely confirmed its position, which it minuted
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in December. I understand that, individually, the home Football Associations may not want to be part of the machinery that creates a team in 2012, and I understand that it is their right to take that decision, but I say to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that the British Olympic Association wants to put forward a British football team, and it should be the strongest team that we could possibly field. No sanctions should be applied against any young person who wants to accept the call-up to that team and represent their country in their home-soil Olympics. To deny young people that opportunity would, I think, be a crying shame.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Basically, I have the same question.

Andy Burnham: Same answer.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): This is a new question. Given the good will towards the bid from both sides of the House, does the Secretary of State think it appropriate that nearly half the members of the bid board are from the Labour party? I know that he will be keen to maintain cross-party support, so will he make urgent representations to resolve the issue so that a potentially great sporting success is not compromised by party politics?

Andy Burnham: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I hope that he is not trying to make a party political issue out of the bid, because the strength of our Olympic bid was its cross-party nature. Might I point it out to him that there are figures linked to the bid who represent both political parties? The recent announcement that Lord Coe accepted an invitation to join the board is welcome. Party politics really should not play a part; this should be a bid that represents all opinion, all football supporters and, indeed, all people who love sport in this country. I am confident that the balance on the board properly reflects the interest in sport throughout the country.

Newspaper Redundancies

2. Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of levels of redundancies in the newspaper sector; and if he will make a statement. [259227]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): We do not hold figures on the number of redundancies, but I can tell the House that 57 local newspapers have closed in the past 12 months. Given those real pressures, Lord Carter is considering how to sustain quality news provision across all media at a local level as part of the final “Digital Britain” report.

Ms Clark: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He will be aware of the recent announcement of 70 job losses at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail in Scotland. As he says, that is far from an isolated example. Indeed, the parent company of those newspapers, Trinity Mirror, just days afterwards announced profits of more than £145 million. Will he outline what he thinks the Government can do to stop that erosion of employment within the sector, which undoubtedly will have an impact on the quality of journalism?

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Andy Burnham: I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern about, as she puts it, the erosion of the work force at a local level. I do not think that there is a constituency represented in the House that has not seen some pressure on its local newspapers as a result, obviously, of the cyclical pressures in the economy and, perhaps more importantly, the structural change in the media industry. Lots of advertising spend is migrating away from press towards other advertising. Those are the real issues that we have to address. I gave her a commitment that I would meet the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group to discuss that, and I believe that we now have a date set for that meeting.

I believe that those issues are of the most profound importance, because they affect the health of democracy at a local level. We need to come forward with proposals to ensure that there are high-quality training and media at a local level across all media. As part of the “Digital Britain” process, we have an ability to place focus on that issue to raise it up the agenda, because to be frank it does not often get a good airing in this place. By doing so, we can develop proposals to help to sustain local media into the future.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Secretary of State accept that in many communities the local newspaper is as important as the local post office, the local shop or the local pub? Given the number of closures, which he has already referred to, and the fact that journalists are being laid off, offices are being centralised and newspapers are becoming more distant from their local communities, there needs to be urgent action, in particular to relax the competition rules so that markets are judged more broadly in terms of media consumption, and also to encourage local newspapers to take part in consortiums for the provision of regional news, while at the same time perhaps addressing the problem in the broadcast market for news.

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is quite right to say that we need to look afresh at how best to provide local news in future and to consider other ways of working—perhaps local newspapers working with media at a regional level or other possibilities that might include considering the role of regional development agencies and the Learning and Skills Council. Those are all ideas that I am perfectly happy to consider.

The hon. Gentleman raised specifically cross-media ownership rules. He will know that, as part of the “Digital Britain” interim report it was proposed that there be now a review by Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading on the appropriateness of current rules, given the structural change in the media industry. That work will come forward as part of the final “Digital Britain” report, but the views that he has placed on the record today will obviously be heard as part of that.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I have an interest to declare. I am a former president of the National Union of Journalists, and my predecessor but one, Stan Crowther—whom you will recall, Mr. Speaker—had a lifelong career as a journalist in south Yorkshire. We all have problems with journalists—even you, Sir—but whereas it is possible to have politicians without democracy, I do not believe that it is possible to have democracy
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without independent journalism, and print media are essential: digital media could never replace them. However, we are seeing a massive erosion of our print media. Journalists are going out of the door regionally, locally and nationally. Lord Carter may be twittering away on the digital problems, but we need more urgent examination now of how we are to keep our print newspapers and trained journalists alive and in business.

Andy Burnham: I do not know whether Lord Carter twitters or not, but I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that we all have our problems with newspapers. Indeed, I had my own last week.

As I said in my reply to our hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark), the time has come for Parliament to take a greater interest in the health of journalism at local level, and particularly in how it might relate to skills and to the health of democracy. These are big issues, and we need to come up with new models for sustaining local news in the future. We all need to keep open minds on how best that might be achieved, but I could not have put it any more persuasively or directly than my right hon. Friend.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): What concerns many of us is not just the health of journalists, important as that may be, but the health of local communities. Does the Secretary of State accept—I paraphrase what the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has just said—that online is no substitute for in the hand, and that local newspapers, especially weekly ones, help to give a sense of cohesion to our communities and must not be allowed to perish?

Andy Burnham: I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman’s view, but let me gently point out that we should not set up a conflict between online and in the hand. The world is changing out there, and we need to recognise that.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly about the importance of trusted local names which help people to be discerning about the information that they are given. People trust local newspapers to be an impartial source of local information, like their local community. If they have the same reputation in the online world, some people are likely to feel more at home in that world, because they will know the background from which the information comes and the stance taken by the paper concerned. We must help local papers to make that migration into the online world, where the two media can live side by side.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is well aware of the importance of the community, which is represented through local newspapers, local radio and, of course, regional television. Does he believe that there is a way in which all three can survive better if they can share that news and information? We cannot afford to lose any of those strands, and we cannot wait for the digital age, because it is happening now and we need action now. What does my right hon. Friend propose for us?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend has put it very well. That is exactly what I have in mind: partnerships at regional and local level. We have talked about a potential
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partnership between the BBC and a commercial operator in the provision of regional news on television, for instance. Obviously the BBC may have a broader role in helping to sustain local newspapers by providing access to information and, possibly, pictures and footage. There are all kinds of possibilities. As I have said, we need to approach the matter with an open mind, recognising that things will probably need to change if we are to provide an infrastructure to support local media in the long term. I am confident that if we approach it in the right way, the right models and solutions can be found.

Mr. Jeremy Hunt (South-West Surrey) (Con): The Secretary of State says that Lord Carter will conduct a review, but surely what newspapers need is not a review but a decision. At the current rate, another 1,800 jobs will be lost in the newspaper industry before that review is published. What immediate practical steps will the Secretary of State consider, before more newspapers are closed and more jobs lost?

Andy Burnham: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is making a spending commitment and suggesting that there should be a subsidy. If he is accusing us of not acting quickly enough, I should tell him that we put in train the “Digital Britain” review precisely to take a quick but nevertheless detailed look at the range of issues affecting the media industry across the board and to come back with firm recommendations by the summer. That represents a pretty focused piece of work and I encourage him to engage in the process. It is not necessarily just funding; it may be regulatory change or looking at new ways of providing services, but in this case he cannot accuse us of being behind the curve. I told the House at our last Question Time that I had decided to raise the issue up the Department’s agenda, having met the Society of Editors, and I remain absolutely committed to making sure we get solutions that the newspaper industry can work with.

Community Radio

3. Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the long-term financial viability of community radio serving smaller communities. [259228]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham): As set out in the interim “Digital Britain” report, we have appointed John Myers to consider the sustainability of local content on radio. The review, which will report by the end of March, will consider both the commercial and community radio sectors.

Sir Alan Beith: Does the Secretary of State realise how difficult it is in small communities of populations up to 20,000, as in the Alnwick area served by the popular Lionheart radio, to raise funding from small business and local advertising? It will get even more difficult during the recession, so what ideas is he putting to the review as the Government’s view of how we can have a sustainable future for community radio?

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