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House of Commons

Monday 20 April 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—

Lap-dancing Clubs

1. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): How many times temporary event notices have been issued for events organised by lap-dancing clubs in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement. [269383]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): We do not hold information on the type of temporary event for which a notice is given. Although the Licensing Act 2003 covers the provision of regulated entertainment, it does not censor the content of such entertainment.

Lynda Waltho: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, although I am disappointed by it. He may or may not be aware that local councils’ licensing offices are getting more and more concerned about temporary event notices because they are being used increasingly by lap-dancing clubs, and also bars and pubs; one notice can be applied for per month. One owner of a lap-dancing club told me that the notices would be good for business because he would be able to move his “stable” of girls from venue to venue more often and develop his business. This is a big loophole. Will the Minister meet me and agree to look into that loophole as soon as possible?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Certainly. I appreciate the work that my hon. Friend has been doing on the Policing and Crime Bill and on the issues relating to the proliferation of lap-dancing clubs. There clearly is an issue, although I am not sure that the way to resolve it is through temporary event notices. When my hon. Friend is able to see me, we can have further discussions on how we can look at using the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 and the new Bill to try to prevent the occurrences that she has referred to.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Given the proliferation of lap-dancing applications throughout the country, is the Minister convinced that the interests of local residents are best served by the new licensing authorities—or by the magistrates courts, which were part of the regime before the 2003 Act came into force?

Mr. Sutcliffe: The 2003 Act is working and powers are available to local authorities and the police to close down premises, including lap-dancing clubs, that are not operating in a proper manner. But there certainly is an issue around lap dancing; that is why it is important that while the Policing and Crime Bill is before the House we seek to strengthen any provisions that would stop the proliferation of such clubs.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Is the Minister aware of Newcastle’s “Sinners” bar, which is one of these horrible places? Young Newcastle university students went there recently and saw a notice saying “Whoever shows her”—the word begins with t and ends in s—“to bar staff gets a free shot! Girls only!” Will the Minister congratulate Newcastle university students who launched a boycott and a demonstration outside that wretched establishment? One of them, a young lady, said:

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Will the Minister encourage other university students to take on that feminist message? I declare an interest: that young lady was my daughter.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I congratulate my right hon. Friend’s daughter and the other Newcastle university students. What he mentioned was clearly irresponsible advertising and it is not what we want to see, particularly where alcohol is concerned. However, the powers are there to deal with irresponsible advertising and with lap-dancing clubs when local people do not want them. If we can strengthen those powers, we will do so.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): Will the Minister please look seriously at the democratic loophole that prevents elected representatives from making representations to the decision maker in respect of temporary event notices? Only the police can make such representations, and only on very narrow grounds.

Mr. Sutcliffe: We have to be careful. Temporary event notices came about at the request of many Back-Bench MPs, who wanted village halls and parent-teacher associations to have the opportunity to put on events for which licensing requirements were in place. More than 120,000 temporary event notices have been granted, and there has been no real trouble. However, during our discussion of the Licensing Bill, we said that if there was a problem we would look at it. If the police feel that events will be inappropriately dealt with, they have the power to stop them. The temporary event notices have been a power for good, not for evil.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I should like to pick up the point made by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). Is the Minister aware that there is a little hypocrisy in the Government on the issue? Last year, Jobcentre Plus advertised 351 vacancies in the adult entertainment industry, including for topless and semi-nude bar staff. If the Government are to start looking anywhere to sort the matter out, they had better look at themselves.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I do not want to get into a debate about offers of jobs in the adult entertainment industry—and you would not allow me to, Mr. Speaker. We are here to talk about the Licensing Act 2003, and its provisions dealing with the establishments under discussion. I do not think that there has been any hypocrisy on the part of the Government; we are trying to do our best to make sure that people can pursue what they want to pursue within the framework of the law.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) talked about the responsibility and conduct of these establishments. 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.

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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.

“Digital Britain”

3. Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): 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. 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.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree—this was touched on in the Lords Communications Committee report—that contestable funding is needed if we are to fill the gap in relation to public broadcasting and ensure that regional news survives? Has he looked into that, and what will he do to support it and to ensure that it is in the “Digital Britain” report when it is produced in full?

Andy Burnham: I share my hon. Friend’s passion for regional news and welcome the determined role that he has played down the years in making the argument for the importance of high-quality, impartial news at a regional level. At this stage, I have had a chance to read only the headline conclusions of the report from the Lords Communications Committee. It makes some interesting observations, and it will be important in
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the context of our final considerations on the “Digital Britain” report. In general terms, I agree with him about the crucial importance of regional news. It is vital that the final report comes up with specific proposals to encourage the continuation of high-quality news at not only a regional but a local level.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): 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.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Next week we mark the 30th anniversary of black Thursday, when Mrs. Thatcher came to power. In the period— [Interruption.] In the period for which she was in power and indeed since, it has been impossible to propose public spending to underpin industrial policy. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the remarks last Friday of that dangerous radical Lord Mandelson, who suggested substantial public investment to provide 50 Mbps broadband so that people, families and businesses in city, urban and rural settings will at long last have something adequate to support their lives and businesses? If Australia can do it on a grander scale, with 100 Mbps broadband and a rather left-of-centre Prime Minister, perhaps we can aspire to something similar.

Andy Burnham: I do not know what event my hon. Friend has planned for next Thursday, but I look forward to receiving an invitation.

This issue is critical not just to the creative industries or TV and broadcasting but to the entire economy. The way in which all businesses operate will be determined by the capability and quality of this country’s communications infrastructure. It will determine their productivity and efficiency, as well as how their staff can work in future—whether they can do more home working and whether there can be more opportunity to work flexibly using the highest-quality new technology. This is a matter of the highest order for the country.

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Stephen Carter has made his proposal for a universal service obligation for broadband, which, as I said to the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) a moment ago, is a significant and historic commitment. Of course, working with private sector partners and other Departments, we want to ensure that we put in place an infrastructure that will set up the whole economy for the future and, crucially, enable all citizens of this country to play their part in the communications revolution.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): On Friday the Secretary of State admitted that his Government were playing catch-up on their digital responsibilities. Today we have heard from Members on both sides of the House real concern about the measly proposal for 2 Mbps broadband in this country. As we have heard, many other countries are willing to go to much higher speeds. Given that the Secretary of State has said that the matter is mainly the responsibility of his noble Friend Lord Carter, will he at least tell the House whether he accepts that 2 Mbps broadband for this country is woefully inadequate?

Andy Burnham: These are matters that will be concluded in the final “Digital Britain” report, and I repeat that they are not primarily for me. However, I accept that they are crucial to my Department and the industries that it sponsors. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he would have to acknowledge that a bigger commitment to higher capability for all parts of the country would have significant public spending implications. It is not possible to make the claim for ever greater capacity and capability without recognising that there will be a difficult judgment to be made about the level of public sector investment that we can put in. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) a moment ago, this matter is fundamental to how the whole economy and all businesses will operate in future, so the case for investment is overwhelming.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): 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

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.
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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.

Minton Archive

5. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to assist the retention of the Minton archive. [269387]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): On 12 March I hosted a meeting, which was attended by interested parties, including my hon. Friend, to discuss the future of the unique artistic and industrial archive and to consider what action might be taken to keep it in Britain, should its new owners, KPS Capital Partners, agree to release it. I have also written to KPS to ask about its plans and I hope to speak to its representatives in the next 24 hours to establish a dialogue. The Government welcome and support in principle any proposals that would keep the archive in its entirety in an appropriate UK collection.

Mark Fisher: I am grateful to the Under-Secretary—I know that she appreciates the importance of the collection and the archive, not only nationally but internationally. With those of Spode and Wedgwood, it is one of the great ceramics industry archives, with all the designs of great designers such as Christopher Dresser. It would be a tragedy if it were broken up, so I urge my hon. Friend to take whatever steps she can to persuade KPS. I believe that the company is well intentioned, but that support and pressure from Her Majesty’s Government are needed to stress the extreme importance of keeping the archive together, not only in one piece, as one archive, but in Britain, and especially north Staffordshire.

Barbara Follett: I commend my hon. Friend for the hard work that he and others have put into getting the archive recognised and saved. As Minister for tourism, I recognise its unique value because there is huge interest in our industrial heritage, which we need to exploit. I will work as hard as I can to keep the archive in Britain, especially in north Staffordshire. I know that the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is working in collaboration with Advantage West Midlands through a small working group to ascertain what can be done.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Could South Staffordshire come to the support of north Staffordshire and express the hope that the incomparably rich archive will be kept in this country? Once it is broken up, that is it for ever. Does the Under-Secretary realise that the matter has genuine parliamentary significance? After all, Minton made the tiles in the Palace.

Barbara Follett: Trust the hon. Gentleman to know such a detail. I commend him for that and his interest in all things artistic—he is an example to us all. I am glad that South Staffordshire is weighing in with north Staffordshire on the matter. We need as much help as possible, and we stand ready to do what we can to save the archive.

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