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House of Commons

Monday 21 June 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

Committee of Selection


Oral Answers to Questions

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State for Culture Olympics, Media and Sport was asked-

Local and Regional Media

1. Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): What plans he has to support the activities of local and regional media providers; and if he will make a statement. [2994]

7. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): What plans he has for the future of regional news on channel 3. [3000]

9. Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): What plans he has for the future of regional news services; and if he will make a statement. [3002]

13. Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): What representations he has received on the future of local and regional media; and if he will make a statement. [3006]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): It is a fundamental priority for this Government to reform the regulatory structure to allow the emergence of a new generation of local media companies, including high-quality local TV companies, which we have never properly had in this country, and I have already taken steps to make that happen.

Nigel Adams: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on local media. We have a great tradition of local newspapers in this country, including in my constituency the magnificent Selby Times, and not forgetting The Press and Wetherby News. Does he see such local papers playing a role in the development of local television stations?

Mr Hunt: I welcome my hon. Friend to his position, particularly given his background in the telecoms industry. I hope he can contribute to a discussion of that policy area, given his understanding of convergence between telecoms and broadcast technologies. He is absolutely right that this is not simply about the future of local television, but about the future of our struggling local newspaper sector. He mentioned in glowing terms his local newspapers, but the truth is that for everyone in this country local newspapers are incredibly important as a focus for community activities and in holding locally elected politicians to account. I hope that by relaxing the cross-media ownership rules at a local level,
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local newspapers such as the ones in his constituency can develop into multi-media operations across different technology platforms.

Miss Begg: What the Secretary of State just said flies in the face of the fact that one of his first decisions in government was to scrap the independently funded news consortiums that STV was depending on to deliver its news, which it finds increasingly expensive. STV is now very worried about the future of news, as are the people of Scotland, because we might be left with the BBC as the only pan-Scottish news deliverer on terrestrial television. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that STV can continue delivering news, and to ensure that a plurality of news is provided through terrestrial TV in Scotland?

Mr Hunt: I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that it is absolutely essential that we have a plurality of news provision. However, the previous Government's policy in that respect was to have two state-funded regional news broadcasters in every part of the country, which I think is the wrong way to ensure plurality of provision. What has worked very well in British broadcasting is that we have some broadcasters funded by the licence fee, others by subscription, and others by advertising. That is what we need to look at, which is why we have a much more ambitious model. STV is obliged to continue broadcasting in Scotland under the terms of the licence until 2014. We need to make sure that new models are up and running by that time so that it is possible to go forward with proper plurality of news provision.

Emma Reynolds: Thousands of my constituents watch BBC's "Midlands Today" and ITV's "Central Tonight" news, and indeed, they read the most successful regional paper, the Express and Star. Given that the Government have scrapped independently funded news consortiums, what guarantee can the Secretary give me that ITV will continue to provide a quality regional news service for the west midlands?

Mr Hunt: I welcome the hon. Lady to her position-I believe that she also name-checked the Express and Star in her maiden speech. If we had Wolverhampton TV, she could name-check that as well, which she should welcome, because that is very much a part of the Government's vision. ITV news providers are obliged to continue under the terms of their current licences until 2014, as I told the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Miss Begg), so we have a window between now and then in which to allow for the emergence of a new generation of strong, profitable, ambitious and successful local media companies. We are doing that by modernising the regulatory framework, which unfortunately was not done by the previous Government, and which was set up in the pre-internet era. That is why so many local papers are struggling. I hope the hon. Lady supports our plans, because I think that they would be good for local papers in her area and for a new generation of TV companies.

Jason McCartney: May I welcome the Secretary of State and his Ministers to the Front Bench? As everybody else is doing this, may I also name-check my local newspaper, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner? As someone who used to work in ITV regional news, I know the
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importance that Ofcom attaches to vibrant local and regional media for local democracy. Bearing in mind the current economic climate, what definite plans does the Secretary of State have for ensuring that ITV regional news provides strong competition for BBC regional news?

Mr Hunt: I also welcome my hon. Friend, and particularly as someone whose background includes working both as an ITV broadcaster and as a BBC journalist, because BBC journalists have often tended to be represented more on another side of the House. The answer to his question is that we have to ensure that BBC news provision has competition. That is essential, although it is not necessarily the case that that competition must come from ITV; it might come from more local news providers. That is why the plans that we are putting forward will be so significant.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): I give a warm welcome to the Secretary of State and his colleagues in their new posts, but could he please explain to the House why he has allowed his Department to be downgraded, in that we have lost 15 minutes from our previously hour-long Question Time?

On regional news, is the reason why the hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who is an excellent Member of this House, has been excluded from this Front-Bench team-indeed, why all Liberal Democrats have been excluded-that they agree with us on this question and not with the Secretary of State?

Mr Hunt: I thank the shadow Secretary of State for the courtesies that he extended to me when I was in his position and he was in mine. He will be amused to know that local newspapers from his area are still being delivered to my private office, because it takes some time to cancel the subscription. I would like now to give him a copy of the Western Morning News, in case he is missing it. Let me tell him that under this Government, my Department has not been downgraded; it has been upgraded, because we are now responsible for the Olympics, which we were not before.

Mr Bradshaw: The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that tickets to the Royal Opera House for him and his wife have been delivered to my home in London-tickets that I have been foolish enough to send back to the Department. However, given what he has just said about local and regional news, can he point to a single other European country-not America, where market conditions, including in the advertising markets, are completely different, as he knows-where his model flies?

Mr Hunt: I cannot, because no other country in the world is trying to allow the emergence of truly cross-platform multi-media local media operators in the way that we are envisaging. If we look at countries such as France and Germany, we see successful local TV stations in places such as Paris and Lyon. I would ask him why, when he was Secretary of State, he did nothing to progress proper local TV in this country, when it is something for which communities up and down the country are crying out.

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Music Venues

2. Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): What recent representations he has received on arrangements for the performance of live music in small venues. [2995]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose): I welcome this question from my honourable colleague. He has been a long-term campaigner on this issue, and he makes an important point. He will know, because we have had discussions on the issue, that we are committed to moving as fast and as positively as we can towards better arrangements for the performance of live music in small venues. I hope to be able to make an announcement on that in due course. Specifically in answer to his question, we have received one representation from a Member of the House of Lords and one from a member of the public.

Mr Foster: I congratulate the Minister and all the Front-Bench team on their appointments. Let me say how delighted I am that the Minister has confirmed that this Government are pressing ahead to improve the position for live music performance in this country, and particularly in small venues. However, I hope that he will agree, first, that no further consultation is necessary, and secondly, that we need to make the case more effectively for more reliable and trusted data on the current position of live music in this country.

John Penrose: I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the concerns about the quality of the data. I am told that the statistics produced by the Department are all compliant with Office for National Statistics guidelines, but there is a great deal of concern among live music performers in particular that although the data might be technically accurate, they do not represent the whole truth. However, if he or the industry has some specific examples of how they can be improved, I would be delighted to hear them.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I welcome the Minister to his post. Britain's rich musical culture is still inhibited by restrictions on performances in small venues. Would it not be more rational to impose limitations on the volume of music-on amplification and decibels-and not on the numbers of musicians, and on where and what they play?

John Penrose: The hon. Gentleman has made the point during questions before-and very accurately-that it depends not on the number of people playing but on the volume to which the amplification machinery is cranked up. He is absolutely right. One of the crucial points that needs to be examined is whether there is a noise-nuisance solution as opposed to a solution to do with the number of performers, and that is one of the options that we will be looking at going forward.

Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee-that there should be an exemption for smaller venues of a capacity below 200-was supported by the previous Government, who were intending to introduce a regulatory order to provide an exemption for venues of a capacity below 150, and that there was
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widespread disappointment that that was not done? Will he confirm that he sees no need for any further consultation and that he will move to introduce the necessary order as soon as possible?

John Penrose: My concern is that my hon. Friend's proposal goes for a particular solution when there might be a broader and potentially more radical solution that should also be considered. If we go for other alternatives, we will need to consult on them, but if we decide to go down the route of ideas that have already been thoroughly canvassed, I would obviously want to move as fast as possible and reduce the level of consultation to the bare legal minimum.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): One thing that really irritates fans of live music, whether in large or small venues, is all too often having to pay £200, £300 or £400 on the secondary ticket market for a ticket that at face value costs only £20, and that none of the money goes either to the venue or to the artist. Will the Minister look again at the issue of secondary ticketing?

John Penrose: I would be delighted to entertain any suggestions that the hon. Gentleman might send me.

Women's Sport (Media Coverage)

3. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Whether he plans to take steps to increase coverage of women's sport in the media. [2996]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): As the hon. Lady will realise, it is not for the Government to intervene in the editorial policy of individual media organisations. However, the Government can help through investment to promote women's sports, as they have through London 2012-I remember the hon. Lady's contribution to the Committee involved-the Whole Sport plans and the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Research by the Women' Sport and Fitness Foundation showed that 61% of girls find that watching successful sports stars inspires them to be more active, but while we have male sport stars all over our screens, there is far less coverage of women's sport. Will the Government include some women's sporting events on the free-to-air list to help promote female sporting role models to the nation's girls?

Hugh Robertson: The answer is in two parts. We have called for independent economic analysis on the listed events review. That is due in the Department this week. We will look at that carefully before coming to any formal decision. I absolutely agree with what the hon. Lady says about the positive promotion of female role models through sport. London 2012 is a fantastic opportunity for that, and I very much welcome the decisions made about women's boxing and the equalisation of events in cycling. That, I believe, is the way to move forward.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I add my congratulations to the ministerial team on the Front Bench. It is good to know that the Government are to
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make a decision on the listed events-in the very near future, I hope. It is right that we have seen a massive increase in the number of sportswomen who have achieved success, and they have done that through bodies such as the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation. Can the Minister assure me that the funding for that organisation will continue? How can we have role models when the Government are doing things like cutting free swimming?

Hugh Robertson: Free swimming was, of course, a mass participation scheme, not an elite scheme, so it is completely different. As far as the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation is concerned, we will know after tomorrow's Budget what the overall funding envelope will be and will then be able to make a decision about that scheme.

2018 World Cup

4. Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): What support his Department is giving to the Football Association's bid to host the 2018 World Cup. [2997]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): I know that, as this question is about the World cup, the whole House will want to wish Fabio Capello and the England team every success in the crucial match on Wednesday night. With your permission, Mr Speaker, as this is the first day of Wimbledon, we also wish Andy Murray, Laura Robson and all the British competitors success.

The 2018 World cup bid is an extraordinary opportunity for this country; the Government are wholly committed to it. The Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport and the Olympics and I have spoken to or met the FIFA executive committee members who will make the decision.

Dr Coffey: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. If I had not had the joy of being elected to this House, I would have been in South Africa right now, watching the games. [Hon. Members: "Ahh."] I know it is sad, but I would rather be here representing. I hope to enjoy being able to watch the games here in 2018. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the people of England on their display of fervour for our team-including my local paper, the Evening Star, which for the World cup rebranded itself the "England Star"?

Mr Speaker: Order. We are making rather slow progress, but the question is about the 2018 World cup.

Mr Hunt: I was in South Africa at the weekend, doing my job. I saw for myself how a World cup can unify, enthuse and excite a country. I am determined that we do the same for this country in 2018.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister is aware that Newcastle is one of the cities bidding for the 2018 World cup, and that it is immensely proud of its premiership football team. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the supporters of teams such as Newcastle United-I should say that I am on its supporters trust-can take steps for the co-operative ownership of their football teams? Will he meet me to discuss the matter?

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Mr Hunt: I am happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that issue, which we are committed to exploring in a great deal more detail. If we win the 2018 World cup bid, Newcastle will be one of the successful host cities, which will be brilliant for her and fellow supporters of Newcastle United.

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