Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I congratulate once again the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on introducing the Bill and on having a good chance of getting it on to the statute book. It is a great achievement to get a private Member’s Bill passed into law. He has been extraordinarily successful in managing to get a large number of other such Bills on the Order Paper, some of which I suspect have rather less chance of being passed. I think he had to get up early in the morning to get this opportunity; it was time well spent.

The best way of getting a private Member’s Bill passed is to pick up a subject that the Government are committed to advancing, but have failed to do so. The Government can then breathe a sigh of relief and use the vehicle provided by the private Member’s Bill. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman’s Bill does. This country has long been committed to amending the law to allow the restitution of artefacts and artistic objects that were plainly looted. It has been an embarrassment that we have not done so.

The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair, considered this issue a couple of years ago and called on the Government to make the necessary change. We were just one of a long list of bodies to have done so. I thoroughly support the Bill and I am delighted that it is likely to succeed.

One has to accept that the Bill is largely symbolic. We amended provisions in Committee to cover Wales, although there are no national institutions in Wales that would benefit from the Bill. It is nevertheless plainly right that we should extend it across the country. Equally, the one object—the Beneventan missal, where there is clear evidence that it should be returned—will not be covered by the Bill, unless another application is made, because it has already been considered. It may well be that the Bill’s provisions are never used. The Spoliation Advisory Panel has met very few times and the Bill may well pass on to the statute book and lie there. In my view, however, that does not matter. It is the fact that we have made the change that matters.

Many terrible atrocities were committed during the holocaust, and the looting of art is very minor in comparison with some of the horrific events that took place. The difference is that this issue is one that we can do something about and put right. By doing so, we send out a very important signal this morning. On that basis, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Bill.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I welcome the consultation paper, and all of this does, of course, represent a complete reversal of the position of the Secretary of State’s predecessor. Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that product placement will do only a small amount to assist commercial broadcasters, who are facing huge economic difficulty, and that we will need to go further and look at other deregulatory measures that will assist all the commercial public service broadcasters to survive?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight that this will not be a panacea for commercial broadcasting. There are a number of things we can do to help ease the plight of commercial broadcasting further, and we are looking into them. Ofcom has in the last year relaxed the rules on the responsibilities of commercial broadcasting, such as in respect of news in the regions. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have imaginative, sensible and practicable solutions to the problems and pressures facing regional news and other important areas of commercial broadcasting.

19. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what representations he has received on rights of appeal against a coastal access report under the provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill; and if he will make a statement. [283396]

Huw Irranca-Davies: Following concerns raised during the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the Bill and during its passage through the House of Lords, we brought forward schedule 1A to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, as inserted by schedule 19 to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. This will enable those with a relevant interest in affected land to make objections should they believe the proposals in Natural England's coastal access reports fail to strike a fair balance on certain grounds.

Licensing Act

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on the Licensing Act 2003. The Committee held a wide-ranging inquiry into the Act. We had four public evidence sessions and received a wide range of submissions, and I would like to put on record my thanks, and those of Committee members, to our staff and to our legal adviser, Sara John.

The principle of post-legislative scrutiny is a good one, and it would be helpful if more Acts could be looked at two or three years after their implementation to see whether the objectives set out when a Bill was first introduced have been achieved. No one could possibly argue with the objectives of the 2003 Act. The four licensing objectives clearly make common sense and the Act’s intention, which was to streamline the process and make it easier to reduce costs, is one we all supported.

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T5. [284365] Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Minister accept that the blanket requirement to find 3 per cent. a year efficiency savings is particularly difficult for smaller local authorities such as Maldon district council? Will he confirm that there may be some flexibility in the imposition of that target that takes account of the size of the authority, as well as of its record in having already achieved savings?

Mr. Denham: That is an interesting question coming from someone who advocates a 10 per cent. cut in local government expenditure, which would have cut my Department's budget by £1 billion this year. There is a responsibility right across local government, as in other areas of government, to achieve the maximum efficiency and the best possible value for money for our citizens. I believe that the targets we have set are achievable, but I have to say that the destruction that the hon. Gentleman would wreak on local government is something we do not want to see.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the fact that a private investigator had intercepted the telephone calls of a large number of people was well known at the time. He will also be aware that the chairman of News International gave a categoric assurance to my Select Committee that no other journalist, beyond Clive Goodman, had any involvement in or knowledge of that matter. Can the Minister say whether he is aware of any evidence to contradict that statement? When my Select Committee reopens its inquiry, as it has decided to do, will he ask the Metropolitan police to provide us with any information that they have that is relevant to this case?

Mr. Hanson: The allegations came to light today, we are examining them with the Metropolitan police and I obviously concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said.

3. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What plans he has to extend the availability of small business crime reduction grants; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The £5 million small retailers capital grants fund will help secure small independent retail shops in areas that are at most risk of crime. There are no plans to extend the scheme, but other aspects of the retail crime action plan are helping to tackle retail crime in every area.

Mr. Whittingdale: Is the Minister aware of the Federation of Small Businesses survey that found that crime against businesses costs small firms about £13,500 each? Although I am sure that the businesses within the 50 priority areas have taken up the opportunity with enthusiasm, I think it curious that they bear a remarkable similarity to a list of Labour local authorities. Why do not businesses in areas such as my constituency in Essex have the same opportunity to apply for help?

Mr. Campbell: The criteria for the scheme were deprivation, crime rates and the proportion of the small retailers that we were most interested in helping. The criteria were agreed by the retail crime steering group, and the FSB is not only an active member, but it agreed with the criteria and the principle. I should point out that Chingford, which is part of the seat of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), is not a Labour area.

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