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Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 9 February 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

Channel 4

In a fast-changing and challenging broadcasting environment, the Government want to ensure that Channel 4 has a strong and secure future, and that it can continue to provide for audiences and support the creative industries across the UK. The Government are looking at a broad range of options, and we will set out our plans in that area in due course.

It is a shame that the review is not as fast-changing and fast-moving as the broadcasting environment. At the end of this month, the review will have taken longer than the BBC charter review, so can we now put the review out of its misery, and declare that Channel 4 works well and will not be privatised?

Unlike the BBC charter review, this is not a formal process and there is no end date at which the charter expires, as there is with the BBC, but we do need to make sure that we get this right. I want to see Channel 4 survive, flourish and prosper in what is an ever-changing broadcasting world, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, and that means that we are working with Channel 4 to get the right deal for viewers and the whole country.

What does my right hon. Friend think the view of the Competition and Markets Authority would be if a company that already owned one broadcaster the size of the BBC wanted to own another the size of Channel 4? If she agrees that that simply would not be allowed, will she please immediately begin the process to sell off Channel 4?

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on this subject. I assure him that we are looking at all options, and we will report to the House in due course.

As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) said, the question of whether Channel 4 will or will not be privatised is one of the longest running soaps in this House. Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will not be a shareholder solution, that it will not be privatised and that it will not be for profit—that it will be not for profit? I expect that she is coming under pressure from Government Back Benchers to privatise Channel 4.

I know that the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) is particularly interested in long-running soaps on Channel 4, given that “Hollyoaks” is set in his constituency. I want to make sure that “Hollyoaks” and other programmes set across the UK are able to prosper so that we have a plurality of broadcasting that works for everyone.

The Secretary of State will be aware that Channel 4 recently won broadcaster of the year at the Broadcast Awards. Does she therefore agree that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

The important point is that we make sure that Channel 4 has a long-term, sustainable future. That is why we are looking at all options so that we can ensure that a station that relies very predominantly on advertising revenue is able to continue, and to provide the excellent broadcasting for which Channel 4 is renowned.

When the Secretary of State spoke to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee last year, she said that she would come to a decision in the “nearish future.” Now she says that she will come to a decision “in due course.” I do not know whether the nearish future is sooner than in due course, but this faffing around on Channel 4 has to stop. She has to show some leadership because the uncertainty is damaging its business and our broadcasting industry. Rather than taking a decision in the nearish future, will she now commit to doing so immediately?

I do not agree that this is affecting the quality of broadcasting that Channel 4 is able to produce. The fact that Channel 4 has committed, for example, to broadcasting the para-athletics, which is being held in London next summer, is a very positive move that we all welcome. I want to get this right, and I am working with Channel 4 and all stakeholders. I want to make sure that Channel 4 has a long-term, sustainable future, and I will report back to the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible.

Brass Bands

We strongly support brass bands through regular Arts Council funding to organisations such as Brass Bands England. Additionally, large brass bands can take advantage of the orchestra tax relief, which was introduced in April 2016.

Youth Brass 2000 is a young people’s brass band based in the village of Wilbarston in the Kettering constituency. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating it on recently being crowned British open youth brass band champion for the fifth year running? Is it not an excellent example that other youth bands should be pleased to follow?

I am delighted to trumpet the success of the British open youth champions, who have won for the fifth year in a row. I played the cornet in a brass band when I was a boy, but I never rose to the dizzying heights of the national champions whom my hon. Friend represents. I send congratulations to them all.

In my constituency of Strangford, we have the wonderful Newtownards silver band, which brings together the young and the not so young playing instruments that are also young and not so young. I understand that the Minister is keen to support that, so will he endorse the need for cross-community participation and gender balance to ensure that the brass brands of the future can succeed?

As we can see by the response in the House, there are brass bands right across the country—the Haverhill band in my constituency is a particularly good example. The hon. Gentleman’s point that brass bands, like other music organisations, can bring together people from different backgrounds across cultural divides and provide a point of unity is well made.

The Minister is certainly not known for blowing his own trumpet. I am sure that, like me, he would like to congratulate the Haslingden and Helmshore band, the Water band, the 2nd Rossendale Scout band, the Whitworth Vale and Healey band and the Darwen brass band, all of which work with young people in particular. Will he take this opportunity to thank all those bands for the fantastic work that they do to get young people off the street, give them a love of music and get them performing?

I never got to the point of playing the trumpet—I was a mere cornet player—but I do want to bang the drum for all the brass bands that my hon. Friend mentioned.

The long-term sustainability of our brass bands, including the fine Blaenavon town band in my home town, depends on affordable music lessons being available in schools. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s cuts to the devolved Administrations’ local councils have put that at risk?

People who play in brass bands right across the country should be enthused by the support for this question from both sides of the Chamber. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In England, where the UK Government are responsible for support, we have put £300 million into music hubs to ensure that everybody gets the opportunity to play a musical instrument. It is up to devolved authorities to do that outside England, and I wish that the Welsh Government would do something similar.

Leaving the EU: Creative Industries

3. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK leaving the EU on the creative industries. (908718)

The Government want to ensure the best deal for Britain on leaving the European Union and to provide as much certainty as we can. The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, contributing more than £87 billion to the economy and more than £19 billion in exports. I am confident that that will continue when we leave the European Union, and we have been working with the industry to ensure that that is the case.

I am sure the Secretary of State has her favourite rock band, so could she assure us that the Government are taking steps to ensure that increased carnet costs and work visa requirements do not kill off UK musicians’ ability to tour European venues post-Brexit?

It has been pointed out by hon. Friends behind me that we have moved from brass bands to rock bands—that was a nice segue by the hon. Gentleman. The point is that the UK music industry is a global leader—it is a leader not just in 27 European Union countries, but around the world. It is British bands that are touring around the world. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I am working closely with the industry to ensure that we get the very best deal for British music not only in Europe, but around the world.

13. The EU is a source of crucial funding for the creative sector—Scottish organisations have received more than £12 million from Creative Europe since 2014—but there has been absolutely no word from the Government about what will happen to that source of funding after the UK leaves the EU. Will the Secretary of State give a clear commitment that creative industries will not be worse off as a result of the UK leaving? (908728)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has committed to securing funding until 2020, which is after the UK will leave the European Union. I am working closely with the industry and across Government to make sure that we get the right deal for Britain so that we have the support needed to ensure that our creative industries flourish.

When I look at the stylish men and women on the Government Front Bench, I think that each and every one of them—except, perhaps, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson)—could be models on the catwalk at London fashion week. The fashion industry is concerned that, as the UK leaves the EU, we will lose the right to protect original designs, which would have serious knock-on effects for trade showcases, including fashion week. Will the Secretary of State tell us what the Government are doing to make sure that our designers’ intellectual property rights are protected post-Brexit?

The hon. Gentleman asks a very timely question not only because fashion week is coming up, but because the Minister of State and I met the fashion industry only on Monday to discuss exactly those points. I reassure him and the fashion industry that, because the great repeal Bill will bring European rules into UK law, therefore making sure that there is no cliff edge, those rights will be protected.

Last week, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee took evidence from John Kampfner and others representing the creative industries. Some of those industries employ a 40% EU workforce, and these people are now in limbo. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give that their roles and livelihoods are secure?

I pay tribute to the work of the Creative Industries Federation, led by John Kampfner, and the role that it has played in working with the Government to develop our plan to ensure that we get the right deal for the creative industries when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. The hon. Gentleman will also know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been very clear that she wants an early settlement on the matter of EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals living in Europe. She is working hard, as we all are across Government, to ensure that we can achieve that as soon as possible.

Sports Stadiums: Accessibility

We expect all sports and all clubs to take the necessary action to fulfil their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 so that disabled people are not placed at a substantial disadvantage when accessing sports venues. Football has the highest profile on this issue and is stepping up to fulfil those obligations, and we expect all other sports to do the same.

As chair of the all-party group on disability, people from across the United Kingdom have been contacting me with grave concerns about the lack of accessibility to sports stadiums. Will the Minister meet me and the all-party group to discuss this extremely important matter and the steps that can move us forwards?

May I start by congratulating the hon. Lady on all that she does in championing disability rights? Her reputation on this matter is fast spreading around the Chamber and beyond.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work and I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss this issue, which we care passionately about and are making progress on. It is not just the English premier league that we are talking about, but football throughout this country and across the other home nations. I urge all Members to do what they can to encourage their local clubs to be as successful as possible.

Given all the wealth in premier league football, does the Minister agree that it is unacceptable that there are still clubs that do not yet have a plan to meet accessibility targets for their stadiums? Does she also agree with the Select Committee’s report that clubs that fail to do that should face legal action?

I do not agree that the clubs do not have a plan; they have a plan, but they might not be meeting it. My hon. Friend is right that there should be legal action, but it is not for me to advance that. He will be aware that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is the body that enforces the Equality Act 2010. If insufficient progress is being made by clubs, the commission should consider using its legal powers—it would have my full support were it to do so.

7. The Government continue to be complacent on this issue, as the Minister’s reply shows. Their approach seems to be to leave it up to individuals—those who have been discriminated against—to enforce the target, yet when they try to enforce it, the Government hit them with huge tribunal fees. Will the Government get their act together and enforce the legislation? Will they do it themselves and stop passing the buck? (908722)

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the enforcement body. If it decided to take legal action, it would have Government support. I know that he is a fan of Wolverhampton Wanderers, and that Molineux is still 62 spaces short of its own target. I hope that he will do all he can to continue to encourage the excellent disabled fans group to make sure that the club meets its target.

S4C

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have committed to a comprehensive review of S4C this year. It will look at a range of issues, including funding arrangements, remit, accountability and governance. I look forward to his contributions to that review.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. She will be aware of the huge significance of S4C to the people of Wales. When the announcement of a review was made last year, the Government wisely froze the cut to the Department’s share of S4C’s budget. The review has not yet started—it will conclude this year—so will she guarantee again to freeze any proposed cut to S4C’s budget?

The Government are committed to ensuring that S4C has a strong and sustainable long-term future in broadcasting. We will ensure that the appropriate budgets are available.

14. The forthcoming independent review of S4C is welcome, although it remains something of a Scarlet Pimpernel. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the review’s remit will include the capacity to specify recommendations about present and future funding arrangements to ensure that the channel can achieve its public service obligations? (908729)

We have ensured that S4C has appropriate funding for a very long time. It was a Conservative Government who introduced S4C in the first place. The Government gave more than £6 million this year and we will be giving more than £6 million next year. That funding is in addition to the money that comes from the licence fee. I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady that we are committed to S4C.

The current projection for S4C still means a 10% cut in its funding between now and 2021. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the review will strongly look at ensuring that there is a definitive base for S4C’s funding?

We are putting together the terms of reference for the review. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments when the review is put forward.

Superfast Broadband: Universal Coverage

6. What assessment the Government have made of the potential merits of providing universal superfast broadband coverage. (908721)

We strongly support the roll-out of superfast broadband, which is on track to be available to 95% of premises by the end of the year.

Almost one in three homes in my Aberavon constituency have broadband speeds of below 10 megabits a second. Moreover, I recently conducted a survey of my constituents in which 44% of respondents reported repeated loss of broadband service. Does the Minister agree that the future growth prospects of Aberavon will be severely constrained if this situation continues?

I will look into the figures that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Thinkbroadband, the independent body that publishes figures on this, thinks that the number of properties in Aberavon to which superfast broadband is available is much higher and, indeed, ahead of the national average. There has been a huge effort to roll out superfast broadband but, of course, there is a difference between something being available and it being taken up. It is important to ensure that people take up broadband when it is available.

The hardest-to-reach rural and isolated areas across the country have still not been reached by broadband. I urge the Government to have a flexible approach—perhaps using a voucher system in some cases—and to use all technologies to get broadband out to those isolated areas.

When they were designing the superfast broadband tender, the Government were warned that they were effectively entrenching BT’s monopoly. In designing the universal service obligation, they now appear to be making exactly the same mistake again. Will the Minister commit to delivering choice in our broadband networks?

The premise of the hon. Lady’s question is wrong. Many companies are now delivering into the Broadband Delivery UK scheme. In fact, companies that did not even exist a few years ago are now delivering superfast broadband—and much faster—right across the country.

Library Services

8. What steps she is taking to improve access to library services in (a) Staffordshire and (b) England; and if she will make a statement. (908723)

The Government are providing support for library authorities throughout England to deliver library services that are accessible and modern, and that meet local needs. That includes a £4 million libraries innovation fund, new wi-fi provision and support for library authorities to explore alternative operating models such as mutuals. I strongly believe that staff should have a stake in the public services they provide.

Lichfield library is situated in a lovely old building, but it would cost more than £1 million to maintain it, so Staffordshire County Council decided to move the library into a heritage centre, which will strengthen that centre, and the old library building is now being privatised and restored. It is a win-win situation. What sort of advice on best practice does the Department give to other county councils? Perhaps Staffordshire County Council could be a model, in this instance at least.

I welcome the approach that has been taken by Lichfield library and congratulate Staffordshire County Council on its work. Local authorities need to think imaginatively about how libraries can deliver their priorities, and the ambition document that we recently published through the Libraries Taskforce challenges them to do so. Standing still is really not an option. I encourage local authorities to embrace change and to be bold in finding solutions, as Staffordshire has done.

May I thank the Minister for being so personally engaged in supporting our efforts to protect Swindon’s vital community libraries? Will he join me in praising Councillor Dale Heenan for setting up the community library trust that has saved Covingham library and that should be expanded further?

May I thank my hon. Friend for all the efforts he is making in Swindon? I recently visited the local authority, and I was really encouraged by the desire to keep local libraries open. I join him in congratulating his local colleague and local councillor on the work he has done in setting up a local trust and keeping libraries open.

Topical Questions

Today, my Department published the first annual report setting out our progress against “Sporting Future”, our sport strategy for an active nation. Since the last oral questions, my ministerial team and I have held a series of roundtable meetings with representatives from various DCMS sectors. The purpose of these meetings is to identify challenges and opportunities as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union.

Last week, when I visited Deptford Green secondary school, a teenager from the school council asked me a question, and she started by saying, “It’s not political.” She asked me, “Why are there not more sports facilities for young girls in the area?” Female sports participation is half men’s—this was a very political question from a young girl—and is that any surprise when female role models such as Steph Houghton, England’s women’s football captain, is paid £65,000 a year, while Wayne Rooney is paid £250,000 a week? That is £12 million—

Order. I am sorry—it is a very good question, but it is far too long. Topical questions have got to be much shorter. I am sorry to interrupt, but I think we have got the gist.

I very much got the gist of the question, Mr Speaker. I do appreciate the point. We are well aware of it, and we are working across the Government to address it.

T2. Will the Minister tell the House what work her Department is doing to help small charities to secure public service contracts? (908700)

My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. We all know that the voluntary sector has the ability to bring greater social value to our public services, but we also know that it can sometimes face barriers when up against more established providers. That is why we announced a new programme of measures in this area in December and why an implementation group chaired by Sir Martyn Lewis and attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), the Minister for Civil Society, met for the first time yesterday to lead our work on this issue.

Keeping our children safe online is one of the Government’s most important responsibilities. That is why section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 rightly made it a criminal offence for adults to send sexual messages to children, yet the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children says that, two years on, the law is still not enforced and the police cannot enforce it. Will the Minister explain to the House why the Government are dragging their feet on this and ensure that this legislation is implemented immediately?

It is very good to see a member of the shadow team who has been voting with the rest of the shadow Front Bench this week.

On the important issue that she addresses, ensuring internet safety is, as she knows, at the top of the Government’s agenda. It has been a crucial part of the Digital Economy Bill, and the proposal she makes is also something we are considering very seriously.

T3. Malton is widely recognised as the horse-racing capital of the north. The many racing stables and the hundreds of staff there very much welcome the introduction of the new horserace betting levy, which will bring up to £30 million a year into the industry. Will the Minister update us on the progress on its implementation? (908701)

I recognise the valuable contribution that horse-racing makes to the north and, indeed, to the whole country. We remain on course to implement the reforms to the levy in April 2017, and we will lay legislation to that effect shortly.

T6. Every gay player, coach and volunteer in every sport should be made welcome. Will the Minister join me in praising the leadership shown by rugby league in tackling homophobia in sport, on this the day that the Super League season kicks off? (908704)

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in praising rugby league for all its efforts to make progress on this issue. Homophobia should not be allowed in sport. We share the same rugby league team, Leeds, and we wish them well this evening against St Helens.

T4. English and Welsh wine is a great British quality success story and will be producing more than 12 million bottles by 2020. I know that the Secretary of State personally does her bit to boost wine consumption, but what is she doing to promote the use of English wine as standard in her Department and across Departments, and its tourist value in attracting visitors to our emerging wine regions? (908702)

I have in my constituency Chapel Down, one of the finest English wines that we sell in this country. I am certainly very passionate about English wine, for all the right reasons, and we must ensure that it is a key part of the tourism offer.

Manchester United should be applauded for its recent announcement on increasing the number of disabled supporters attending games by 300, but this is not a step that clubs at all levels can afford to take. What will the Minister do to support the smaller clubs that are looking to improve the experience of disabled supporters attending their matches?

Manchester United should be applauded for this. A number of other premier league clubs are improving their offer for disabled spectators, but it is true that clubs in lower leagues find it difficult. They are working well with Level Playing Field to ensure that they meet their commitment going forward, and we as a Government do all we can to support that.

T5. If a broadband service is advertised as fibre, should it not be full fibre, and should not the service speed advertised be accessible by at least half of all those paying for it? (908703)

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. The Advertising Standards Authority, a non-statutory body, is looking into some of these issues, but it needs to look more broadly to make sure that people know what they are getting and advertising is proper and fair.

In 2014-15, nearly £4 million was lost in fixed odds betting terminals in my constituency by those who can least afford it. I know that the Minister is aware of the concerns again highlighted last week in a report by the all-party parliamentary group on fixed odds betting terminals. May I urge her to respond positively? Let us have lower stakes for these machines.

The Government announced a review of gaming machines, including FOBTs, on 24 October 2016. I am currently considering its findings and will publish my recommendations shortly.

T7. Melksham Town football club in my constituency is part of the very fabric of the Melksham community. It has inspired generation after generation to participate in sports and stay healthy, and fostered a sense of town pride. Will the Minister therefore join me in welcoming the opening of Oakfields, the home of Melksham’s football and rugby teams, thanks to a £7 million investment? (908705)

I am very pleased to hear that Oakfields has now opened. Having the right facilities in the right places and combining sports within them is not only important in driving up participation but excellent value for money.

The tech sector’s No. 1 Brexit concern is that, when we leave, it will become unlawful to send personal data from Europe to UK firms unless the European Commission has declared our data protection arrangements to be adequate. What steps are being taken to secure that declaration in time?

This is a very important point. It is vital to make sure that we have an unhindered flow of data between the UK and the EU, and indeed other trading partners around the world such as the US. We are implementing the general data protection regulation in full, to make sure that we can have that unhindered flow of data.

T8. In 2020, as my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail to found the American colonies. What discussions has she had with the Secretary of State for Transport to make sure that tourists can get to Plymouth to celebrate this wonderful event? (908706)

Last week, I had the honour of meeting the team who are putting together the Mayflower 400 celebrations. I also attended an event at the US embassy last summer where I saw a replica of the Mayflower that is going to be part of the celebrations that we look forward to in 2020. It is important that as many people as possible can visit those celebrations. I had discussions with the Secretary of State for Transport on this matter only last night.

When the Government reduced the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals to £50, they accepted the principle that lowering the stake would have a positive impact on problem gambling. As part of the review, will you examine the success of that measure and, if it has been successful in dealing with that problem, will you consider reducing the stake even further?

I will do neither of those things, but the Minister might do one or the other or, conceivably, if the hon. Gentleman is a lucky boy, both.

We have had plenty of responses to the consultation, and you will be very welcome to help to consider them, Mr Speaker. I will be making my recommendations shortly. We are looking through the body of evidence that came to us as a consequence of the review that was published in October. I expect to publish the recommendations and the findings of the call for evidence in the spring.