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Topical Questions

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 14 September 2017

As has previously been referred to, since the last oral questions, my Department has changed its name—the “D” in DCMS now stands for “Digital” in recognition of our responsibility for a massive and growing industry. We have also through the course of our questions mentioned many of the great successes of the summer: the Edinburgh festival, and the great sporting successes for England women’s cricket in the world cup, and the under-20s in the football world cup. I want to particularly mention, in addition to the others mentioned before, Chris Froome, who once again won the Tour de France and has secured a historic double by winning the Vuelta a España.

Please forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I do want to make another comment in this statement. On Tuesday I set out that I was minded to refer the proposed merger of 21st Century Fox and Sky on the grounds of genuine commitment to broadcasting standards, as well as media plurality. Yesterday I received letters on behalf of both parties to the merger confirming that while they disagree with my “minded to” decision, they would not be making substantive representations in relation to it. As a result, I can confirm that my “minded to” decision is now final, and I will now refer the merger to the Competition and Markets Authority for a phase 2 investigation on the grounds of media plurality and genuine commitment to broadcasting standards.

I will issue and publish my formal referral decision in the coming days. I will also publish the substantive representations I have received during this process shortly. From the point of referral, the CMA has 24 weeks—around six months—in which to investigate the merger and provide me with advice. I must then come to a final decision on whether or not the merger can proceed, including any conditions that will apply in order to do so. I hope you will understand, Mr Speaker, that I did want to put this to the House before anyone else, which is why I have extended this statement accordingly.

Of which the Secretary of State was courteous enough to notify me in advance, and I am very content with that—it is in the interests of the House, as it also is that the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), should have some modest latitude in his interrogation.

Order. The comprehensive character of what the Secretary of State had to say was such that I excluded the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), and he might be feeling discriminated against, which would be a sadness. So before we hear from the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, we shall hear from Mr Knight—let’s hear it man.

It will be worth waiting for.

The west midlands creative industry punches well above its weight, yet over the years we have seen poor investment from the BBC and, to a lesser extent, ITV. Is there not a great opportunity for Channel 4 to make use of our diverse communities and talent, blaze a trail, and relocate to the west midlands?

I would not wish to say where might be a suitable location for Channel 4, but I have been clear that I do want Channel 4 to make more of a contribution to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I will be publishing the responses to my consultation on the contribution that Channel 4 can make to the nations and regions, and I am sure that the board of Channel 4 will have heard my hon. Friend’s suggestion of the west midlands and will take that into consideration.

Mr Speaker, surprise is everything in politics: does the Secretary of State believe our gambling laws are fit for purpose?

Gosh; I am completely caught off guard. The hon. Gentleman knows that we made a call for evidence on the matter of gambling as part of the triennial review last year, and we will be publishing the results of that shortly.

From that answer, I feel that our cosy consensus over the future of Sky and Fox might be breaking apart, because Labour Members believe that recent research has shown that Britain has a hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. Moreover, research over the summer has shown that our children are exposed to gambling advertising more than ever before. Let me try to rebuild our spirit of partnership and say to the Secretary of State that if she brings forward a new gambling Bill fit for the digital age, we will support her in that. If she does not, a future Labour Government will have to do so.

The Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a supporter—and I think at times a member—were the Government who brought in the Gambling Act 2005. We are now conducting the triennial review of the Act and it is important that we look at all the available evidence. I note that he made a statement over the summer about the sponsorship of football shirts, saying that a future Labour Government, should there be one, would ban the sponsorship of football shirts by gambling companies. I see the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) in the Chamber. I think that the supporters of Stoke City would be quite concerned if they were to discover that their stadium could no longer be called the bet365 stadium and that the company could no longer be a shirt sponsor. They might wonder where they would be able to purchase players from. And I just wonder what West Brom is doing in terms of its sponsorship at the moment.

T4. Many businesses in Wealden are forced by BT to depend on slow, unreliable broadband, and they get appalling service if they are ever unlucky enough to have to contact the company. Can the Minister update the House on progress to improve rural broadband, especially in Wealden? (900868)

Yes, I can. More than 90% of homes and businesses in Wealden now have access to superfast broadband, and 16,000 homes and businesses get that because of the Government’s support for the roll-out. We recognise that that leaves just under 10% without it, which can be incredibly frustrating, so we are bringing in a universal service obligation. At the weekend, we announced a further amount of just over £600 million for the roll-out of superfast broadband to make this country fit for the modern age.

T2. Scottish politics can be rather tribal, but yesterday Scottish politics united in support of Paisley’s bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2021. Paisley’s bid is now Scotland’s bid. The final stage of the competition is looming, and a win for Paisley would create a bigger legacy than a win for anywhere else. Will the Minister join us in supporting Paisley 2021? (900866)

I support all the bids as they reach the final stages. In two weeks’ time they will be submitted to the panel, which is chaired by Phil Redmond, and I am watching the process closely. I look forward to making an announcement on the successful city at the end of the year.

T7. The Minister will be aware of the great success of initiatives such as the Seafood Coast in promoting tourism in Torbay. What further support will the Government offer to encourage more people to come to the coast in the south-west? (900871)

I am looking carefully at the options. As I said, I will be meeting representatives of the tourism sector in two weeks’ time. I hope that the Discover England fund can be extended to encourage more initiatives such as the one my hon. Friend mentions, because they are transformational to local tourism economies.

T3. Following the creation of the Ebacc, the take-up of music education is going down. Given the value of the UK’s world-leading music industry to our economy—it was £123 million in Bristol alone in 2015—will the Minister please listen to the music industry, reverse the Ebacc and invest in music teaching? (900867)

I acknowledge the challenges to arts, cultural and music education, and I am looking at what can be done, through the cultural development fund, with the Arts Council to find ways of promoting increased participation. I am in active dialogue with other Departments over how we can deal with this reality.

It is almost a year since World Rugby established its hall of fame, appropriately at the birthplace of rugby in the Rugby art gallery and museum. We will shortly have the annual induction of more greats of the game. Does the Sports Minister agree that this could play a major role in attracting local and international tourism?

The hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson) said that surprise was the name of the game, but I am not surprised by my hon. Friend’s question about rugby. We all understand the importance of rugby in his constituency, and the hall of fame has provided a great opportunity for tourism and heritage. I join him in his support of that.

T5. Further to the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), the online gambling industry has exploded since the Gambling Act 2005 and is now worth more than £6 billion a year. Too much advertising is now reaching young people, particularly through social media outlets. What is the Minister doing to regulate advertising through social media outlets and the offers that allow young people to gamble for free? (900869)

The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 brought all online gambling sites under the regulatory remit of the Gambling Commission. The commission keeps all such matters under regular review, and the outcomes of that include a recent fine for 888. We continue to look to ensure that the regulation of both online and land-based gambling is robust.

The Sandstone Ridge arts festival in my constituency is looking to have a suffragette theme next year to celebrate women getting the vote. What funds are available for community arts programmes to celebrate that magnificent achievement?

That sounds like an excellent initiative. Funds are available either through Arts Council England or the Heritage Lottery Fund, and I am happy to work with my hon. Friend to identify the most appropriate route for an application.

T6. Blaydon has a growing number of small and micro-charities, many of which are trying to fill the gaps left by Government cuts to local authorities, and their survival is often precarious. Following the Secretary of State’s discussions within the sector, what action is she taking to help those charities with fundraising and other support? (900870)

We are working on a programme to promote local and small charities later this year, further details of which will be announced shortly. If the hon. Lady has any particular concerns about small charities in her constituency, I would be happy to meet her to discuss them.

We simply must take steps to protect online users, particularly through education about online responsibility. How will the Government’s Data Protection Bill, which I welcome, benefit people in terms of the data held about them? I am thinking in particular of the use of children’s data and consent.

The Data Protection Bill, which we published in the other place today, is about giving citizens more power over their data while ensuring that data can be used innovatively and effectively. It also introduces new powers to protect minors and to allow people to request the deletion of their data on social media sites at the age of 18, ensuring that they are more in control of their online data.

I welcome the inclusion of “Digital” in the Department’s title. However, despite that bold and innovative step, the availability of superfast broadband in Orkney and Shetland remains disappointingly low. I suspect that the roots of the problem lie in how the contract was tendered under the Broadband Delivery UK system, so will the Minister work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the mistakes in that process are learned?

I am also delighted that “Digital” has been added to the Department’s title. The Scottish Government have been the slowest of all the different organisations around the country to contract the broadband that we so desperately need. That is why Scotland is behind. We are offering technical support, but they are behind every English county and behind both the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Government, and they need to get a move on.