Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 7 March 2019

On the eve of International Women’s Day, I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the England women’s football team on winning the SheBelieves Cup this week. I also congratulate all our outstanding British winners in this year’s Oscars, particularly Olivia Colman for her Best Actress award. We are proud of them all, and they remind us of how sport and culture can unite us.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. I am a former employee and a huge supporter of our public service broadcaster, but on the issue of TV licences for those over the age of 75, is it not the case that the BBC accepted responsibility for this concession when it made an agreement with the Government? Should it not now deliver that in full, and do so without the threats of cuts to services?

My hon. Friend correctly relays the history of this. As I said earlier, it is right for us to await the conclusions of the BBC’s review of this matter. It is far more sensible to comment on something when we have seen it rather than before we have seen it. Once we have seen it, we will all be able to reach a judgment. It is the Government’s clear expectation that this concession should continue.

Will the Sports Minister comment on whether English Football League football fans were consulted on the “fans fare” scheme to protect the fares of away travelling fans?

My hon. Friends in the Department for Transport have been working strongly with fans to ensure that travel is appropriate. My understanding was that the issue had been dealt with, but I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman if he still feels that there are concerns in this area.

T2. May I congratulate the entire DCMS team on their truly world-leading work on online harms? On the issue of online abuse specifically, it would appear—certainly in this place—that women are targeted far more than men. Will the Minister confirm whether there is evidence to suggest that this gender bias in online abuse is an issue more broadly? (909656)

My hon. Friend is quite right. There is a mounting body of evidence that women in public life—in an elected capacity or as journalists—face a disproportionately high level of abuse online compared with men. If we are to protect free speech and open debate, it is vital that our White Paper on online harms addresses all types of abuse, harassment and intimidation online.

Last week the Government admitted that only a fifth of FTSE 350 boards had a grasp on cyber-security. Only 4% of businesses recalled using any Government sources of information, and there is a growing skills gap of 50,000 specialists. May I politely ask the Government to wake up to their failing strategies and urgently get a grip on the growing cyber threat?

I assure the hon. Lady that the number of FTSE 350 companies—which I met representatives of to discuss this subject earlier in the week—prioritising cyber-security is growing. The Government have committed funding, through the cyber-security high impact skills fund, to helping industry close the skills gap.

T3. Equipping our ageing population with new skills is key, especially in areas such as Cornwall, where people have to travel long distances for local services. What plans does the Department have to ensure that technology can be used to support our elderly? (909659)

The Department has just launched the digital inclusion innovation fund, which has been specifically designed to tackle digital exclusion among older and disabled people. A few weeks ago I visited a 5G test bed in the Kensington part of Liverpool, where I saw at first hand how we are harnessing this technology to improve social care and tackle loneliness among older people.

The Offensive Weapons Bill bans the online sale of offensive weapons to residential addresses, but it has revealed a significant gap in the legislation around the sale of offensive weapons on platforms. Will the Secretary of State address that gap in the upcoming White Paper?

I will look carefully at the issue raised by the hon. Lady. Of course it is important that we closely keep track of where these weapons are being sold and the methods being employed. She would expect me to say that the online harms White Paper will focus on the responsibilities of the online platforms to keep people safe from harm. Harm varies, and we are concerned about a variety of different harms, but we will certainly pay close attention to the point that she has raised.

T4. Ahead of International Women’s Day, we should remember the thousands of women who live with nude and sexually explicit images of themselves posted online without their permission. The current legislation is piecemeal and ripe for reform. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at amalgamating the legislation to outlaw all forms of image-based abuse and make it easier for such images to be removed quickly? (909660)

Yes. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the Law Commission’s work in this area, and we are looking at the issue carefully. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to her, as she has played a significant part in the development of the law in this area? Whether on upskirting or revenge pornography, she and other Members have done a great deal to put the law in a better place.

Bearing in mind the dwindling pipeline of musical talent coming through from state schools, does the Minister agree with the chair of UK Music that music education should be seen as an intrinsic good, just as sporting education is?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government take music and other creative arts education very seriously. The Minister for School Standards has introduced a hub scheme across the country, with substantial funding to enable state school pupils to access music, as they deserve.

T6. Will the Minister comment on the recently announced £500,000 campaign by VisitBritain in conjunction with Airbnb? Regulated holiday cottage and bed-and-breakfast owners across north Northumberland spend a lot of money each year meeting licensing, fire and health and safety requirements, whereas Airbnb owners do not have to. (909662)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that issue. Northumberland is, of course, a county that millions want to visit, and should do. I am hoping, in fact, to visit myself; I commend it to everyone. I have addressed the issue of Airbnb with its representatives in person, and I see the Bed and Breakfast Association regularly. In my discussions with Airbnb representatives, I have made it clear, and cautioned them, that they need to work to satisfy all concerned about health and safety issues, and they assure me that they are doing that. We will continue to monitor the situation.

What discussions has the Minister had with Tourism Ireland to ensure that visitors from the United States of America who come to the Republic of Ireland are encouraged to go to Northern Ireland to enjoy its attractions as well?

I am delighted to say that Northern Ireland tourism is doing extremely well with visitors from North America and elsewhere. The Titanic exhibition, for example, is extremely popular and has been winning awards. The “Game of Thrones” television programme also draws people to Northern Ireland. There are myriad reasons to visit—not least, of course, the warm welcome from the people of Northern Ireland. I commend the hon. Gentleman for his question.

Could I draw the Minister’s attention to an initiative that I launched a couple of weeks ago—“Derbyshire, the County of Culture”—to try to bring tourism to Derbyshire and make it a cohesive county? Would he like to comment on that initiative?

I commend my hon. Friend for what she does for her county of Derbyshire. I previously referred to her as the prima ballerina assoluta of this House when she asked a question about ballet, and she is absolutely an advocate for her county as well. There is also a major call from across the House for towns of culture, and we are working on and discussing that matter. I will continue to consider her suggestions.

When are the Government going to crack down on ticket reselling websites? A constituent of mine was scammed by being charged over £600 for tickets that should have cost £130 at the box office. Viagogo refused to take any responsibility even though it facilitated and profited from this rip-off transaction. The Government have to haul these companies in and get it sorted out.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have taken many measures to bring these ticketing companies into better standards. StubHub, GetMeIn and Seatwave have all complied with the law during discussions with the Competition and Markets Authority. Unfortunately, Viagogo has, for the second time, refused to do so. The CMA announced yesterday that it will be undertaking proceedings for contempt of court against Viagogo. I would urge all Members to make their constituents aware that there are alternatives to Viagogo and that they should use them.