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Topical Questions

Volume 660: debated on Thursday 23 May 2019

I congratulate the four English football teams, one of whom I know you take a particular interest in, Mr Speaker, who have qualified for the European finals. It is the first time that one nation has ever provided all the major European finalists in a single season. We have seen success elsewhere in my Department’s portfolio, too, with the Tech Nation report showing that our digital economy is leading the way in Europe, with 35% of Europe and Israel’s tech unicorns being created here in the UK. We have the cricket world cup to look forward to, with the opening match at the Oval next week. I am sure the House will join me in welcoming the nine visiting teams and in wishing our cricketers the very best of luck. Perhaps I also ought to congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), the shadow Secretary of State, on climbing Snowdon, which he recently achieved. All of us in the House are used to uphill struggles; I am pleased that he has completed that one successfully.

The access to cash review recently published a report setting out that 17% of the adult population—about 8 million adults—would struggle to manage in a cashless society, with the majority of those people in rural areas. Will the Minister explain what the Department is doing to improve the situation for those in rural areas to bring the standard up to that in more urban areas?

My hon. Friend is right that we face two challenges: one is skills and the other is access to broadband. On broadband, he will know that we have succeeded in achieving our initial objective of 95% of the country being covered by superfast broadband, and in fact, exceeding that somewhat, but we now need to move on to rolling out full fibre. When we do that, it is important that we focus on those areas that the market will not reach unaided—an outside-in approach, as we have described it. I believe that will benefit rural areas predominantly.

Good morning, Mr Speaker, and my very best wishes to Jemima and all colleagues’ family members in their thespian endeavours, including my daughter, Saoirse, who has just successfully auditioned to play Nancy in the school production of “Oliver Twist”.

UEFA’s inclusion and diversity policy says the following:

“Everyone has the right to enjoy football, no matter who you are, where you’re from or how you play.”

But next week, Henrikh Mkhitaryan will miss the match of a lifetime because he is from Armenia, and Arsenal fans with Armenian names are being denied visas to travel to Baku. This is a scandal. It is a deeply ugly side to the beautiful game, and if I was Secretary of State, I would make it clear to UEFA that it is completely unacceptable. Will the Minister demand that UEFA ensures that countries that force players to choose between their sport and their safety and that discriminate against travelling fans will never be allowed to host future events?

The hon. Gentleman is right: if football is to be for everyone, and we all believe that it should be, that should apply to football in our own country and to football in places where we want our fans to be able to travel. It is important that we engage with UEFA, as we have been doing, to send the very clear message that places where football travels to should be welcoming to those who support football, and politics should have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

There is, as the hon. Gentleman says, the related challenge of whether British fans who are of Armenian descent are able to have a visa to travel to Azerbaijan. That is something that my colleagues in the Foreign Office are picking up, because it is important that all those who want to travel to support their team should be able to do so. If they cannot, football is not achieving what it should.

A woeful ticket allocation means that the vast majority of fans will not travel to that match or, indeed, to the Champions League final, because UEFA has favoured corporates over fans. Will the Secretary of State condemn UEFA with me today? On this day when the House is divided over Europe, can we unite to condemn UEFA for its disgraceful treatment of football fans?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are not enough tickets available for fans, either on Saturday or next week in Azerbaijan. I think we can agree that as many people who are passionate about their team as possible should have the chance to see them succeed and compete on the European stage, just as they can on the national stage. We believe that it is important to say to UEFA that that is a message we all support. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it, so that we can communicate that message with clarity.

It is important that we spread the benefits of the major European competitions around Europe. I do not believe it is right that they should be held in only a small subset of European countries. There are huge economic and sporting benefits to be derived from them, and countries should have access to those benefits, but only if they are prepared to give access to passionate football supporters.

T2. I add my best wishes to the England women’s team for success in the forthcoming World cup. Will the Minister give them the best possible send-off by ensuring that the Government commit increased funding to football facilities at grassroots level? (911082)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the exciting summer of women’s sport that is coming up, which will include the Ashes and the Solheim cup. Today, the netball squad is being announced for Liverpool. It is a very exciting time for sport across our nation and many people will be coming to our shores to enjoy it. I will be sending off the women’s team, because I will see them at Brighton and Hove before they go on their final warm-up. It is absolutely right that we prioritise grassroots opportunities for everyone to enjoy.

Next month, UEFA will start the process of recruiting 12,000 volunteers from host countries, including Scotland and England, for Euro 2020. They will be expected to give a huge time commitment and to work for free in complex roles that involve huge responsibility, including anti-doping. Is that not just exploitation dressed up as an opportunity, and will the Secretary of State raise it with UEFA directly?

I feel we have a number of conversations to have with UEFA and I am happy to add that to the list. As we approach the Commonwealth games in Birmingham in 2022—10 years on from London 2012, where people derived incredible experiences from volunteering—I think we should support this. However, if there are challenges in recruiting people due to their responsibilities, we must look at that.

T3. For what it’s worth, I recently appeared in panto as Sir Lancingalot in the North Lancing residents association’s version of “Robin Hood”. [Hon. Members: “Oh no you didn’t!] Oh yes I did! Also in Lancing, I am attempting to arrange a programme of midnight football over the summer, which I did a few years ago in another part of my constituency that is affected by antisocial behaviour. With the help of Adur Athletic football club, the local police and the local council, we laid on football between 10 and midnight on Saturday evenings for teenagers who otherwise, as they admitted themselves, would be getting up to no good on the streets. It completely changed the dynamics between those kids and the police, who came and joined in enthusiastically. Does the Minister agree that that is a constructive way of dealing with antisocial behaviour, getting kids engaged in sport, and engaging those kids with the police and other local people in a positive way? (911084)

I am very pleased that I can mention that my daughter, Jemimah, is going to be a barnacle in her next production. [Laughter.] She is going to be really unhappy about my saying that. [Interruption.] She’ll stick at it.

On the broader point, as we approach a really important time for our young people in terms of bringing forward the youth charter for our next generation, we absolutely have to think about the positive activities, engagement and participation of our young people. On my patch, we have Friday night football, which gets people off the streets and gives them the chance to have free wi-fi and some toast afterwards, and to enjoy being part of the community. We need to make sure that there is that participation, at any time of the day or night. As Sports Minister, that is what I like to hear.

Last week, Wolverhampton Wanderers became the latest football club to commit to rail seating at its stadium. Football fans want safe standing, clubs do, and the governing bodies are on board as well. It has been eight months since the Government announced their consultation and a review of this. When will it come to a close?

The Secretary of State and I have had the results of a review come to us that we are considering very carefully. In this Chamber over a number of months, it has been very clear that fans and MPs alike want to know what the next stages are. We are considering the review appropriately and will be coming forward with the next steps.

T4. If we are talking about our acting accolades, Mr Speaker, mine was winning a national best actress award with the Young Farmers—a strange dichotomy, but true. Yesterday, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee went to the Chelsea Flower Show and carried out an inquiry into the value of garden tourism to the nation—it is already some £4 billion. Does the Minister agree that if we put garden tourism in the tourism sector deal, we could double this money, at least, and benefit the economy? (911086)

Indeed. Garden tourism contributed billions of pounds to national GDP in 2017. The proposed sector deal has been in negotiation for some time now. There has been wide consultation with the sector, and it has come forward with a list of proposals for key areas to target within the industry. My hon. Friend is right to focus on the value of our garden tourism. At Alnwick castle, for example, and elsewhere, there are very special gardens for people to visit. I would be happy to hear of any further proposals from her afterwards.

The Secretary of State will know that Coventry will be the city of culture in 2021. Will he meet me to discuss the future of the Priory museum in Coventry? In that area, under Henry VIII, the old church was destroyed. The Parliament of Devils was held there.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for supporting Coventry city of culture 2021, which is a very exciting project. I would very happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

T5. The video games industry is a beacon of success in the British economy. It is particularly strong in the west midlands, especially around the so-called Silicon Spa area of Warwickshire. What is the Department doing to support this industry—in particular, to provide it with people with the right skills to enable it to grow? (911087)

As my hon. Friend would expect, I am very proud of Silicon Spa in the area of Warwickshire that I represent. I visited one of the games-designing companies very recently. I accept that having one’s picture taken under a big sign saying “Rebellion” is not a sensible thing to do at the moment. None the less, I thought it was important that I made that visit, and I was impressed by what I saw. My hon. Friend is right that it is important that we give these companies people with the skills that they require to continue to be successful. He will know about our creative careers programme, which gives 160,000 children an opportunity to learn about careers in video games and elsewhere.

I am very proud that I supported the millennium dome, which became the O2 and is a great success. The other night, I heard Elbow play there. Will the Secretary of State help me get a performing arts centre of international quality in Huddersfield—an O2 for the north?

As it happens, when I am in London I live very close to the O2, so I hear all kinds of people playing there. The hon. Gentleman is right that we should be looking to deliver the benefits of these kinds of performing opportunities to the whole country. I am happy to talk to him further about what we might do to bring this opportunity to the north, and, of course, all parts of the UK.

T6. Since we are celebrating the achievements of our families today, I would like to wish my daughter Rosie good luck with her grade 5 singing exam and my younger daughter Matilda good luck with her grade 1 piano exam—and, since a mother never leaves out any of her children, congratulate Wilfred on winning his very first swimming badge this week.Barclays released a report this week showing that more Britons are taking holidays in the UK—staycations—which is a great boost to local economies. As the Member of Parliament for Sleaford and North Hykeham, I am very fortunate to represent an area that has many fantastic tourist attractions including the International Bomber Command Centre, the National Centre for Craft and Design, Belton House and Doddington Hall. What more are the Government doing to support tourism in Lincolnshire? (911088)

VisitBritain works very hard to promote the UK internationally, including all our regions, and promotional images from across the country demonstrate our wonderful tourism offer. In addition, VisitEngland has a brilliant programme called the Discover England fund, which helps to ensure that visitors explore all of England, including Lincolnshire. A number of Lincolnshire projects are a part of the initiative including The Explorers’ Road, The Friendly Invasion and the England’s Originals products.