Skip to main content

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 678: debated on Thursday 9 July 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Tourism Sector: Reopening

What steps his Department is taking to help the tourism sector reopen safely as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904439)

What steps his Department is taking to help the tourism sector reopen safely as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904456)

The tourism sector has been severely impacted by this crisis, and we are working closely with the sector to get it back on its feet, including developing covid-secure reopening guidance for tourism businesses. VisitBritain has introduced an industry-standard quality mark called “We’re Good to Go”, which businesses can use if they meet covid-secure guidelines, and it has had over 20,000 applications already. The new £10 million kick-start tourism package gives small businesses in tourist destinations grants of up to £5,000 to help them adapt their businesses.

Last weekend I joined several businesses in my constituency as they reopened and saw the great work they had done to reopen safely. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking the tourism and hospitality businesses in Penrith and The Border and across the country for their efforts in preparing to safely reopen? Further to the welcome announcements from the Chancellor yesterday, does he agree that these sectors, which may be slower to recover, should be kept under review, with additional Government support provided if necessary to help them through to the next full season?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Tourism and hospitality businesses right across the country have invested an incredible amount of time and energy in getting ready to reopen. Tourism is vital to our economy. I, too, was delighted to see the sector take its first steps towards reopening last weekend and to hear the announcement yesterday of a cut in VAT. Earlier this week I participated in a roundtable organised by Cumbria Tourism, which I know he has been working closely with. I will continue to monitor the situation and engage closely with business.

My hon. Friend will know from his visit to the Cotswolds last Saturday how important tourism is. In particular, the arts are very important. The Barn theatre in Cirencester is a relatively new and highly innovative theatre that has done an awful lot during the covid period to keep people informed through social media about the Government guidelines. Will he ensure that that theatre and other small theatres like it get their fair share of the £1.5 billion for theatres and the arts?

I would like to thank the Barn theatre for all that it has done to help the local community during the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, I thank tourism, leisure and arts businesses across the country, and it was a pleasure to visit some of them in my hon. Friend’s constituency last weekend. I can confirm that the purpose of the £1.57 billion cultural support fund is to support organisations across the cultural sector right across the country, including those that do not have a history of receiving public funding. More information on the eligibility criteria and application process will come by the end of this month, and I encourage the Barn theatre to apply.

After staffing, the largest cost that many tourism and hospitality businesses face is their rent. One of the sector’s main asks for yesterday’s statement was help with rent. There is a moratorium on evictions until September. However, many pubs, restaurants, amusement arcades, small museums and other tourist destinations face their quarterly rent bills when they have had no income. What additional steps are the Government taking to help them and ensure that we do not see mass closures?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those comments and know he shares my concerns about the sector, which is why we have taken so many measures. The issue with rent has been raised at the working group. He is right that there has been a moratorium. We continue to look at further measures. The range of measures already announced are being taken advantage of by the sector, whether it is loans, grants, business rates relief or furlough. The VAT reduction yesterday was welcomed across the sector, but we will continue to engage with it and see what further assistance may be required.

Voluntary and Community Sector: Covid-19

What steps he has taken to support the voluntary and community sector through the covid-19 outbreak. (904440)

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure the sustainability of civil society organisations and charities affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (904453)

The Government announced an unprecedented £750 million funding package supporting frontline charities to continue their vital work during the covid-19 outbreak, and we have unlocked a further £150 million from dormant bank accounts and building society accounts. In addition, there is the coronavirus job retention scheme and a host of other measures announced by the Chancellor yesterday.

The work of the voluntary sector in Northumberland and across the country has been absolutely priceless during the covid-19 pandemic. The work has been literally life-saving for many of the most vulnerable people in our communities. However, Northumberland Community Voluntary Action reports that half of the organisations that it represents have less than six months’ reserves and a third expect to lose 50% of that income because of fundraising restrictions. Will the Minister give his cast-iron assurance, first, that for these essential organisations, Government funding will be targeted at local areas rather than being funnelled into the larger national organisations and, secondly, that Government assistance and support in the post-pandemic era will focus heavily on the operational challenges that will be required to function in the nation’s new norm?

I, too, pay tribute to the extraordinary work of charities in Wansbeck and beyond. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to focus on the vital work done by so many small charities. That is precisely why the £750 million of funding is being administered in the way that it is, and we are working as hard as we possibly can to get it to those charities as quickly as possible.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, when the Secretary of State kindly spoke to Tom Cruise and the producers of “Mission: Impossible” on my behalf recently, he showed a real need for speed in putting together a cocktail of measures for the entertainment industry? It is our critics who cannot handle the truth that his actions were helping more than a few good men and women return to work across civil society and the entertainment industry in Leavesden in Watford. May I assure you, Mr Speaker, that this message will not self-destruct?

My hon. Friend rightly pays tribute to an extraordinary industry. The only thing that I would say in addition is that he clearly deserves a cameo role in that next “Mission: Impossible” film.

Follow that!

One of the best ways to support the voluntary sector is to listen to it when it calls for a policy change. For example, the petition of Age UK to keep over-75s’ TV licences free has now attracted more than 634,000 signatures, while 93% of the nearly 90,000 pensioners who responded to a survey by the charity said that television had become more important since the pandemic erupted. The BBC is cutting jobs and content to pay for the cost of the licence, which was dumped on it by the Government, and pensioners are forced to choose between eating and watching TV. Will the Government now listen to Age UK and reverse this unfair policy?

The fact is that the BBC has had a generous licence fee settlement, and it is deeply disappointing that it has chosen to go down the path that it is apparently going down. I hope, of course, that there is yet time to reconsider that, because the hon. Gentleman is right to say that television has been a vital comfort for many people in the past few months, and it is a vital part of our national economy as well.

Broadband Delivery

The Government are investing £5 billion to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible to ensure that the hardest parts of the country to reach are not left behind. We are also removing barriers to roll-out, for example by introducing legislation to make it easier for operators to connect to blocks of flats, and £1.8 billion has already been spent in making sure that 96% of the country can now access superfast broadband.

Those words from the Minister are all very well, but the A1 and the east coast main line run through my constituency, as does the National Grid with Torness and Cockenzie, yet the essential medium, as shown during this coronavirus crisis, is connectivity and broadband. Much of that remains poor and entirely inadequate. Given that the Government’s target is only 91% for geographic mobile coverage in Scotland, yet 98% in England, when can my constituents expect the broadband and mobile coverage required for this coronavirus crisis, let alone for the 21st century?

As I have said, we have an ambition to deliver gigabit-capable broadband as fast as possible, and we are working with the Scottish Government to deliver that. I look forward to another meeting with my Scottish counterpart, Paul Wheelhouse, next week, because it is vital that we work together on this. The geography of Scotland is, of course, uniquely challenging, but we should not let that serve as a barrier to our ambitions.

It is clear that post-covid society will rely even more on reliable broadband internet than it has until now. The Secretary of State’s predecessor struggled with the reserved nature of broadband and telecommunications, so will the Minister and the Secretary of State now accept that this is an area reserved to Westminster, and will he commit now to matching the level of funding for Scotland that Northern Ireland has enjoyed recently?

We have put an additional £21 million into Scottish broadband, on top of the £101 million already invested in Scotland by the UK Government. The hon. Lady is right that we need to go as far and as fast as we possibly can, which is why we are working with the Scottish Government to make sure that it is possible to increase coverage and that Scotland does not miss out on anything that it needs in this 21st-century connected environment. It is vital that we do that, and the challenging geography will not be a barrier to our ambitions.

I am concerned that the Government have gone completely silent on their 2025 roll-out target for gigabyte-capable broadband; instead, we are told that it will be delivered as soon as possible. It has been five months since the Secretary of State last pledged in the House the Government’s commitment to the Conservative manifesto promise. No statement has been made, and industry voices are growing anxious that without immediate action to address the policy barriers, there is simply no chance whatsoever of achieving the target. Meanwhile, thousands of businesses across rural Scotland continue to struggle with archaic internet speeds. For the avoidance of doubt and for the record: 2025—yes or no?

The Government have been clear that we will go as fast as we possibly can. We are removing the barriers that the hon. Gentleman discussed, but it is also right to say that it is an immensely challenging target. Going as fast as possible is the right thing to do, and we will work as hard as we possibly can to go as far as we possibly can by 2025. My ambition is absolutely to reach the number in our manifesto that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme

What progress his Department has made on the roll-out of the rural gigabit connectivity programme. (904443)

The programme to deliver rural gigabit connectivity is making excellent progress, with nearly 500 rural primary schools—200 more than planned—having an arrangement to fund a gigabit-broadband upgrade. We continue to connect other rural hub sites, including health sites, and issue vouchers to rural residents and small and medium-sized enterprises. We will work with devolved Administrations, local authorities and other Government Departments to ensure that as many public sector sites as possible can be included in the programme.

The Staffordshire superfast programme team has done a considerable amount of work to bring superfast broadband services to my constituents in Burton and Uttoxeter, having reached more than 96% of east Staffordshire this year. However, I am concerned for those who live rurally, who are struggling to access connections of even 1 megabit per second. The community of Leigh, for example, has been quoted around £50,000 per household for a connection. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we might get affordable connections to our rural communities?

I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the work that she is doing to champion this vital utility in the 21st century. Some of the geography of Leigh is challenging—a number of properties are a long way from exchanges—but that is no excuse, which is why we are exploring all avenues. I look forward to discussing them with my hon. Friend.

Cultural Sector: Reopening

What steps his Department is taking to help the cultural sector reopen as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904444)

What steps his Department is taking to help the cultural sector reopen as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904448)

What steps his Department is taking to help the cultural sector reopen as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (904452)

Arts and culture define our nation and form a vital part of the ecosystem that makes us a creative-industry superpower. At a time when the nation is crying out for comfort, they enrich our soul, which is why I was delighted this week to announce an unprecedented £1.57 billion package to help theatres, museums, live music venues and galleries to weather the ongoing storm. I want to see these institutions open their doors as soon as it is safe for them to do so. I am working extensively with the sector on how to achieve this and will be publishing further roadmap timings for further steps imminently.

When it comes to live music and festivals, Britain probably leads the way. As the Secretary of State says, that success is built on an incredible ecosystem of British performers, technicians, sound engineers and many other freelancers. Will my right hon. Friend say a bit more about how he intends the major package of funding that he announced on Monday to be used to support this important sector, which has taken a real battering over the past three months?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to highlight the value of live music venues. I have engaged extensively with those in the sector, including hosting roundtables with them. I was determined that the package should include support for them, so it will cover areas such as grassroots music venues, concert halls and indoor arenas. We are defining live music venues, basically, as those wholly or mainly used for the performance of live music for the purposes of entertaining an audience.

In Cornwall, we have warmly welcomed the recent announcements from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State, particularly in support of the arts, culture and heritage. In Truro and Falmouth, we are blessed to have a fantastic theatre on the brink of completion—namely, the Hall for Cornwall—which will serve the whole of Cornwall and act as a beacon for the arts in a whole county. What support can my right hon. Friend provide for organisations such as these, which are an integral part of our community?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I have been very clear right from the start in designing this package that it is intended to achieve two principal outcomes: first, to protect the crown jewels, our nationally and internationally significant institutions; and secondly, equally vitally, to help cultural institutions up and down the country where their loss would deprive communities of essential cultural experiences. We will be publishing the full criteria and processes shortly, and of course that will include, for example, demonstrating that they have exhausted all available funds. I know that my hon. Friend will be tirelessly making the case for Cornwall and, indeed, I hope the Minack theatre will soon be able to open as well.

First, I thank my right hon. Friend for all the hard work, including putting up with me bothering him relentlessly, to achieve the remarkable result of the £1.57 billion for the arts and culture sector. Will he now agree to meet me and the all-party parliamentary group on theatre to discuss some policy changes, including the possible reduction in business rates, to help the theatre sector truly flourish as it begins to reopen?

My hon. Friend is too modest to admit it on the Floor of the House, but I thank him too for his vital work in helping to shape this important package and to support this vital sector. I would of course be delighted to meet the APPG. In fact, the only thing that would give me more pleasure would be to go on a visit with the APPG to a theatre that was performing, which I hope will happen soon.

Covid-19: Creative Industries and Freelancers

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to start by sending the very best wishes of the House to the former DCMS Minister, our hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who starts her treatment for breast cancer today. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Some of those in our creative sector, such as the film, TV and music industry, are already back up and running. We recognise the challenges the creative industries face because of covid-19. That is why, in addition to the unprecedented package of support for businesses, jobs and the workforce, the Government have announced an extra £1.57 billion cultural rescue package.

My constituency is home to excellent theatres, live music venues, and museums and galleries. I would like to put it on record that I was pleased to join the trustee board of the Albany theatre earlier this week. It is in part thanks to this vibrant cultural sector that Coventry was awarded city of culture 2021. The measures announced earlier this week are vital to ensuring that these organisations survive through the crisis, so will the Minister meet me to ensure that the support package finds its way to Coventry and keeps those organisations afloat?

Yes. The hon. Lady makes an excellent point, and I am very excited to spend more time in Coventry when it celebrates being the city of culture in 2021. She is right to draw attention to some of the incredible theatres and other cultural assets that her city has, and I would be very keen to meet her to discuss that further.

As you know, Mr Speaker, Manchester really is one of the creative industry hubs of the UK. It is made up not just of its institutions, but of a wealth of talented, highly skilled individuals and small and micro-organisations. Can the Minister tell them and me how the self-employed and those who are directors of limited companies will support themselves to stay in this industry in the coming months, when all their work has dried up and they have no extra support?

We know that the creative industries are not the venues, the organisations or the studios, but the people—the skilled artists, the craftsmen, the designers, the performers, the technicians. They are the ones who make us world-class in the sector, and we know that they include many freelancers and self-employed people. Some 2.7 million people have benefited from the self-employed income support scheme, and 95% of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment have been eligible. The next round of that scheme will open in August.

One of my constituents, Jim Sutherland, is a composer and music producer who has worked on the music of films such as “Brave” and “Outlaw King”. A freelancer under PAYE, he and many like him are the backbone of our creative industries, demonstrating exactly the type of entrepreneurial spirit that this Government say they want to encourage as we recover. But yet again, in a week in which 200 MPs joined the all-party group on ExcludedUK, the Government have failed to support our self-employed people. What reassurance can the Minister give Jim and other freelancers in the industry that there will be support for them?

The hon. Lady is rightly proud of her constituent and all the creative people in her area. We recognise the crucial role that individuals play in making our creative industries world leading. The £1.57 billion cultural package, which includes £97 million for Scotland, announced this week will allow more businesses to survive and more creative activity to restart, ensuring employment opportunities for freelancers. At the end of the day, that is what our freelancers want to do—they want to get back to work.

With Pinewood Studios on our doorstep, Slough is a major cultural hub, but many of my constituents who work in the creative industries have contacted me to express grave concerns. I am sure the Minister agrees that the work they do is invaluable to our culture and economy, but due to the limits of social distancing, many planned film and television shoots have not taken place, and local theatres are in a serious predicament. What measures will the Government put in place to ensure that in the coming months those industries will not suffer further as a result of covid-19 and will continue to be supported?

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great passion and I know he is a great supporter of the cultural industries and arts in his area. We have already made available £160 million through Arts Council England to support individuals and organisations—£20 million of that has gone to individuals and £50 million to the non-portfolio organisations the council would normally support—but the package announced this week is unprecedented. The £1.57 billion package is world-leading and will make a huge difference to struggling cultural industries up and down the country.

The BBC calls them old classics; the rest of us call them repeats, and we are going to see a lot more of them due to our world-leading television and film production companies being shut down. What are the Government doing to ensure that this highly profitable, high-growth creative sector is brought back fully? How are they tackling the issue of reinsurance? After all, one can only watch so many episodes of “Dad’s Army” and “Bread”.

The same can be said about my hon. Friend’s jokes, but he is absolutely right to champion the sector. Our television and film production companies lead the world. That is why I have been meeting weekly with the sector to set up the guidance needed to get them back up and running, and I am pleased that so many are now able to start work. We are concerned about the insurance issue, and talks are ongoing to see whether we can help to resolve it.

Youth Projects

This Government are committed to investing in young people’s futures and ensuring that their voices are heard. The £500 million youth investment fund launching this year will fund new, refurbished and mobile youth centres, alongside investment in positive activities and youth workers across the country. DCMS launched a new online tool earlier this month to involve young people in policy making, and has supported the National Youth Agency to produce guidance for youth organisations on operating safely during covid-19.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to succeed in life young people need good role models? Will he therefore offer his support to my role models project?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that good role models are crucial, now perhaps more than ever. I am delighted to offer my support and that of the Department to his new project, and I look forward to discussing it more with him.

Topical Questions

This week, we announced the £1.57 billion package to help arts, heritage and cultural institutions weather the storm of covid. As I said, this is the largest ever one-off investment in UK culture and a testament to the Government’s commitment to the arts.

Alongside that, we have been working flat out to get our sectors back up and running. Elite sports events are back on, with a third of premier league games free to air. Recreational cricket is back this weekend. Cameras are rolling on British-made blockbusters. Hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites are back welcoming guests.

We have more to do, and there will be further announcements on restarts imminently, but the best way to secure jobs and revive our sectors is to reopen them safely, and I will not stop until we have achieved that for all DCMS sectors.

Physical exercise is important for not just physical wellbeing but mental health. With that in mind, when will the Secretary of State update the guidance so that we can soon see the safe reopening of gyms and fitness centres?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned tirelessly on this point and raised it frequently with me. I also pay tribute to the gyms themselves, which have engaged very constructively with us to overcome some of the hurdles, and I hope to be able to make an announcement imminently on this issue. As I have said previously, the aim has always been to get gyms back by mid-July.

The Chancellor rightly focused on jobs in his statement yesterday, but according to the Creative Industries Federation, freelancers make up 47% of the workforce. As the House has heard this morning from a number of hon. Members, millions of freelancers have been excluded from Government schemes and left without support for four long months, and they face the prospect of many more months without income. Will any of the money that the Secretary of State announced on Monday go to freelancers? If so, exactly when will they receive it?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the importance of freelancers. That is why, alongside the job retention scheme—the furlough scheme—there were also announcements for the self-employed, and tens of thousands of the self-employed have been able to access it.

In respect of the scheme I announced earlier this week, I would have hoped that the hon. Lady, having campaigned on this issue so tirelessly, would have started by welcoming this package and, indeed, joined the dozens of organisations that have welcomed it, and I am happy to share a dossier on that. The key thing for freelancers is to protect those institutions so that they can return as those reopen in the future. That is what this package achieves.

I will take that as a no, then.

The Government’s failure to create a fully functioning test, track and isolate system has damaged public confidence, and the last thing the country needs now is another public health crisis. Earlier this week, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate published a report exposing how big tech companies such as Facebook and Google have profited from an anti-vaccination industry that has grown to 58 million followers during the covid crisis. Polling by YouGov showed that 31% of Britons polled do not plan to have a covid vaccination when one becomes available and that social media use and vaccine refusal are linked. When is the Secretary of State going to put public health and safety before the interests of the big tech companies profiting on the back of a global pandemic and publish the online harms Bill?

I have great respect for the hon. Lady, but that is a gross mischaracterisation of the Government’s priorities, given that we were the first Government to commit to bringing forward online harms legislation, and I have set out the timetable for doing that. However, she is absolutely right to highlight the concerns around anti-vax. Not only have we stood up the counter-disinformation unit, but I am working with ministerial colleagues in the Department and across Government to co-ordinate our work on anti-vax, in preparation for the situation where, I hope, we will have a vaccine available.

South Cambridgeshire is the biomedical capital of Europe, with dozens of organisations working to develop treatments, cures and vaccines for the coronavirus. It is one of the most economically productive areas of Britain, but it is very rural, and many people working from home are frustrated by poor mobile phone coverage. I recently met my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital to discuss the matter, but will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State commit to working with me and the mobile phone industry to improve coverage in South Cambridgeshire, so that we can help to develop those cures and vaccines? (904490)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue, and I am determined to ensure that no part of this country is left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity. As he may know, we have already struck a deal with mobile operators to create a shared rural network that will make patchy coverage a thing of the past. Operators are developing roll-out plans, and I encourage my hon. Friend’s constituents to engage with that process to ensure that they get the digital connectivity they deserve.

Now that Northumberland is to benefit from Government funding to boost the county’s digital connectivity, does the Minister have a plan or timescale for the roll-out of fibre to the premises to facilitate job creation in North Tyneside and across the rest of the northern powerhouse? (904495)

That is exactly why our manifesto contained the ambitious target of rolling out full fibre to the premises by 2025. We are making rapid progress, with numbers roughly doubling in the past year, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital Infrastructure and I are working tirelessly to drive us towards that target.

Beautiful Hastings and Rye has an amazing cultural and arts sector that has unfortunately largely missed out on the remarkable economic packages provided by this Government. Bearing in mind the success of F. D. Roosevelt’s public works of art project, what measures is my right hon. Friend considering to put rocket boosters under our performing arts sector and live music venues to enhance their contribution towards turbo charging our economy? (904491)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the central role of the arts in our creative industries, which help to make us a powerhouse. That is why we are working to ensure their reopening as rapidly as possible, and announcements on that will come shortly. It is also why I welcomed the Chancellor’s tremendous announcement yesterday; those VAT cuts will apply to almost all the sectors that my hon. Friend highlights.

Throughout the current coronavirus crisis, communities around the country have relied on their local radio stations, both BBC and commercial. In Aylesbury, Mix 96 has been a vital and valuable source of information, building on its 40-year commitment to the town. Does my right hon. Friend agree that when big media groups such as Bauer buy up small stations like Mix, it is important to balance commercial imperatives alongside a genuine commitment to serve communities with locally produced content, local news and jobs for local people? (904492)

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. Reliable local news is an important way of tackling the rise of misinformation and disinformation.

The support packages are welcome and better late than never, but the Secretary of State is still not answering questions about how self-employed creators will be supported through this crisis in the long term. The creative sector is literally the life and soul of my constituency, so if this Government cannot guarantee the support that creators need, will he devolve the powers to the Scottish Parliament, so that Scotland can support its artists in all their different shapes and forms? (904508)

I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that this package gives £96 million to Scotland under the Barnett consequentials, so I trust that he will ensure that that goes to those industries, rather than to the other priorities of the Scottish Government.

With the domestic hospitality and tourism sectors raring to rebound following the recent disruption, what is the Department doing to encourage the British public to support these efforts and visit our coastal tourist attractions and resorts, in particular the gem that is the Fylde coast? (904493)

I share my hon. Friend’s love of the Fylde coast, and I used to enjoy taking a dip in the sea in October when we had party conferences in Blackpool. It is precisely for such reasons that we have announced a massive VAT cut to help restart the tourism sector.