House of Commons
Wednesday 30 September 2020
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
I remind colleagues that deferred Divisions will take place today on two statutory instruments in the Members’ Library between 11.30 am and 3.30 pm. Members will cast their votes by placing the completed Division slip in one of the ballot boxes provided. I remind colleagues of the importance of social distancing during the deferred Divisions and ask them to pick up a Division slip from the Vote Office and fill it in before they reach the Library, if possible. The result will be announced in the Chamber as soon as possible after the Divisions are over.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Internal Market: Northern Ireland and Great Britain
We have committed to delivering unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole UK market. We continue to discuss our approach to the protocol with the European Union, and we have put in place a safety net to ensure that qualifying goods do not face exit procedures upon leaving Northern Ireland for the rest of the UK, delivering our promise of unfettered access.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and I welcome the UK Internal Market Bill being passed by the House, because it does indeed put in place the benefit for Northern Ireland businesses that he describes. Can he say a bit more about how businesses based in my constituency, for example, can export to Northern Ireland without restrictions and how we will ensure that businesses and constituents in Northern Ireland get unrivalled access to the whole United Kingdom market?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a difference with businesses in Great Britain trading with Northern Ireland. We are determined to give them the certainty that they want and need. That is an important part of delivering on the protocol, which says that it
“should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities”.
That means ensuring good free trade. The protocol makes it clear that there will be some changes for goods movements into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. We are consulting businesses in Northern Ireland and working with our partners in the European Union to deliver on that, and there will be a slimmed-down Finance Bill that includes all the commitments we have made to the people of Northern Ireland that are outstanding at that point.
I echo the comments made by the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). Our concern is also about goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and that includes products used in the manufacturing process for goods that are then sent back to Great Britain. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the Finance Bill will contain specific definitions in relation to goods not deemed at risk that are for consumption exclusively in Northern Ireland, or are part of the manufacturing process in Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. At the heart of our approach is our determination to ensure that trade flows freely, so that businesses trading in and with Northern Ireland can continue to trade properly. We will make full use of the provisions in the protocol to deliver on that, and we will continue to discuss this with the European Union. As I say, there are still issues that we are discussing as part of the free trade agreement and through the specialist Joint Committee, but we will ensure that all the commitments made by myself, the Prime Minister and other colleagues at the Dispatch Box are delivered through a slimmed-down Finance Bill later this year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and I have been meeting businesses in the agrifood sector, and they are particularly concerned about the definition of qualifying businesses and qualifying goods for the purposes of the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to GB and vice versa. I understand that the Government are preparing a statutory instrument on that. Can the Secretary of State update us on the progress made to bring about such a definition?
Yes. The withdrawal agreement includes provision for the Government to define the qualifying status for goods and businesses in Northern Ireland, as part of ensuring that they benefit from unfettered access. We are also engaging with businesses, as the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are. I have been engaging with businesses—and will do so again later today—in Northern Ireland and with the Executive to work through the means for delivering that qualifying status. There will be an ability for us to deliver that, and we will do it by secondary legislation under the withdrawal Act before the end of the year.
Just like their counterparts in Kent and Scotland, Northern Irish businesses need clarity on the looming post-Brexit reality. The Secretary of State must know that the last-minute shambles of the internal market Bill delivers the exact opposite and fails to provide much-needed reassurance. Does he appreciate the damage that this lack of clarity is doing to Northern Irish businesses?
Northern Ireland businesses responded very positively to the Command Paper and the guidelines we set out earlier in the summer. The UK Internal Market Bill delivers on that and on the key objective of guaranteeing unfettered access. I think it is a bit rich for the hon. Lady to talk about this. We are delivering unfettered access—something the SNP wants to block by putting another border between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
UK Internal Market Bill: Effect on the Union
The UK’s internal market has functioned seamlessly for centuries. As the transition period ends, we will ensure that the most successful Union of nations in the world continues to thrive, and we will do this while maintaining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the gains of the peace process. The Secretary of State and I regularly meet Cabinet and other ministerial colleagues across Government on this point, including through the Cabinet Committee on Union policy implementation, which is driving forward the Government’s Union strategy.
To continue a theme, Wrexham has one of the largest trading estates in the UK, and trading with Northern Ireland via Holyhead port is vital for Wrexham’s future growth. Will the Minister give us reassurances that from January, seamless trade around the UK will continue, as it is essential to our Union’s growth and prosperity?
Yes, I can. That is why the Government are very pleased that the Bill has completed its passage through the House this week. The provisions in the Bill ensure that there will be no new checks, controls or administrative processes on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and provide a power for Ministers to disapply or modify the requirement for export declarations or other export procedures on such movements.
It is very welcome to hear that a slimmed-down Finance Bill is coming later in the year, but not a single clause in the internal market Bill changes the fact that new requirements on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland will be coming into force in 13 weeks’ time. Why is a coalition of business groups still waiting for answers on 60 of the 67 basic questions that it put to the Secretary of State in June on how the protocol will work? Why is there still no border operating model? Why has the necessary infrastructure been described by the permanent secretary for environment and agriculture as undeliverable? Is it not time for both the EU and the UK to act in Northern Ireland’s interests and deliver the certainty that businesses are crying out for?
The hon. Lady rightly calls for certainty, but in making the criticism that she does, she appears to be criticising the protocol that her Front Benchers have been arguing that we cannot interfere with. It is essential that we deliver on the protocol and deliver certainty for businesses, and the steps that we have taken in the UK Internal Market Bill help us to do so. I am not going to take lectures on upholding the integrity of our Union from a party that refuses to rule out backing a divisive second independence referendum in Scotland.
Those are absolutely ridiculous comments from the Minister. We have been supporting the protocol and the implementation of it, and it is the divisive, lawbreaking UK Internal Market Bill that has undermined the implementation of the protocol. While criticism from five former Prime Ministers, the leaders of three Northern Ireland parties and the Speaker of the US Congress and the resignation of the Government’s most senior Law Officer may not have concerned the Government, I wonder whether the comments of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland have. Sir Declan Morgan said that the threat to break the law may have undermined public confidence in the legal system. I wonder whether the Minister now regrets the comments made by the Secretary of State and the actions of Governments over the past fortnight.
We have been repeatedly clear through the passage of the Bill that we are respecting and delivering on the protocol. We remain absolutely committed to the peace process, to the Good Friday agreement and to acting within the UK’s constitutional set-up, and that is what we will continue to do.
Northern Ireland: 100-Year Anniversary
In August, the Prime Minister visited Northern Ireland, announcing the establishment of a centenary forum and centenary historical advisory panel, ensuring that we listen to diverse perspectives as we create a bold and ambitious centenary programme. As well as being the centenary of Northern Ireland, it is the centenary of the United Kingdom as we know it today. We are committed to delivering our programme that will allow the public to engage with the history of the centenary while supporting Northern Ireland businesses and its tourism industry, and promoting Northern Ireland on the world stage.
Does my hon. Friend agree that next year’s important anniversary for the UK as we know it today is also a fantastic opportunity to mark Northern Ireland’s future and its diverse people, business and culture?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is an opportunity to look ahead towards a bright and prosperous future for Northern Ireland. It is a chance for people across the British Isles and abroad to celebrate the progress made while showcasing the people and places that I have so enjoyed getting to know since my appointment last year.
The Minister will be aware that I put a written proposal to the Treasury about a commemorative celebratory coin for Northern Ireland in its 100th anniversary year. Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to elaborate on what progress has been made on that celebratory coin for our nation, and will he elaborate on what the Treasury has told me, which is that the Government will use this opportunity to promote Northern Ireland on the world stage and celebrate its people, culture, traditions and enterprise because we have made such a vital contribution to this United Kingdom?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I are in firm agreement that we should mark this historical centenary in a way that facilitates national recognition and international awareness. Specifically regarding a commemorative coin, this is a matter for the Treasury. It is a proposal that I have shared with ministerial colleagues previously, and I am very happy to explore it with them further. On the international dimension, he is absolutely right. We will be working with the Department for International Trade and our colleagues at the Foreign Office to ensure that promoting Northern Ireland around the world is an opportunity that is taken during this centenary.
I continue to work closely with colleagues across the Government and the Executive to support the tourism industry in Northern Ireland. The industry has benefited from financial support provided by the UK Government, including through the job retention scheme and the extension of the 15% VAT cut for the hospitality and tourism sectors. I welcome the new UK- wide Escape the Everyday campaign, promoting domestic tourism and promoting Northern Ireland across the UK as a great place to visit.
I thank the Minister for that response. Indeed, the lower VAT is helpful, but will he discuss with Treasury colleagues the potential benefit to Northern Ireland of extending that lower rate even further?
I absolutely recognise the point that my hon. Friend is making. The extension of the 15% VAT cut for hospitality and tourism to the end of March next year will provide vital support for the tourism industry through these challenging times. The approach taken by this Government is already one of the most generous and comprehensive globally, but we will continue to monitor the impact that the measures are having, to provide the necessary support for businesses and individuals. I know the Secretary of State will be meeting representatives of the hospitality industry later today.
In relation to Northern Ireland tourism, may I say that it has to compete not only on a world stage, but with the market from the Republic of Ireland and its predatory actions? It has been fast and loose in terms of using the opportunity of state aid, but in relation to air passenger duty, it has sucked the life out of our international trade to our international airports. What can be done in relation to using APD as a tool to help our tourism industry?
I absolutely recognise the competitive pressure that Northern Ireland faces, and it is something that I have discussed with hospitality and, indeed, the aviation industry in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Treasury is looking into what can be done on the APD front, and we will certainly take on board the views of Northern Ireland businesses.
UK Internal Market Bill: Good Friday Agreement
This Government will always make sure that the Belfast/Good Friday agreement is protected. I speak regularly with my colleagues on that very issue. We will not allow anything to shake our steadfast commitment to it.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He will be aware that the Good Friday agreement encourages co-operation across the island of Ireland, including on security. He will know that, last week, the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice said that, to prepare fully, she needed clarity on negotiations and on the delivery of the protocol. What guarantees can he give us that the vital sharing of intelligence and information will continue after Brexit?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the co-operation has been shown to work exceedingly well, as we have seen in the past few weeks with the quite phenomenally successful operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and its partners in the Garda in arresting terrorists. That operation highlights how well that co-operation works on the ground. Obviously, we are very keen to ensure that that kind of co-operation continues after we leave the European Union, and I know that our partners are keen on that as well.
Covid-19: Economic Recovery
The Secretary of State and I have engaged extensively with Northern Ireland businesses and have been impressed by their resilience and adaptability. This Government will do everything they can to help people and businesses through this extraordinary time. Businesses in Northern Ireland will benefit from the job support scheme, VAT reductions being extended and the extension of bounce back loans.
Will the Minister join me in welcoming the latest package of measures in the Government’s winter economy plan? Those measures will ensure that we continue to protect jobs and help businesses through the uncertain difficult months ahead to ensure that Northern Ireland not only recovers but has the opportunity to prosper as part of the United Kingdom.
I absolutely will. I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the comprehensive winter economy plan. The Government are providing support for businesses and employees throughout the United Kingdom with an unprecedented series of grants, loans and support schemes. We are steadfast in our commitment to strengthening the Union and levelling up opportunities for Northern Ireland to prosper, and that includes our investments in the city and growth deals programme, which covers the whole of Northern Ireland.
In March this year, the Government made the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020, which set out the new law on access to abortion services in Northern Ireland. Since then, we have been dealing with the response to covid-19. However, I am pleased that some service provision has commenced on the ground in Northern Ireland through existing sexual and reproductive health clinics across all the health and social care trusts. I hope that longer-term services can be commissioned as soon as possible so that access is available locally in all cases set out in the regulations. The Government stand ready to provide whatever support we can to Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health and his Department to assist them in this regard.
We all know that the time for debate about the need for abortion services for the women of Northern Ireland is long gone. These women deserve equality of access to these vital services without having to travel to the mainland. What discussions has the Minister had on the funding needed for the UK Government to commission and sustain new abortion services for the women of Northern Ireland?
The regulations deliver equivalent outcomes, in practice, to the rest of the UK so that women and girls can enjoy similar rights in accessing abortion services in Northern Ireland going forward. We are in constant dialogue with the Executive about their overall funding settlement. As the hon. Lady will recognise, there have been substantial increases in their funding, thanks to the Barnett consequentials of funding across the UK, including in health.
I listened very carefully to the Minister’s answer. In this pandemic, it is even more important that women do not make risky journeys. Despite the clear indication of this Parliament, women’s rights are still being denied in Northern Ireland because of the difficult local politics—which we understand. What discussions is he having about specific funding for wider abortion services, and is he considering a legal duty to provide?
I think that we all recognise the importance of this issue. I understand that sexual and reproductive health clinics are providing some services consistent with the regulations. I am pleased that an interim solution has been reached on the ground in Northern Ireland so that the health and safety of women and girls can be protected by access to services locally. We all want the Executive to be able to move forward with formal commissioning of further services, and we will continue to support them in doing that.
The Minister will be aware that tomorrow marks the commencement of Down’s Syndrome Awareness Month, when we celebrate Down’s syndrome, raise awareness and promote inclusivity within our society. With that in mind, what assessment has he made of the impact of the Government’s decision to allow for termination to birth for diagnosis of Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland? Does he agree that many people see this as disability discrimination within the womb that would be illegal outside the womb?
Let me first join the hon. Lady in commenting all those living with and supporting people with Down’s syndrome. There is absolutely no intention whatsoever of any form of discrimination. As I repeatedly made clear in the debate on the regulations, they do not list specific conditions but rather ensure that we have complied with what CEDAW—the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women—requires. These are complex decisions. It is only right that women can make individual, informed decisions, following medical assessments, clear provision of information and proper support from medical professionals. That support should be there in cases where they choose to take their pregnancies to term even in cases of severe foetal impairment. We will continue to support the Department of Health and the Executive to deliver on this issue.
Northern Ireland Protocol
We continue to engage regularly with stakeholders from across Northern Ireland and beyond on the implementation of the protocol. We have heard loud and clear the need for further clarity and certainty to ensure that we are all ready for the end of the transition period. Some of the steps we have taken over the past few months are about delivering on that. We are committed to implementing the protocol, as our recent work on the sanitary and phytosanitary checks, for example, highlights. We have been working hard to ensure that this is done in a way that delivers in full on our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, including our commitment to deliver unfettered access to Northern Ireland businesses to the whole UK market.
I am not sure that the Secretary of State told me what representations he had received, which is what I actually asked. He conceded earlier that there would be some changes to the movement of goods as a result of the protocol. Can he tell us what that will look like in practice, because that is the clarity that businesses want?
I thought that I had actually answered the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am meeting businesses on a regular basis. The business engagement forum talks to businesses across a range of sectors in Northern Ireland. In fact, this very afternoon, I will be meeting more business representatives in Northern Ireland to talk about a range of issues—not only recovery from covid, but delivering on the protocol and what happens after the end of the implementation period. What these businesses have consistently wanted is certainty about unfettered access, which the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill delivers. We will continue to focus on seeking an agreement through the specialist Joint Committee and through the free trade agreement to deliver that. We have also been clear that there will be some checks—particularly, for example, SPS checks for live animals and agrifoods. We are delivering on that with the Northern Ireland Executive. These checks are building on the checks that have been in place since about the 19th century. We are determined to deliver in a way that works for people and businesses in all communities in Northern Ireland.
The businesses of Northern Ireland urgently need to see the detail on the border operating model down the Irish sea. This was promised previously by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by the end of July. It is not essential that we see the outcome of the Joint Committee, so can the Secretary of State clarify when that will be published, because it is so urgent?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point about businesses wanting as much certainty as they can get. We are still working through things with the specialist Joint Committee, but we are also engaging with those businesses. As I say, we are having regular weekly meetings with businesses—a range of businesses—across Northern Ireland to ensure that we deliver what works best for those businesses in Northern Ireland.
New Decade, New Approach: Implementation
Despite the need to focus on covid-19, quite rightly, good progress has still been made in a number of areas in delivering on the new decade, new approach agreement. We have been releasing money from the £2 billion of funding set in the deal, changing the family migration rules for the people of Northern Ireland, holding the first joint board meeting, announcing the appointment of a veterans commissioner and, indeed, setting out our intentions for marking the centenary of Northern Ireland next year.
I welcome the tremendous progress that my right hon. Friend has made in delivering on the new decade, new approach deal, including appointing a veterans commissioner, as he has just pointed out, but also holding the first meeting of the joint board. Does he agree that this demonstrates that the deal signed earlier this year is working well?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The deal is a good example of ensuring that the Northern Ireland Executive are able to function and flow. They have worked very well through the difficulties and the challenges of the covid period, and they continue to work well. It is good to see all five parties working across the Assembly and across the Executive to deliver for people right across all communities in Northern Ireland.
Covid and Brexit are of course the headline acts—my right hon. Friend is right—but the NDNA cannot be forgotten. The Government response to our Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report was, possibly understandably, thin. Can he assure me that delivering the NDNA in full has his energy and commitment, because he knows how important that agreement is for progress and peace?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He is absolutely right about delivering on that in full both in the legislation we will need to pass in this House, which we will bring to this House in due course, and in making sure that things are being delivered across the NDNA—whether the independent fiscal council, which I have spoken to both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister about, or continuing the joint board meetings, the leaders’ meetings and the whole range of things that we need to do. Working together, these are the issues I discuss with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, generally on a weekly basis at least, to make sure that we continue to deliver.
UK Internal Market Bill: Political Party Discussions
We are committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations. I want to thank the Executive for their engagement to date, including their response to our consultation on the Bill. I can confirm that I did speak to Northern Ireland’s party leaders about the UKIM Bill ahead of its introduction, and I look forward to continuing to engage with the Executive as we progress towards the end of the year.
Given that the leading member of the United States Congress, the Democrat nominee for President, the Trump-appointed special envoy to Northern Ireland, the Irish Government, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and three of the five parties of the Executive have all condemned the Secretary of State’s juvenile lawbreaking boasts in this House, does he now accept that he has done more harm than good?
I would just respectfully say that the hon. Lady may want to have a look at exactly what I said in this House, which was giving a straight answer to a very direct, straight question and making a statement of the position. It is a position that will ensure that this Government deliver on our overriding promise to deliver unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses, and ensure that we are protecting the Good Friday agreement.
Legacy Investigations: Cross-community Support
The Government have been clear that we will bring forward legislation to address the legacy of the troubles, which focuses on reconciliation, delivers for victims and ends the cycle of investigations that have failed both victims and veterans alike with vexatious claims. We are committed to making progress on this and, indeed, to engaging with the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland parties and stakeholders from across the community on this issue.
The Stormont House agreement was agreed by the overwhelming majority of political parties in Northern Ireland, was endorsed by the British and Irish Governments, and had cross-community support. Will the Secretary of State recommit to the principles of Stormont House and reconfirm the central involvement of victims’ groups in any legacy proposals?
Yes, as I outlined at the time of the written ministerial statement, we absolutely do follow through and we intend to follow through on the principles of Stormont House. It is hugely important that we are all working with all communities, and particularly the families and the victims who suffered so much through the troubles. I was so pleased that we were finally seeing the victims’ payment scheme going forward. It is a hugely important step for all those people in Northern Ireland.
Some Members of this House want an amnesty for veterans who served in Northern Ireland. In 1976, Majella O’Hare, who was 12 years old, was walking with her friends to church. She was shot twice in the back, and killed, by a British paratrooper. Does the Secretary of State believe that that paratrooper should be immune from prosecution?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I am unable to comment on any particular cases, but we all recognise the sensitivities, difficulties and complexity of all the issues that come through the troubles, which people in Northern Ireland have been dealing with for a very long time. We have made a commitment through NDNA, and as I did in the written ministerial statement earlier this year, to find a way to work through this, working with all parties and all communities in Northern Ireland, and we are still determined to deliver on that.
I wish to make a statement about this House’s scrutiny of delegated powers during the pandemic, and on the selection of amendments to the motion relating to the Coronavirus Act 2020 later today.
The way in which the Government have exercised their powers to make secondary legislation during this crisis has been totally unsatisfactory. All too often, important statutory instruments have been published a matter of hours before they come into force, and some explanations of why important measures have come into effect before they can be laid before this House have been unconvincing; this shows a total disregard for the House.
The Government must make greater efforts to prepare measures more quickly, so that this House can debate and decide upon the most significant measures at the earliest possible point. The use of made affirmative statutory instruments under the urgency procedure gives rise to particular concern. I will give very sympathetic consideration to applications for urgent questions or emergency debates in such cases, requiring Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box to justify the use of such powers.
I hope that all hon. Members will have a chance to express their views through substantive amendable motions on scrutiny of delegated powers, or on the operation of the Coronavirus Act 2020, or both.
I turn now to the motion to be considered later today, which invites the House to make a narrow, binary choice as to whether the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should or should not expire. Unfortunately, as it is only a 90-minute debate as a proceeding under an Act under Standing Order No. 16, I cannot give additional time to discuss the issues. I am disappointed and I know some Members will be disappointed.
When I became Speaker, I made it clear that I would take decisions on matters relating to procedure guided by professional advice. I have concluded, on the basis of advice that I have received, that any amendment to the motion before the House risks giving rise to uncertainty about the decision the House has taken. This then risks decisions that are rightly the responsibility of Parliament ultimately being determined by the courts. Lack of clarity in such important matters risks undermining the rule of law. I have therefore decided not to select any of the amendments to the motion.
As I hope my earlier comments show, I have not taken this decision lightly. I am looking to the Government to remedy a situation I regard as completely unsatisfactory. I now look to the Government to rebuild the trust with this House and not treat it with the contempt that they have shown.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Prime Minister was asked—
I know the whole House will want to join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Sergeant Matt Ratana, who was tragically killed in Croydon on Friday. It is a reminder of the huge debt we owe to those who put their own lives at risk to keep us safe every day.
Tomorrow sees the start of Black History Month. For generations, countless people of African and Caribbean descent have been shaping our nation’s story, making a huge difference to our national and cultural life and helping to make Britain a better place to be. This is a fantastic moment to celebrate their contribution to our country.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
The events sector, which includes weddings, festivals, conferences and music events, supports nearly 1 million jobs and is worth more than £30 billion to the UK economy. It has been devastated by covid: revenue is down 90% since last year. Will the Prime Minister look at financial support, focusing on grants and not just loans, especially for freelancers, including musicians and performers? Will the Government support proactive, covid-secure testing events to boost confidence and start to allow the events industry to support itself?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to champion the sector in the way that he does. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund is clearly intended to support the organisations and freelancers he mentions. The vision he lays out, in which people can be tested before they go to events, is absolutely right, and I hope that when that day comes, the public will show their support for this vital sector by visiting theatres as they reopen.
May I join the Prime Minister in sending my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Matt Ratana? This was a truly appalling incident. I have to say that every time I contemplate the circumstances, I shudder, and I suspect I am speaking for a lot of people when I say that. It reminds us of the huge debt that we owe to all our police officers and of the risks that they take every day to keep us safe.
More than 16 million—around one in four—people are now living under local restrictions. In recent months, 48 areas in England have gone into local restrictions, but only one has ever come out and stayed out—Luton. Why does the Prime Minister think that is?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of local lockdown measures. I can tell him and the House that since I last updated the House, as he is absolutely right to say, there is now a serious and growing problem with the resurgence of the virus, which is why we brought forward the package of measures that we did last week. The reason for the success of Luton is that local people pulled together to depress the virus—to follow the guidance. That is the way forward for the entire country, that is what we did before, in March and April, and I have no doubt that that is what we are going to do again.
When local restrictions were introduced, the Prime Minister described them as a “whack-a-mole” strategy. That implies that at some stage the mole goes down and restrictions are lifted, but in fact, in some lockdown areas infection rates are still going up, and in towns such as Bradford, Bury and Oldham restrictions have now been in place for months. For many of those communities that are affected, things feel like they are getting worse, not better, so I ask a question on their behalf: what is the Prime Minister’s strategy for bringing these places out of restrictions so that people can see their families again?
Nobody wants to impose restrictions of this kind, whether in Bradford or anywhere else in the country. We work very closely with local authorities to ensure that we have the right mix in the approach that we adopt. Frankly, when we have the virus going up in the way that it now is in some parts of the country, we have to take strong local action. One important difference between the way the virus is behaving this time and how it behaved in the spring is that it does appear, at the moment, as though the illness is more localised. That is why we need direct local action of the kind that we are taking, in addition to the strong national measures that we announced last week, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman supported and whose effect we hope to see in the coming days and weeks.
One of the major problems, as we have seen in the last 24 hours, is widespread confusion about the local restrictions, and I do not just mean the Prime Minister not knowing his own rules. Having sat opposite the Prime Minister at PMQs every week, that did not come as a surprise to me. But let me quote to him the Conservative council leader in Bolton, who said that the Government’s handling of restrictions was “breeding resentment” and:
“It’s become too complex, too complicated…People feel very let down, they feel frustrated…very forgotten”.
If the Prime Minister does not understand the rules and his own council leaders are complaining about mixed messages, how does the Prime Minister expect the rest of the country to understand and follow the rules?
Actually, I think the people in this country do understand and overwhelmingly follow the rules, in spite of the Leader of the Opposition’s efforts continually to snipe from the sidelines and to undermine what we are trying to do.
On the restrictions in the north-east, I cleared that matter up as fast as I could: it is very clear that people should not mix indoors either at home or in a hospitality setting and should avoid socialising outdoors. We need to apply that in the north-east, because that is where the virus is spiking. I think people do understand why we are doing that; I think people get it. I think people want us to defeat this virus, and they want to see us doing it together. Sometimes the Leader of the Opposition backs the Government, sometimes he snipes from the sidelines. May I ask him to be a little bit consistent and show some support. Let’s hear him try to instil some confidence in the British people in the measures that he supports.
The idea that anybody who asks the Prime Minister a question at Prime Minister’s questions is undermining the Government effort is wearing a bit thin. We have openly supported the restrictions, but it is perfectly reasonable to ask why they are not working. I spoke to the leader of Newcastle City Council yesterday. He said the other big problem, apart from Government messaging, is the lack of economic support being provided to local communities under restrictions. Newcastle City Council indicates that by the end of the year 10,000 jobs in hospitality will have been lost. Many businesses are forced to stay closed. Prime Minister, but for these extraordinary restrictions, these are viable jobs. These businesses are doing the right thing. Why have the Government decided that these jobs are not worth saving?
As I have said repeatedly, we are putting our arms around the whole of the UK economy. We will do everything we can to save every job. I must say that I saw the Labour leader of Newcastle and I was rather surprised by his comments because, to the best of my knowledge, they were calling for the measures that we put in. The best way to protect our jobs and our economy is to continue to work together, to comply with the measures, to drive down the virus, to keep our children in education—which is an absolute priority for this country —and to keep the economy moving. That is what we want to do. That is the strategy; that is the approach that the Leader of the Opposition supported last week. He now both simultaneously attacks and does not attack the restrictions. Which is it? He has got to make up his mind. If he supports the Government’s policy—if he supports these restrictions—will he say so now?
I support the restrictions. I have done so every single time the Prime Minister has introduced them; he well knows that. Because of the restrictions, lots of people’s jobs—in Newcastle, it is 10,000 people’s jobs in hospitality—are at risk. I support the restrictions, but the question I asked the Prime Minister is: can the economic support go in for those who will lose their jobs? He did not answer that. There are 10,000 people who wanted an answer to that last question, because they are going to lose their jobs by Christmas. Prime Minister, you really should have answered it.
The reality is that the Chancellor has made a political choice to reduce economic support just when the new health restrictions are coming in. If the Prime Minister does not accept that from me, maybe he will listen to the following example from the Chancellor’s own constituency. This is a business owner. Prime Minister, you might want to listen to what he has to say:
“We own a wedding venue in Richmond, North Yorkshire”.
The Chancellor’s latest plan
“does nothing to help us…We cannot employ people to work events which the government are not allowing to take place. Our events team are therefore looking in the face of redundancy as we simply cannot afford to pay wages when events are in lockdown…The jobs are viable if only the Government would allow us to return to work.”
He goes on to say:
“My events team are talented and fantastic and it is an insult to suggest their jobs are not worth saving.”
This is not about supporting restrictions, Prime Minister; it is about what the Prime Minister has to say to those who are at risk of losing their jobs and businesses. What, on behalf of the Chancellor, does he say to that business owner?
Order. May I just say that it is very important to remind everybody that it is Prime Minister’s questions, not Opposition questions? Prime Minister.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker.
I think the answer is very clear. Last week, the Labour party supported the package—the winter economic plan—that the Chancellor put forward. I think most people, looking at the £190 billion that we have invested in supporting our people across this country, will recognise that. The furlough plan alone is far more generous than that of any other European country. I think most people around the world can see that the Government are putting their arms around the people of this country and helping them through it. We will help. I know that the wedding sector has had a particularly tough time, and of course I feel for the gentleman in Richmond in Yorkshire to whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers, who wants his business to go ahead, but the best way forward for him and for all other businesses in the country is for us all to pull together now, get the virus done, and keep the economy moving. In the meantime, yes of course this Government are able to supply the support that is needed, which by the way is only possible because we have had a prudent, sensible, one nation Conservative party in power over the past 10 years. The Labour party would have bankrupted the country.
It is refreshing to hear the Prime Minister try to dig the Chancellor out of a hole for a change, but I do not think that will wash. The Prime Minister just does not get it. The problem with his argument is this: these are viable jobs, Prime Minister, but for the restrictions. The vacancies for new jobs just do not exist and the training scheme the Prime Minister announced yesterday does not start until April. There is a gap here, and the Prime Minister should not be so tin-eared to those whose jobs are at risk.
Finally, tomorrow marks the start of Black History Month. As well as celebrating the huge contribution black people have made to the UK, we must reflect on the present, and the structural inequalities and discrimination that sadly persist. For example, black women in the UK are five times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth. That is truly shocking. Will the Prime Minister commit to addressing that and launch an urgent investigation into the issue?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that the Government have launched an urgent investigation into inequalities across the whole of society. We will certainly address them in a thoroughgoing way. I am amazed that he seems ignorant of that fact, absolutely amazed.
It is a quite extraordinary state of affairs. The right hon. and learned Gentleman’s general line of questioning is that one moment he is supporting the restrictions, the next moment he seems to be opposing them. One day the Opposition are theoretically marching side by side with the rest of us trying to defeat coronavirus, the next minute they are off in the undergrowth firing from the sidelines. I must repeat it: it was the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), the shadow Education Secretary, who really revealed what Labour is all about. She said that this was a “good crisis” that they intended to exploit. We see this as a moment for the nation to come together, and that is what we are doing. We are taking the tough decisions that will take this country forward: not just the lifetime skills guarantee, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was kind enough to mention, but the huge investments we are making in the NHS, in our policing, in affordable housing. This is the Government and this is the party who are taking the tough decisions to take this country forward, while, I am afraid, once again all they want to do is snipe from the sidelines.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that important matter, which I have raised several times myself with President Trump and others in the US Administration. We will continue to take a very robust line. It cannot be right that American consumers should continue to pay over the odds for Scotch, or that this discrimination should continue. We will fight it every step of the way.
May I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the murder of Sergeant Matt Ratana? It was a truly shocking incident. We should applaud the efforts of our police and all our emergency services, who do a wonderful job keeping the rest of us safe. Our thoughts are with Matt’s family, friends and colleagues. I also associate myself with the Leader of the Opposition’s remarks on Black History Month and the responsibility we all have to eradicate inequality.
Yesterday, the Scottish social attitudes survey revealed that just 15% of people trust the UK Government to work in Scotland’s interest. Last night, Scotland’s MPs voted overwhelmingly against the Tory power grab Bill, but the Prime Minister forced it through anyway, in the biggest attack on our Scottish Parliament in the history of devolution. If the Prime Minister cares to listen—it is not a difficult question—why does he think the people of Scotland have no trust in him or his Government?
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in what he says about the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. Perhaps the people of Scotland deserve to hear from him a clearer account of what it does. After all, the Bill, which I believe the Leader of the Opposition supports, actually devolves power back to Scotland—it gives power back to Scotland. Not only does it enable Scotland to take back control of its spectacular fisheries, but it opens up markets for Scottish agriculture around the world. I can tell the House that today is an historic day: after 23 years in which every successive Government have failed, this Government have managed to lift the ban on British beef in America. Scottish beef will be going to the United States, thanks to the efforts of the British Government. That is a fact of which the right hon. Gentleman might, with advantage, inform his electorate in Scotland.
I do not know what that was, but it certainly was not an answer to the question. After that performance, it is little wonder that trust in the Government is at 15% and falling. Here we go again—yapping, bumbling, mumbling, but no answer. Since he cannot answer a straight question, I will tell the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]
Order. I expected the Prime Minister to be heard; I certainly want to hear the leader of the Scottish National party.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. We are very used to Scottish voices being shouted down by Tories in this place. A Tory Government who casually and arrogantly break international law and break devolution have shattered any remaining trust in this broken Westminster system. Last night was a defining moment. If the attack on devolution fails to gain the consent of the devolved Parliaments in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, will the Prime Minister withdraw the legislation, or will he force it through against our wishes? Is not the Prime Minister demonstrating yet again that the only way to defend our Parliament and its powers is by Scotland becoming an independent country?
I think the right hon. Gentleman demonstrates once again that his ambition is simply to foment grievance where no grievance should exist. All the Bill does, in fact, is devolve power back from Brussels to Edinburgh; it gives powers back to Edinburgh, which he should welcome. More important than the powers is the fact that the people of this country are not really interested in wrangling between parties. What the Bill does is protect jobs, protect growth and protect trade in the United Kingdom. That is the most important thing and that is why he should support it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. He talks about noise and pollution from the M25, and the Government have a vision: we want to accelerate the introduction of electric, zero-emission and quieter vehicles in order to reduce not just pollution but noise. That is what we are going to do.
Diolch yn fawr, Lefarydd. From tomorrow, 2.3 million people in Wales will not be able to travel out of county without good reason, yet people from lockdown areas in England can still visit rural Wales. Travelling from Betws-y-Coed to Beddgelert could land someone with a fine, but Rochdale to Rhosneigr is no problem. I raised that with the Prime Minister last week. Leisure travel from lockdown areas has to stop. Will he make good on that today?
There are different measures in place, as we have discussed already this afternoon. Overall, the UK is proceeding with the same approach. I am very grateful to Mark Drakeford and everybody else in the Welsh Government for the way we are working together to defeat the virus. Yes, there will be some differences and some seeming illogicalities, but that is inevitable in tackling a pandemic. I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s co-operation.
As the Prime Minister, I totally support HS2 and the ambition of linking up our country better. As a local MP, I feel my hon. Friend’s pain and I understand exactly where he is coming from. I have been assured in my conversations with HS2 that it is having extensive engagement with the Wendover group. I know Wendover well, as he knows. I will ask the relevant Minister to make contact with him.
We are making sure that everybody in our society gets all the protections they need. I am aware of the easements in the Care Act 2014 that the hon. Lady refers to. It was necessary to put them in temporarily, and we now need to make sure we give everybody the protection that they need. That is what this Government will do.
I am hearing a lot of good stuff from the Government Benches about the clean, green future—the green industrial revolution that this country is embarked on. I am delighted that Tees Valley will be the UK’s first hydrogen transport hub, and I look forward to joining my hon. Friend there before too long.
I am a keen student of democratic principles, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, and I recall that there was a referendum in 2014 in which the people of Scotland—the people of our country—voted overwhelmingly, or by a substantial majority, to keep the Union. It was a once-in-a-generation event, as the then leaders of the Scottish National party acknowledged. I think they were right then, and we should stick with that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can tell her that we are going to ensure that we have a planning system that is fit for purpose and that allows us, for the first time in a generation, to give young people the chance of home ownership, which millions of people are currently shut out from. That is what we want to do, but we think we can do it in such a way as to avoid desecrating our beautiful countryside and our green belt. That is what we are going to do, and I hope very much that she supports it.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. There will of course be plenty of time to go over all the decisions that the Government have made—for which, as I have said repeatedly, I take full responsibility—but she is right to draw attention to the incidence in her constituency of 183 per 100,000. That is a serious increase. The position is not the emergency of March, but it is serious, and that is why I hope she will encourage her right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition to support more actively—or perhaps more consistently; I will put it that way—what the Government are doing. I hope she will also encourage her constituents to bear in mind that the best thing we can all do is to follow the guidance: hands, face, space; get a test if they have symptoms; and where local measures need to be in place, look at the website and follow that advice.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The UK can be incredibly proud of what we have done to resettle Syrian refugees. We have resettled more than 25,000 through safe and legal routes directly from conflict zones, and we will continue to meet our obligations to those fleeing persecution and war around the world.
We are doing everything we can to save every job in the country. That is why the Chancellor set out the winter economic plan and why we have the job retention bonus at the end of January. But, of course, things are tough. As the Chancellor has said, alas, we cannot save every job, but we have the kickstart funds, with £2 billion to support young people into work, plus we now have a lifetime skills guarantee to ensure that people can retrain for the jobs that are going to be created by this economy.
My hon. Friend is completely right in his support for the midlands engine. That is why we are investing another £200 million from the getting building fund in the midlands engine region. I will be happy to write to him in the next few days about what we are doing for levelling up in the midlands.
Last week, the Chancellor made the political choice to write off 1 million jobs as unviable. There are more than 1,000 jobs at risk in my constituency of Birkenhead, and 141,000 jobs at risk in the north-east. This would be unemployment on a scale even worse than under Thatcher. Why do the Prime Minister and the Chancellor think that it is a price worth paying?
That is completely to misrepresent what the Chancellor is trying to do. As I have just told the House, we have already put £190 billion into supporting livelihoods, people and families. We are going to continue to put our arms around the people of this country. The most important thing is to get the economy moving and get people into work, and, at the same time, to keep kids in school, but we can only do that if we suppress the virus in the way that the Government have set out, with the local lockdown measures that we have announced and the national measures that, I hope, are the subject of cross-party support.
Yes, indeed. I am assured that the closure to which my hon. Friend refers is only temporary, and I remind him that this is the Government who are putting in the record—the biggest ever—capital investment into the NHS, £34 billion, to say nothing of the investments we have made just in the last nine months.
And hopefully he can do Chorley at the same time.
In January, the Government were still pretending that there were only 5,000 rough sleepers across the whole country. During the lockdown, 15,000 rough sleepers were supported under the Everyone In programme. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the homelessness charities, councils and others who stepped up and provided accommodation in the crisis are funded for every single person they helped?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. One of the consolations of this crisis was that we were able to prevent so many rough sleepers from succumbing in the way that, alas, happened in other countries. That was a great effort by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the charities, working together. Of course, we will continue to do what we can to support those vital charities, to prevent rough sleeping and homelessness.
I thank my hon Friend, because that is a classic and fine example of the philanthropy and public spirit of the British people, which has been shown clearly throughout this crisis.
I know that the Prime Minister refused to recognise my figures last week, but my local housing provider, Stockport Homes, has a waiting list of more than 7,000 households. With Shelter saying that 200,000 renters are at risk of imminent covid eviction, will he reinstate the ban upon evictions to prevent an even bigger housing crisis in Stockport this winter?
We have changed the law to ask landlords to provide tenants with at least six months’ notice before eviction. We are not going to have evictions in lockdown areas, there will not be any enforcement of evictions over Christmas and we are putting £180 million into discretionary payments for local authorities to help hardship cases. We are also embarking on a huge programme to build hundreds of thousands more homes, particularly affordable homes, which I hope the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will want to buy and to part-buy.
I appreciate the temporary disappointment that my hon. Friend is experiencing, but this Government are immensely ambitious for the improvement of our transport infrastructure, and active consideration is now being undertaken of that project again. I understand that parliamentary colleagues are meeting Baroness Vere, the roads Minister, this week to discuss the options for additional schemes from 2025 onwards.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Professional and Amateur Sport: Government Support
(Urgent question): To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on Government support for professional and amateur sport.
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Her passion and dedication to the sporting sector are well known and appreciated, and on behalf of the whole House I wish her the very best for a speedy recovery and a swift return to this place.
Like my hon. Friend, the Government believe that sports clubs are the beating heart of their communities. Were we to lose them, we would lose so much more than sport. That is why, to help community clubs through this crisis, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funding body Sport England announced a £210 million emergency fund, and why earlier this year the Government stepped in to protect rugby league from the imminent threat of collapse. Both those interventions were on top of the multi-billion pound package of business support from the Treasury that enabled many of our sports clubs to survive.
We have also made sure every step of the way to try to enable as much grassroots sport as possible. Being active and healthy is essential in our national battle against the virus. Reinstating elite sport and, of course, grassroots sport in a covid-secure way was a major achievement, and I pay tribute to all those who made that possible. Behind-closed-doors matches have enabled vital broadcast revenue to flow into elite sport, as well as bringing joy to millions of fans. The Government ensured that Project Restart was shared with everyone by getting premier league football on the BBC for the first time ever.
However, I know that we all want our fans back in stadiums as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways. We trialled the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, but rising infection rates across the country meant that the Government had to act, and we could not proceed on 1 October as planned. We have to contain the virus, and, given the backdrop of rising infection rates, we had to press the pause button. I assure the House that we are working at speed, alongside the Treasury, with sports governing bodies and clubs across the country to understand what support they need as a result of the decision to postpone the 1 October return.
For football, we are asking the Premier League to support English Football League clubs—the higher end of the football pyramid. Yesterday, we also provided the national league with assurance that financial support from the Government will be forthcoming so that it can start this season this Saturday. We have asked for detailed financial returns from all major spectator sports to see what support they need. We expect those returns by the end of today, and any club in immediate financial distress should alert its sports governing body.
Sports clubs have proved themselves to be bedrocks of their communities during this pandemic, hosting test centres, looking after vulnerable people, organising food deliveries and so much more. Sports clubs have had our backs during this pandemic. We will have theirs in return.
We are all with you as well, Tracey. We are wishing you well.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank my hon. Friend for his response. I know that his officials are working their socks off behind the scenes, so I thank them for what they are doing, too.
The question relates to all professional sport, because there are fires raging around the whole sector and, to be honest, it has been difficult to see precisely where the support is coming from, but its urgency relates to the national league starting on Saturday. Therefore, the reassurances are welcome, but it is disappointing that there is no specific announcement as yet about what the league will receive or when. However, because it does appear to be coming, will the Minister confirm that the distribution formula will be based on lost gate receipts, and not simply on step? Can he give more details on plans to return fans to stadiums for football and other sports?
While we are talking about fans, can the Minister explain why a step 2 away fan cannot attend an FA cup game against a step 3 club this weekend, but a step 3 away fan can go to another step 3 club for the same type of game? Surely the more we can allow clubs to sustain themselves—[Inaudible]—then it is a bizarre decision—[Inaudible.]
One final question on football: while I appreciate that there is a general view that the Premier League should provide assistance to the EFL, the Premier League, with higher standards of governance, stricter financial controls and its own challenges, would, as would the taxpayer, be cautious about giving money to clubs with poor governance. Will the Minister therefore urgently bring forward the fan-led review of football governance, which may in turn give the Premier League greater confidence in bailing out clubs elsewhere in the pyramid?
Rugby league, rugby union, cricket and swimming are all in a perilous situation, losing millions of pounds in revenue, but so much more in the value that each sport brings to those engaged with it. What discussions has the Minister had with other sports about a support package for them? Given that many use their stadiums for conferences, meetings and dinners to raise revenue, what plans does he have to support the events industry, which is also within the Department’s remit, to return to operations?
Finally, it is always important to remember that professional sport is not the totality of sport, and that millions of people play sport and get active every week. Alongside supporting the professional sports that inspire others, will my hon. Friend ensure that adequate support is provided to keep the nation active in grassroots clubs and leisure centres across the country, at a time when it has never been needed more?
I thank my hon. Friend for that comprehensive list of questions; I shall try to address as many as I can. She is absolutely right that the Government support needs to go to those in most need. Therefore, the criteria—which, as she recognised and accepted, are being developed by a fantastic team at DCMS literally as we speak—will be based on those most in need and will absolutely be focused on gate receipts. The purpose of the financial support is to help those who are most impacted by the 1 October decision. Therefore, that will obviously drive the criteria.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right as well that this goes way beyond football. Immediately after the Prime Minister made his announcements last Tuesday, the Secretary of State and I had conversations with 12 of the major spectator sports, which will definitely be included. We are asking for information about where the most exposure is. Again, I cannot give the details today because—I am afraid this may be a recurring theme —we are working on them as I speak.
My hon. Friend raised many other issues, including the involvement of the Premier League. We have had constructive conversations with the Premier League and the EFL, which recognise their responsibility. They are at the top of the pyramid, and it is perfectly fair and reasonable that those with the broadest shoulders carry the biggest burden. They understand and accept that, and we are working on the details at the moment.
My hon. Friend also raised the important issue of grassroots sport, much of which can of course continue. We pressed pause on the plan to roll out elite sport, but we want to get back to it as soon as possible.
I hope the Minister will ensure that the House hears it first.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for tabling this urgent question. We miss her in this place, and I for one miss her by my side on the football pitch, playing for the parliamentary football team. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing this urgent question. In today’s Daily Telegraph, the chief executive of Chorley FC, Terry Robinson, says that he has to be careful about the future of his club. Nobody knows what matters to your constituents more than you, Mr Speaker, so it is no surprise that you have allowed this question. Sport matters, does it not?
Let me ask the Minister a few specific questions. First, on the principles that should guide us when getting sport through this very difficult situation, does he accept that the test, trace and isolate system needs to work? This issue is affecting every aspect of our life and stopping us getting on with the sport we love. What representations has he made to the Department of Health about the impact on sport?
Secondly, do we not need targeted support, rather than wasteful initiatives? Given the letter to the Prime Minister from 100 sporting organisations asking for help, what representations has the Minister made to the Treasury and to the Prime Minister asking them to prioritise targeting help to sport? Does he agree that our principle should be that no one should lose a much- loved sports club just because of this deadly virus? Will he stick to that principle?
Unfortunately, I do not think that the Minister answered the questions from the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford properly. She explained that non-league football is in a mess. It is hard to understand why supporters of different clubs in different steps are able to attend when others are not. Will the Minister explain that system to us, and tell us why the mess persists? We all want the fan-led review of football—it will give everyone confidence. Will he announce at the Dispatch Box today when that review will commence and who will lead it? At the grassroots, whether rugby, tennis or athletics, so many sports want to know what the plan is. Having unanswered questions hanging over them does not build sport’s confidence in this Government.
What is the plan for sport? Will the Minister explain how it will work? We need a plan that is coherent and easy to understand and that will provide financial stability over the year to come. The Minister says that the Department is working at speed but for months, all across the summer, it should have known that this situation might arise.
Other colleagues will have specific questions about different sports, but all sports are united in wanting to know: what is the plan? If the Minister wants the help of the official Opposition in creating that plan, we stand ready, but we just want to know that the Government will bring it forward now.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. We have a fair degree of overlap in the intent of what we want to achieve. We want to return as soon as possible to the plan as articulated for months, but I hope she recognises that we have to press the pause button at this moment. We will return to opening as soon as it is safe to do so, based on medical advice. I do not think that that is too difficult for our constituents to understand.
On the broad principles, I repeat: those with the broadest shoulders will be expected to carry the greatest burden, which means that where possible we expect them to contribute to the financial support for clubs lower down, particularly in football. On other innovations, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) will be aware that we have established the so-called STIG, the sports technology and innovation group, which is looking at some of the potential technologies to open sport perhaps sooner than having a vaccine. We will not pursue wasteful initiatives; we are very conscious of the need to ensure that public money is spent carefully. I assure her that we have conversations with the Treasury about those very topics.
On the issue of which sports can have fans in stadiums, the hon. Lady will be aware that the Football Association has produced guidance, and it updated some of that guidance only yesterday. The issue is to do with what is elite support and what is not elite—that can be taken broadly as a proxy for what is professional and what is non-professional. There is clear guidance there: non-elite sport can take place, and fans can go into those grounds, with restrictions of course—it is not an unlimited number. The guidance is for the governing bodies to produce, in this case the FA.
On the fan-led review—I am sorry that I forgot to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) earlier—yes, we wish to pursue it. It is a manifesto commitment and one of my top priorities. As soon as we are able to pursue it—we have had conversations before about this—we will do so. Unfortunately, events have got in the way.
The money for the national league, reported to be £20 million—I do not know whether that is correct, so some clarity would be helpful—and any funds that may flow to other sports are extremely welcome, in particular for my local club, Solihull Moors. Mr Speaker, I hope that the invitation is still there when mighty Chorley FC visits Solihull in happier times.
As with the earlier theatre and cultural support package, however, such funds feel like a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Does the Minister agree that a short, a medium and a long-term plan need to be in place, including a new target date to plan for getting crowds back, rapid testing, tax reliefs to help sports re-market themselves to local communities, and even guarantees for business interruption insurances?
As stated, we urgently need the fan-led review, which I believe should focus on the economics of football. This virus has exposed many fissures in our society, none more so than in our national game.
I thank my hon. Friend for his questions and the work that he and his Committee have done over the last few months. I always value his contributions, and my door is always open to suggestions and ideas for innovations in terms of tax and other issues. With regard to the bigger picture, I agree that we cannot divorce the issues of governance and finance in sport. When we get the review going, I look forward to having further conversations with him and his Committee, because the two are intimately and intricately linked.
It is great to hear from the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). We very much wish her well.
I have often spoken in this place about the power of sport. The truth is that many of our amateur and semi-professional sports clubs—be they football, rugby, shinty or anything else—play a crucial and binding role in their local community, but given the current situation, many of them are under threat. Many clubs, such as Renfrew football club in my constituency, rely heavily on match-day income to survive—particularly in Scotland when it comes to football, where significantly more people attend matches per capita than anywhere else in Europe.
In recent days, the highland league in Scotland joined the national league in announcing a postponement to the start of its season. I welcome the Minister’s comments regarding the national league. What steps is he taking to ensure that all English sport and sports clubs operating outwith the very top tiers are given the support they need to weather the covid storm, which would generate Barnett consequentials to enable the Scottish Government to do likewise? Given that sport is devolved, will he commit to further engagement with the Scottish Minister for Sport, Joe FitzPatrick, on this very important issue?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his focus on the power of sport; I agree completely with him about that. He is correct that sport is a devolved matter, but we work closely with the devolved Administrations. I believe I am meeting my counterpart this Thursday to discuss some of those issues. As I said, we are working on the details of the package of support. If it is a package where there are Barnett consequentials, there will be Barnett consequentials, but it depends on the package, and I am afraid I cannot give him any more details at the moment.
I agree totally with the Minister’s assessment of the role that sport plays in this country. He will be aware that the Henley regatta was cancelled in July. Will he assure me that he is doing all he can to ensure that that and other iconic events will take place next year?
Rowing is also a very important sport in my constituency, with lots of raving fans. My hon. Friend is right: these iconic events do so much for the local constituency and have a knock-on impact on tourism and so many other sectors that we want to get going. As I say, we want to open these sectors as soon as it is feasible to do so, working with local authorities, which are taking their responsibilities very seriously. We will endeavour to get the Henley regatta and other sporting events going as soon as it is safe to do so.
I compliment the Government on the work that has been done regarding football coverage on the BBC. What discussions has the Minister had with broadcasting companies about extending that coverage into the weeks and, sadly, possibly months ahead for fans who are unable to attend matches but would wish to do so?
The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the importance of sport. Of course, we want as many people as possible to see sports in the absence of going to stadiums. We have had success in the past—for example, having the premier league on the BBC for the first time—and we continue to have conversations with the broadcasters. There is a balance to be struck, but those conversations continue, and we appreciate his input.
It has been a difficult time for sports clubs across my constituency, but two individuals have provided a spot of light. Charles Walker, who is 62, ran 28 half-marathons, and Lincoln Callaghan, who is five, cycled 100 km—in stages, I should add—to raise money for Didcot Town football club. They raised several thousand pounds. That is obviously not a substitute for the club’s income, but it is a welcome lifeline. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating them and encouraging others who are thinking about raising money for a good cause to remember their community clubs?
I am absolutely delighted to congratulate and applaud Charles Walker and Lincoln Callaghan for those efforts. What better example could there be of sport’s pivotal role in the community and the power of sport? They have set fantastic examples and will give hope and inspiration to many more.
Events at last week’s Hull City match at West Ham were another illustration of how the chaotic handling of covid is adding to the problems faced by our major national sports and local sports clubs. In the north, football league and rugby league clubs are an essential part of our communities and significant employers, and they are currently seriously worried about their futures. What more can the Minister tell us about the fan-led review of football that was promised at the election? Will he pay attention to the needs of rugby league clubs, which rely so heavily on gate money?
The hon. Lady raises the vital importance of the money that comes through the gate, which is pivotal to the survival of so many sports. Of course, we did provide a financial support package for the Rugby Football League earlier in the year, but I am aware that it faces ongoing consequences and ongoing struggles. I assure the hon. Lady that we will work as soon as possible with the review, and all the factors that she brought up will be under consideration.
Redcar racecourse is one of just 60 racecourses in the UK and is a huge contributor to Redcar and Cleveland’s local economy. With no paying crowd since March and no further hope of one for the next six months, what support have the Government made available thus far? Will the Minister consider using this time to reform the horserace betting levy to include international racecourses, and keep British racing world-class?
My hon. Friend and I have had many conversations about sports, and specifically racing, over the past few months, and I am sure we will continue to do so. I appreciate his input. I should make sure he is aware that we are in conversations with the British Horseracing Authority; we are aware that it has made many suggestions and they are all under consideration.
I am fortunate to have several brilliant local sports clubs, among which are Blantyre Victoria, Cambuslang Rangers, Rutherglen Glencairn, Rutherglen Girls FC, Rutherglen lawn tennis club and Blantyre soccer academy. They play a vital role in keeping my constituency fit, active and healthy. Will the Minister commit to supporting not only large, commercial sports clubs and organisations but the small community clubs that are so important for local health?
I think the hon. Lady wins the award for name-checking clubs—that was fantastic. She showcases the length and breadth of the importance of sport in our community. I assure her that the intent is to make sure that we cover the long tail to the extent that we can. As I have said repeatedly, we expect those at the higher ends to do what they can support themselves.
Aficionados of pub quizzes will know that my local team, Grimsby Town, always plays away in Cleethorpes, where the ground, Blundell Park, seats around 8,000 people. When spectators are allowed into grounds again, I urge the Minister to consider whether a temporary lifting of the restrictions on the unused former terraces, allowing a few extra standing spectators, might boost the income of league two clubs such as Grimsby.
My hon. Friend makes some valid points about being practical and sensible as we reopen. Those are exactly the kinds of conversations that we will be having, and I am sure he will be having, with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and others when it comes to opening up. I thank him for his ideas.
The Government’s chaotic handling of the pandemic has had major consequences for sports clubs, with some already having been wound up. Clubs such as Slough, which has been in existence for more than 100 years, are much more than a football club; they are a community—a family—providing entertainment, social interaction and community cohesion and supporting people’s mental and physical wellbeing. Despite some last-minute support announced last night, there is still no clear Government plan to enable fans to return, to some extent, to sporting events. That will no doubt bring even more to the brink of collapse. What is the Government plan?
The hon. Gentleman has articulated the pivotal role of sport in our community and its importance to both physical and mental wellbeing. As I said earlier, we hope to get back to the plan that we already have: we did not get to stage 5, although we went through so many other stages. This is a pause; we want to open as soon as it is safe to do so, but not before. We are working on other initiatives—I have mentioned the STIG initiative and others—to see whether other innovations can help to open up sport.
It has been extremely heartening for both fans and participants to see the return of sports such as cricket, rugby, football and other fixtures across Basildon and Thurrock. Therefore, although we must always be mindful of the rate of covid-19 infection, can my hon. Friend update the House on what plans there are to ensure that these activities, whether viewed by fans or not, continue, despite the risk of covid-19?
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out that, although we have a strong focus on football today, there are so many other sports. The governing bodies have done a fantastic job, working with the Government and health advisers, to come up with amazingly forensic guidance in order to ensure that we can conduct sport at grassroots level safely. I encourage everybody to play their part and abide by that guidance, and then we will be able to continue participating with sport to the greatest extent possible at both elite and non-elite levels.
Community ownership of sports clubs comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be a lifeline for a local sports club to have fans who have not only a financial stake, but a say in how the club is run. When we were campaigning in Islwyn to save Pontllanfraith Leisure Centre, it was particularly helpful to have that community ownership element as an option for people to take over the running of the leisure centre. I hope the Minister will look at ways of expanding that scheme. Community ownership can go wider—I am thinking here of football. Has the Minister thought of more innovative ways of raising finance by creating some sort of community trust in which we ask the top earning 100 footballers in this country—some are earning £350,000 to £500,000 a week—to donate just one week’s wages to a trust, which can then be distributed among those struggling clubs to ensure that communities can still enjoy their football?
Both now and in the future, I encourage all stakeholders in sports to do the right thing and play their part. The hon. Gentleman makes some good points about voluntary donations, as well as what we will be requiring and expecting from sport at various levels. He also highlights some innovative models and business models, which, again, I think should be looked at very carefully indeed. He raises the issue of leisure centres, and we are in discussions with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Treasury. He is right that they are vital to our communities, but we are well aware that not all of them are open yet.
Although it is positive to see the return of fans to grassroots and non-league football, the ongoing battle against the coronavirus has meant that a return to live audiences for elite sport has regrettably not been possible. So although I was fortunate enough to join Radcliffe for their first home game of the season—the results were not to my liking—we do need to think about the wider sport. Can my hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to work with the sector to get families back as soon as it is safe to support not only our clubs, but our communities?
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. We have had many conversations about sport, so I know that he is a fantastic champion for sport in his constituency and more broadly across the country. Indeed, we will work together—with him and others—to ensure that we move as fast as possible on reopening sport. I also understand his point about there being winners and losers in sport. I was not Mr Popular in Norwich when I visited earlier this year.
I thank the Minister for his assurances. Can he confirm what amount will filter through to the smaller clubs, specifically to the youth teams, especially bearing in mind the phenomenal 5-2 victory of Leicester City over Man City, which starred Northern Ireland-born Jonny Evans and Jamie Vardy? Both started out in small teams; Jonny Evans started at Greenisland. My own team is Ballywalter Rec, where young boys and girls aspire to play football in the premier league. Will the Minister say whether that money will be designated for small local clubs to give them a chance?
The hon. Member makes an absolutely pivotal point that, particularly in football, there is a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is absolutely reliant on the lower parts of that pyramid. I have to say that the Premier League does understand that. It gets that responsibility, and recognises that people flow through the lower leagues and then rise up, and it wants to help out, and that is its obligation. Therefore, as I have said, we are looking for the Premier League to play its part, particularly with the EFL, and then the Government money will be focused on those that are desperately in need.
I start by congratulating Durham Women FC on its new ground at Maiden Castle. Although Project Restart allowed men’s football to return, women’s football was forgotten about, with the top tiers of the game unable to finish their seasons. Will the Minister assure me that, if coronavirus restrictions increase, the Government will provide the necessary support to women’s football to allow its seasons to continue in line with the men’s game?
The hon. Lady shares my passion for women’s sport. I have had many conversations, not only in football but in other sports, to say that I expect and require women’s sport to get the priority that it deserves. I will continue those conversations, and certainly, if public money is being distributed, I expect women’s sport to get its fair share.
Contrary to popular belief, horse racing is not a wealthy sport, and redundancies were announced just yesterday. Racecourses rely on paying spectators coming in for almost 50% of their income. It is the second most popular spectator sport in the country, so it either needs a return of paying spectators or it needs help from the Treasury. I know that the Minister has already been working on this, but will he take it up with renewed vigour because the situation is becoming very serious?
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is a huge supporter and advocate of racing, and I completely understand his concerns. I can give him the assurance that we are talking to the British Horseracing Authority and others, and we will do what we can to support the racing sector as well.
May I use this opportunity to issue another plea on behalf of UK ice hockey? As the Minister knows, the professional season has already been cancelled, as have all the leagues right down to grassroots for juniors. The latest restrictions on indoor sports put local clubs such as Nottingham City Cyclones at risk of shutting down. Not only would that be devastating news for its members, but it would add to the financial pressures on the National Ice Centre. What is he doing to save ice hockey? It is the UK’s most watched indoor sport and it matters to thousands of spectators and participants, not just in Nottingham but across the country.
I assure the hon. Lady that the DCMS team and I are engaging with many sports across the board—we liaise with more than 100 sports governing bodies. We do not exclude anybody. We are having the dialogue. She points out the particular challenges where indoor restrictions have come into place. I assure her that we understand the issues and concerns, and we will do what we can.
As we have no stacking, we are going straight to Bob Blackman.
Thank you, ground control.
In March, Wealdstone football club celebrated being promoted to the national league. The team currently play in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s constituency. As part of their promotion, they were required to improve their ground, and they spent more than £100,000 on providing capacity for up to 4,000 people. They are totally dependent on gate receipts and money taken at the bar and other refreshment facilities. On Saturday, they play their first game and, as a result, that initiates the contracts to pay the players for the entire season. Given that they have no income and they have spent all that money, will my hon. Friend ensure that any money that is given to the national league recognises the clubs that have paid out for ground improvements and have a surety that they can pay their players during the entire season?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He makes a detailed but perfectly fair and reasonable point. As I said, because we are currently working on the details, I am unable to give him the assurance that he is looking for, but these were exactly the kinds of factors that we were looking at when we made the request for information to the sports entities.
I am very lucky to count Celtic Park in my constituency, and its 60,000-seater stadium. I commend to the Minister the report from the Fraser of Allander Institute about the economic contribution of Celtic football club, and implore him, when he is having conversations with the Treasury, to be mindful of the fact that this is about not just sport but the impact on the local hospitality sector. When he is having those discussions with the Treasury about financial support, I ask that there is a real focus on the local economy, as well as the club itself.
The hon. Member makes an important point about the multiplier effect—the broader economic impact of sport on its local communities. We are all sport fans here, but it is also a major contributor to an economy that employs tens of thousands of people and contributes a huge amount to the Treasury every year in tax generation. He is making a perfectly valid point, and those are exactly the considerations that we are looking at now.
People of all ages play sport, and they often do so at a leisure centre. We know from covid-19 that it is important that people keep fit and keep well, because those who are not well and fit are at much greater risk of this dreadful disease. The truth is that St Ives leisure centre still has not opened—although we believe that we have now got it opened. Will the Minister meet me and work out how we can keep these vital leisure centres open so that people of all ages continue enjoying each other’s company, keep fit, keep well and contribute to the local community in that way?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and enjoyed visiting his constituency earlier this year. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss this issue further, and, as I said in response to an earlier question, we are aware of the issues with leisure centres, talking to the MHCLG and others. We want as many of them to open as possible. They play a pivotal role in the mental and physical health of our constituents.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Barrow AFC on its recent return to the football league? With no clear path for spectators to return to sporting events, however, the financial pressure on local clubs is huge, so can he reassure my constituents, many of whom support other fine Lancashire football teams, that no club will cease to exist because of coronavirus?
Of course I join the hon. Lady in her congratulations. In terms of the support package, we want to help absolutely as many clubs as we can. As I have said, our focus is on those that have particularly suffered from the 1 October cancellation and the inability to get fans into stadiums. There is a whole host of other global financial issues and considerations for football; our focus at present is on the return of fans and the issues the delay to that has caused, but the hon. Lady raises the point that many other clubs across the country are struggling for a whole variety of other reasons as well.
I would like to associate myself with the remarks about Wealdstone FC from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman); it has many fans in my constituency also. Does my hon. Friend the Minister share my disappointment at the lack of leadership shown by the Mayor of London in getting Londoners back to sport—in particular, football—and does he welcome the efforts by many community organisations and local authorities in ensuring that sport, especially children’s sport, is being reopened, so people have the best opportunities to access that as we recover from covid?
My hon. Friend raises a couple of important points. First, on children’s sport, I agree absolutely, and I had a good conversation with the Education Minister with responsibility for school sport the other day. We are absolutely committed to get school sport up and running, and leisure centres and grassroots sport play a vital role in getting our children active, so I agree exactly with his comments on that. Also, when people are not showing that they are sports fans, I, like him, am disappointed in their comments.
I share the concern that non-league clubs—major community assets such as Harrow Borough, Rayners Lane and, indeed, Wealdstone football club—will face a very difficult financial future without urgent financial support. The financial vulnerability of all but elite clubs underlines the need for wholesale reform of football financing, so is it not now time to impose a levy on the TV rights income premiership clubs receive, to support long-term investment in sport in all our communities?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and as I said earlier, we will be conducting the grassroots review of sports governance, and that will include some financial considerations.
The iconic Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on Portland in my constituency is being adversely affected by this pandemic, as are all other sporting venues. Its rateable value is so high that it does not get Government grants. Even with the discretionary rate relief, which brings it within the threshold, the Government criteria mean it still cannot get this desperately needed money. Will my hon. Friend look at this case as a matter of priority?
As is clear from the name, the discretionary funds were, of course, largely discretionary, and I am aware that there were some anomalies, with some areas of the country being awarded in certain circumstances while others were not, but I will follow up with my hon. Friend the particular point he raises.
Liverpool has a very proud history of producing champion boxers, and Liverpool, Riverside has some notable boxing clubs, including Salisbury, Rotunda, Marybone, Golden Gloves and the Belve, providing exceptional support to constituents in some of the most deprived wards in the country, improving physical and mental health, confidence and self-esteem. The Prime Minister has championed the benefits of an active lifestyle, so when will the Government move from rhetoric to reality and provide some funding to support this sector?
I actually met the all-party parliamentary group for boxing this morning. The hon. Lady makes an important point about boxing in terms of social mobility and the importance of inspiring physical and mental wellbeing. I am happy to continue these conversations with her.
Forestry England has just launched a public consultation on recreational access to its land. Does my hon. Friend agree that British motor sports have a proud history in our forests and that continued access is fundamental to our world-leading £10 billion motor sports industry?
My hon. Friend makes a range of points. Absolutely, we have to think very creatively about where our sports and recreational facilities where we can be active are—they are not always in the areas or owned by the people we expect. I am glad that such stakeholders take their responsibilities seriously, and I encourage them to open up as much as possible.
With no clear path from the Government for spectators to return to sporting events safely, the financial pressure on football, including my local team and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury)—Brentford football club—is huge. Detailed plans were in place, with the local safety advisory groups and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority having worked together to bring reduced numbers of fans back safely, but now Brentford’s new stadium sits empty. How much and how quickly are the Government working with experts on safe spectator return, and when will the Minister bring forward an update? Fans will feel that he is penalising responsible football when football can contribute so much to the wellbeing of our nation.
I join the hon. Lady in thanking the SAGs and the SGSA for the work that they do. They have done immense work before and during coronavirus, and they will do so afterwards. They play a vital role in ensuring the safety of grounds; they will continue to do so; and we will continue to work with them.
I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome words of support for the sector, and I echo the words of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). Barrow AFC was promoted into the football league after 48 years away. It should be on the up and celebrating, but instead it is facing a loss of three quarters of a million pounds this year. That would be worse if it were not for the supporters who have stuck by it and bought season tickets. We need to remember that these clubs are not just about 90 minutes of football—they are about the employees and the work they do in the community. When my hon. Friend looks at support for this sector, can he confirm that it will not just be about keeping these clubs on life support, but about supporting the work they are doing in our communities, too?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. I join him in thanking those who have bought season tickets, showing their commitment, both in the short and the long term, to their clubs. We applaud what they have done and thank them for that commitment. In terms of short-term and long-term support, that is exactly what we are looking at through immediate financial support but also with the review of governance.
If I have not yet, I will be purchasing a season ticket for Maryhill FC. Partick Thistle, my constituency next-door neighbour, has, through its charitable wings, helped to provide over 25,000 free meals to some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of the local community. Does the Minister recognise that any support the UK Government can provide consequential to the Scottish Government’s investment in sport does not just help the sport and fans, but, in many cases, leads to inclusion and help across the wider communities that these clubs are part of?
I applaud the hon. Gentleman in recognising, acknowledging and thanking all the clubs for the amazing community work that they have done. We have seen them at their best during coronavirus, but for decades—over 100 years in some cases—they have played a pivotal role in their communities through charitable efforts and so on. As I said, we are working on the details of the support package. Until we get those details sorted out, I cannot comment further on Barnett consequentials.
Across my constituency, we are blessed with many fantastic sports clubs that all contribute massively to our wider community wellbeing. Thinking about rugby, we have Keighley and Ilkley rugby union clubs, as well as Keighley Albion, and not forgetting the mighty Keighley Cougars. They all need help because their income streams are desperately strained, as they predominantly rely on ticket sales, bar income and the rental of facilities, which are not happening. What additional support can my hon. Friend provide?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Again, I know he is a huge sports fan; we have spoken many times. It is very important that the clubs look at the existing support measures to make sure they take full advantage of them. Obviously, there is the furloughing scheme and other measures, such as loans and other aspects—for example, some clubs are able to take advantage of the VAT reduction aspect of hospitality and leisure offerings. I would say that all clubs should please take full advantage of the full suite out there, and of course we are developing an additional package now.
I am all for common-sense measures to restrict the transmission of coronavirus in sporting activities, including among the young, but is the Minister as perplexed as I am by the decision of the Welsh Rugby Union to say that junior, youth and mini teams will not be training at all at the moment? This is purely bonkers. It is somebody’s decision, and in the back of their heads they have decided that they have to dot every i and cross every t. Would it not make far more sense to have all the kids in Tylorstown, Ferndale, Maerdy, Pen-y-Graig, Treorchy and Treherbert playing sport, because that is good for them—and it is outdoors, for heaven’s sake?
I certainly agree with the principle the hon. Member has articulated: if sport is allowed and we are confident it can be done safely, please make sure it goes ahead. However, it is up to individual governing bodies to give specific guidance and recommendations. We do of course work with them, at the DCMS and elsewhere, on that guidance. I would applaud any sports entity or body that, if it is confident it can do so safely, goes ahead. We need those activity levels up.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for securing this urgent question. She is truly a doughty supporter of all sports, professional and amateur.
The Minister perhaps is not as aware of Leek Town as he should be, but it is a fantastic local community club, run by volunteers and the community, and it really does deliver for the community. We have youth teams, juniors, lots of girls and a great women’s first team, as well as the men’s first team; they did not perform as well as we would have liked yesterday, but they are still doing very well. Thanks to support from Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and the Football Foundation, Leek Town has managed to keep its head above water and, as a step 4 club, it is able to welcome up to 400 spectators, but it does need to start to do other things, such as expanding the hospitality offer, and it would like to be able slowly to introduce more fans into the stadium, which has plenty of space. Will my hon. Friend make sure, when looking at increasing the number of fans and looser hospitality, that we do not have a one-size-fits-all formula, but instead use the common sense that is right for each club?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. Indeed, I know from her previous work in the Department that she is a huge champion of this sector, and obviously locally as well. We will of course work with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and, indeed, the governing bodies of sport—in this case, the FA and other football authorities—to make sure that when we can increase the numbers, we do exactly that, because of the pivotal role of ticket sales in revenues for clubs. She makes the point that other revenue sources are available, and I encourage them to pursue them to the greatest extent possible.
Carshalton and Wallington is also home to some excellent local sports teams—including Mitcham and Carshalton rugby club, which is co-hosting its ground with the fabulous South London Stags at the moment, and Carshalton Athletic football club—some of which I have had the pleasure of visiting in the last few months. Community sport is so important not just for the physical but for the mental health of players and, indeed, of fans. Can the Minister assure me that we will do all we can to keep these local clubs going to ensure that we are looking after these people’s mental and physical health during covid?
My hon. Friend makes the really important point that sport is so much more than a game. The game bit is really important—we all love it—but it contributes directly and indirectly to the mental- health wellbeing and indeed physical wellbeing, as well as the financial wellbeing, of so many people. That is precisely why we recognise its importance today with the plans to provide additional financial support.
I attended Warwick racecourse more or less a week ago, and I was really impressed by the safeguards it has put in place. Some 500 racegoers attended, and it could easily have accommodated 1,500 to 2,000 very safely. However, the point I want to come on to is about general sport, but also about football, which affects so many communities. The Leamington Football Club supporters trust—Brakes Trust, as it is known—wrote to me at the beginning of the week and highlighted the support it needs. The Government have announced such support, and it is welcome, but can the Minister explain how much Leamington FC will get and when it will get it?
The hon. Member is correct to highlight the importance of the successful pilots, which proved that sports grounds and racecourses take their responsibilities incredibly seriously. They did a great job of making sure that hygiene, social distancing measures and so on were in place. However, given the backdrop of rising infections, we could not move forward at this stage. Unfortunately, we are unable to do so. Again, I am afraid I cannot give him details, because we are working on the details of the package as we speak.