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Topical Questions

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 10 December 2020

We continue to protect our sectors through the covid crisis. In the past month alone, we have announced a £300 million winter survival package for sports clubs, seen a £250 million deal between the English Football League and the Premier League and announced £100 million in emergency funding for leisure centres. At the same time, we continue to deliver on our non-covid priorities, for example, the Telecommunications (Security) Bill and telecoms diversification strategy, the review of the Gambling Act 2005, the response to the Competition and Markets Authority and, of course, plans for Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Britannia has just been voted the UK’s worst hotel chain for the 8th year in a row. This is doing untold damage to resort constituencies such as mine in Southport, which have Britannia Hotels and Pontins campsites. What does my right hon. Friend have to say about this truly appalling record?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise concerns about the management and cleanliness practices of sites owned by Britannia Hotels, and he has also raised them with me privately. I know that in November the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) met them, and he was again in contact with them yesterday to raise those concerns. Of course, local authorities have appropriate powers to deal with this, but it is something I am taking a very close interest in.

This week, we learnt that a former Conservative DCMS Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, had to promise to be positive towards Mark Zuckerberg and his monopolistic company before Mr Zuckerberg would even agree to meet him in 2018. Has the current Secretary of State adopted the same approach in his meetings with Facebook executives during his tenure?

I do not know what information the hon. Lady has been reading; if she is referring to the information released in the freedom of information request, that was certainly not how I read it. We have been taking a robust approach to social media companies. I have already met with Nick Clegg and Sheryl Sandberg about encryption, with the Home Secretary, and we continue to develop robust proposals for online harms, which we will announce very shortly.

I am pleased to hear that we will finally get the much-delayed online harms Bill to ensure that the regulator has the strength to tackle online child abuse comprehensively and ensure trust and transparency from online platforms—including, of course, Facebook; Instagram, which is owned by Facebook; and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook—as standard, as the Secretary of State has promised. However, we have heard this week that the Bill has been watered down and will not include criminal penalties for senior tech executives after multiple breaches. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will not put his relationship with powerful tech companies ahead of the safety of children and that criminal penalties will be included in the Bill?

I gently advise the hon. Lady that as much as I respect our newspapers and have done a great deal to support them, she should not believe everything that she reads in newspapers; wait to see the response. There is talk of things being watered down but people should wait and see what is in the Bill. I am confident that we will have a robust and effective regime that achieves two outcomes: first, we will ensure that people are safe online, and secondly, the legislation will at the same time be proportionate to ensure that we have a vibrant tech sector in this country.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me about the importance of appropriate training, education and professional practices across the performing arts, which will be championed by the new all-party parliamentary group on performing arts, education and training, which I hope to chair, starting early in the new year? (910069)

I do not want to interfere in the election of the chairman of that APPG, but my hon. Friend will make an excellent candidate for that position. We of course remain committed to ensuring that all children and young people have a broad and balanced curriculum, of which creative education is a key part. We will work with the Department for Education and other valued education partners to deliver high-quality education and training across all disciplines in the arts.

Scotland is making good progress in tackling alcohol abuse, but exposure to alcohol marketing makes children more likely to drink at a younger age and to consume more. Advertising is reserved to Westminster. As the Government have rightly announced a consultation on the total restriction of the online advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, will the Secretary of State do likewise for alcohol? The harm is just as great. (910065)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue. We have opened the consultation on products high in fat, salt and sugar and continue to keep all advertising restrictions under review. It is vital that the drinks industry does not undertake advertising that in any way encourages young people to drink or people to engage in excessive drinking.

I am sure you will not mind, Mr Speaker, if I put on record my thanks for the support that the Government have given to rugby league clubs across the north of England, including my local team Warrington Wolves. Will my right hon. Friend look into what support the Government can provide in terms of insurance and indemnity so that planning can continue for the rugby league world cup, which is due to take place across the north of England next year? There are of course concerns because of covid and the risk that such an important tournament might not be able to take place. Will he look carefully at what support the Government can give? (910070)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. I should mention again, for your benefit, Mr Speaker, that not only did we provide £16 million of support to protect rugby league earlier this year, but we announced a further £12 million last month. The Halliwell Jones stadium in my hon. Friend’s constituency will be a terrific host of the rugby league world cup next year—

Just outside—very close to his constituency. [Laughter.] I stand corrected, Mr Speaker. I assure you that it is an excellent stadium wherever in the United Kingdom it is located. We are very much looking forward to the rugby league world cup as the main event of 2021 and we are of course working very closely indeed with those involved. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the risks around covid; I very much hope that by that point we will be able to have the full return of fans to stadiums, but we will of course ensure that contingencies are in place.

Finally, I should say how grateful I am to Ralph Rimmer at the Rugby Football League and the rugby league world cup team for all their excellent efforts.

The Secretary of State will know that millions of people—both children and adults—with speech and language difficulties have had a very difficult time in the pandemic through lack of physical and digital support. Will he meet me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on speech and language difficulties, and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists to discuss how to improve digital support for those with speech and language difficulties at this very difficult time? (910066)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of digital exclusion across the board. My Department is working closely to address that, and of course I would be very happy for either me or one of my ministerial colleagues to meet him and that group to discuss those ideas further.

My local newspaper, the Cornish Times, was concerned about planning changes, which could mean the loss in advertising revenue. What long-term Government revenue streams can local papers take advantage of so as to secure their future? (910072)

We are very committed to ensuring that we have vibrant local newspapers. They are a cornerstone of our democracy. We have already extended business rates relief on local newspaper offices, fast-tracked zero-rating of VAT on e-publications and will continue to explore further options for support. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the important role of statutory notices and the role that they play in newspapers’ revenue and we are working closely to ensure that we protect that.