The Secretary of State was asked—
Creative Industries: Highly Skilled Workers
We recognise the crucial role of high-skilled workers in making our creative industries world leading. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund provides targeted support to critical cultural arts and heritage organisations during the pandemic and the £500 million film and TV production restart scheme has supported 4,500 jobs in the screen sectors to date.
SSE Audio employed 196 people in the supply chain of the events industry until March; 75 of those have already been made redundant. Last year it paid £2.45 million to freelancers as well. Its freelancers are among the excluded group who have had no financial support, the business did not qualify for the cultural recovery fund, 99% of which has gone to venues, not suppliers, and unless the furlough scheme is extended in January it will have to make the rest of its workforce redundant. Is it not the case that suppliers such as SEE Audio and its freelancers are essential to the recovery of this brilliant sector of our economy?
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about all the amazing parts of the industry that support our creative and cultural venues up and down the country. Of course this Government have just put in an incredible amount of unprecedented business support right across every sector—over £100 billion for the furloughing scheme, the self-employed income support scheme, grants, loans, VAT deferrals—and for freelancers we know the best thing we can do is get our sectors back up and running. That is what the culture recovery fund is all about.
Today, research from the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre has shown that in the last six months there have been 55,000 job losses in music and the performing and visual arts—all that talent, dedication and diversity of voices lost. Our creative workers are desperate to get back to doing what they do best, and we know the simplest way to get money to freelancers is to make shows, but to do that producers need a safety net. Germany has just announced an indemnity fund so event organisers can plan for the second half of 2021 without the financial risk posed by a potential covid outbreak. Industry predictions suggest a three-month indemnity here could get the sector back on its feet. I know that the Minister is receptive to this idea, so can she explain what is holding things up? Has the Chancellor again said no?
The hon. Member is absolutely right to highlight that our creative industries are a fantastic success story. They contribute more than £112 billion to our economy, more than the automotive, aerospace and life sciences sectors combined, so we do need to do everything we can to help them. The next stage of the cultural recovery fund will be announced shortly—that is another £258 million—and we are looking very carefully at the German insurance model. It has only been announced this week so the details have not been made clear. We have to be sure that it really is the only obstacle to things being able to reopen, but we very happy to have those conversations with the Treasury.
We are carefully considering the extent to which current advertising regulation is fit to tackle the challenges posed by the modern world. Next year we will be launching a public consultation on the regulation of online advertising. We are also working on more specific areas, including high fat, salt and sugar advertising, and establishing a new pro-competition regime.
I thank the Minister for that detailed answer. Local journalism is funded on the whole by local advertising, be that in local newspapers or local radio, and the structural impact of the changes in our local economies and the move online is having a significant impact on the way that local independent news is produced. Can the Minister give us more details on the steps the Government are taking to protect local journalism, which is so important to maintaining local democracy?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for local media and newspapers in his area. We recognise the vital role publications like his own Warrington Guardian play in supporting communities but also in providing reliable information. We strongly welcome the recommendations in the Competition and Markets Authority report and the setting up of a digital markets unit within the CMA to ensure fairness in regulating digital platforms. The Minister for Media and Data meets very regularly with the sector to discuss all its ongoing concerns about this.
I do not know who your secret Santa is, Mr Speaker, but I do know the Minister’s: Google and Facebook. Only, they are not buying presents—just using our data, behaviour and social contacts to tell us what to buy through their domination of online advertising, while our local retailers, who pay significant taxes and employ so many people, lose out. Can the Minister confirm that the digital markets unit’s powers have yet to be defined and that powers in the long-delayed online harms Bill are being watered down? Will she promise now to stop tech companies selling on our data, and put us back in control of our digital lives and Santa back in charge of Christmas?
I sincerely hope they are not my secret Santa. Online advertising is clearly an important driver of the UK economy. The Government are really committed to supporting the continued growth of the industry, but it needs to be fairer and better regulated. So we will launch a public consultation next year on measures to enhance how online advertising is regulated in the UK. That will build on the call for evidence we launched this year, and we will consider options to enhance the regulation of advertising content and placement online. The hon. Member asks about the online harms response. It will be published very shortly and it will not be watered down—there is my secret Santa gift for her, Mr Speaker.
Gigabit Broadband Roll-out
The Government are absolutely committed to delivering nationwide gigabit broadband as soon as possible. That is why we are investing £5 billion to support roll-out in the hardest-to-reach areas of the country. We will go as fast as we can and the only thing that will hold us up is how fast we can get the fibre into the ground. We are engaging closely with industry to support its efforts by incentivising investment and removing barriers to roll-out.
I thank my hon. Friend for his positive answer. Now that Stoke-on-Trent has a complete city-wide full-fibre network offering gigabit speeds and capability, does he agree that Stoke-on-Trent would be the perfect test bed to show how, post Brexit, smaller UK cities can more than match up to similar-sized centres of digital innovation such as Eindhoven, Karlsruhe and Aalborg? Will he commit the Government to help make my Silicon Stoke vision a reality, as part of the levelling up commitments?
My hon. Friend misses no opportunity to promote Silicon Stoke. The Government are absolutely committed to using trials and test beds to support the kind of innovation he talks about. We are interested in new ideas as part of that levelling up commitment. I look forward to continuing our conversations with Stoke and maybe even visiting one day.
Mrs Sharp, who lives in Delyn in my constituency, has just had a quote for £131,638 to install full-fibre broadband for her and her 18 neighbours. That works out at about £7,000 per property. When I queried this with Openreach, it said, “Well, she lives in a rural community. Perhaps she could dig her own trenches to reduce the cost of the groundwork.” Given that levelling up should not only be for people in towns and cities and those who happen to own heavy machinery, can my hon. Friend look into this case and others like it to come up with a better answer for Mrs Sharp than “dig your own holes”?
There are communities that have successfully dug their own trenches, but it is obviously not right to suggest that that would be right for everybody. Ofcom is looking at the universal service obligation, one of the routes to getting broadband into rural areas, but there are other methods. I encourage my hon. Friend to ask his constituents to look at the voucher schemes, particularly those supported by the Welsh Government, and other technologies. But I am happy to look into this specific case, because obviously it is not likely that everyone owns enough heavy machinery to dig every trench.
Mobile Coverage in Rural Areas
The Government have agreed a £1 billion deal with mobile network operators to deliver the shared rural network. This landmark deal will deliver 95% coverage by the end of 2025. The exact deployment plans will be managed by operators and we look forward to seeing more details of those.
The unique geography of the Peak District means that we have some of the worst mobile phone coverage blackspots anywhere in the country. I welcome the introduction of the shared rural network, but can the Minister provide further information to the House on when my constituents might see some of the benefit of this? Would he agree to meet me, so we can discuss how we can roll out better phone coverage to the whole High Peak?
The shared rural network is already benefiting some parts of the country, but my hon. Friend is right that in areas such as High Peak it cannot come soon enough. I am very happy to meet him to discuss that, and I am very happy for him to join me in continuing to encourage operators to make their plans public as quickly as possible.
Will the Minister join me in praising the often unsung work of local councils in improving rural mobile connectivity, such as the digital officers of Wrexham and Denbighshire councils in Clwyd South, who bring together local solutions to complex mobile coverage problems?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, whether it is in Wrexham and Denbighshire or up and down the country, the work of local authorities has been absolutely essential in delivering the kind of bespoke solutions that work best for local communities. I am grateful to those in Wrexham and Denbighshire who have engaged closely with my Department’s barrier-busting taskforce to make sure that his constituents get the connectivity that they deserve.
Covid-19: Sporting Fixtures and Sport Facilities
Sports and physical activity are vital for our physical and mental health and an important weapon in the fight against coronavirus. That is why I made the return of grassroots sports an immediate priority after national restrictions ended. Since 2 December, I am pleased to say that grassroots clubs, sports facilities and gyms have opened across all tiers.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, my constituency of Lincoln is home to the mighty Imps—something that my constituents and I are very proud of. While the partial resumption of fan attendance is positive news, this does not end the concern that clubs and fans have. Will he confirm his plans to see a full return of fans, and what further financial support will be provided for those clubs, which have had a very difficult 2020? Finally, has snooker now be reclassed as entertainment and not sport?
I know that my hon. Friend is not impish in his devotion to Lincoln City, and it is good to see them doing so well this season. First, I am pleased about the deal that has been reached between the Premier League and the English Football League for £250 million, which I am confident will secure the game through to the end of the season. Of course, we want it to reopen as rapidly as possible. The first important step for somewhere such as Lincolnshire is to get out of tier 3 into tier 2, and then into tier 1, and we will see more fans able to attend as we go through that process.
In relation to snooker, the professional game has returned, but some recreational snooker and leagues may not be happening in higher tiers due to the risk of spreading. We will keep this under review.
Blyth Valley is currently under tier 3 restrictions, with gyms and sports facilities open for individual exercise. Increased ventilation, enhanced cleaning of sports equipment and a constant supply of hand sanitiser are just some of the measures required to ensure that facilities can operate in a covid-19-secure way. The implementation of such measures is adding significant cost to an industry that has had a terrible year. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will engage with the industry and find a way to help it to remain open in a safe and covid-secure way?
Sport is of course a force for good in all our communities, and I made it a priority to open sports facilities and gyms in all tiers as part of this reopening. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the incredible efforts made by venues to ensure that this could happen. I know the difficult financial situation many of them find themselves in. We have already provided over £2 billion to sport, including, for example, the £300 million sport rescue fund, money for local leisure centres and support from Sport England, but of course I will continue to work with sports over the weeks and months ahead to support them.
Workington Reds are under the new chairmanship of David Bowden, and I would like to send him my best wishes for taking over at such a difficult time. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what support has been made available to clubs such as Workington Reds?
I of course join my hon. Friend in giving my very best wishes to the new chairman, David Bowden, at Workington Reds. We know the value of these clubs. That is precisely why we included £25 million of funding for national league clubs in the sports winter survival package. That is, of course, on top of the unique lottery deal, which has provided £10 million for the national league’s top two tiers to get them playing this season. Of course, we will continue to work with the sport.
Covid-19: Live Music
In addition to more than £100 billion of general business support, our unprecedented investment of £1.57 billion in the culture recovery fund has seen more than £500 million handed out to organisations across England to date, a fifth of which has gone to the music sector. Those funds are providing valuable protection to live music venues and festivals, and to all the valuable jobs that rely on them.
I know the whole sector is very grateful for the support it has received from the Government, but if we are going to get music festivals and major events on again from the spring and summer, businesses need to be signing contracts and spending money now. Will the Minister give serious consideration to Government support for an indemnity or insurance scheme so that they can make those decisions in the confidence that, if there is a third wave, their losses will be mitigated?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. I am well aware of the concerns about and the challenges of securing insurance for live music events. It is something we are looking at very carefully, but the key is for the industry to build an evidence base that demonstrates that insurance coverage is the only barrier to events being able to take place. That is what we managed to prove with the film and TV production restart scheme. In the meantime, the remaining £258 million of the culture recovery fund will very shortly be made available to provide extra support.
On a similar theme, the UK is the world leader in music and arts festivals. The sector is worth £12 billion and supports many thousands of highly skilled jobs, as well as being the financial lifeblood of the nation’s musicians. However, there will be no festival season next year unless insurance is underwritten in case of covid disruption. First, will the Minister meet with me and MPs from across the House to see how that reinsurance can be put in place? Secondly, noting her answer to the previous question, does she recognise that with a minimum lead time of six months, the reinsurance needs to be in place now before the likes of Glastonbury can commit and, if it is not, those festivals effectively cannot be put in place? We need them to be able to sign those contracts today, rather than to wait several months and then have an insurance scheme in place.
I know this is something that my hon. Friend cares deeply about and that he met the Secretary of State recently to discuss it. Festivals are a vibrant and integral part of our creative community and our economy, and I am well aware that many will take decisions very soon about whether they can go ahead next year, so this is an urgent situation. There is a sub-group of my entertainment and events working group looking specifically at how we can get festivals reopened. I have met in the past few weeks with representatives from festivals in Edinburgh, and only yesterday with representatives from festivals on the Isle of Wight.
Covid-19 Tiers: Performing Arts
Following the recent introduction of regional tiers, venues in tiers 1 and 2 are open to audiences, subject to social distancing and caps on capacity. Venues in tier 3 are adapting their performances to broadcast without audiences. The Government continue to work with the performing arts sector to assess the impact of the tiers and to develop proposals for how venues can open with fuller audiences when it is safe to do so.
The culture recovery fund, which the Minister mentioned earlier, has of course been welcomed by our award-winning Sheffield theatres, along with others across the sector. However, she knows that the performing arts depend on an army of freelancers. They make up some 70% of the theatre workforce alone, not only actors and performers, but more working in lighting, set design, stage management and other areas. She also knows that they have been shut out of the business support that she talked about earlier—more than 200,000 people, part of the 3 million excluded across all sectors—so will she recognise the problem for freelancers and press the Treasury to provide the support they need?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the culture recovery fund has been a lifeline for cultural and artistic institutions up and down our country. Sheffield Central has received over £7 million in funding in 2020-21. The whole thing about supporting freelancers is getting things up and running. For example, the Crucible theatre in Sheffield is in tier 3, but it is continuing to rehearse its panto with the aim of performing it live if restrictions are lifted in time, but whatever happens, it will record its work and stream it into hospitals, schools and, hopefully, to audiences. That is how we get our freelancers back to work—by continuing to produce the high-quality cultural content that audiences are so desperate for.
Data Protection: GDPR and Other EU Regulations
The general data protection regulation regime will be retained in domestic law after the transition period through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The UK remains committed to maintaining high data protection standards now and in the future.
The EU has been a world leader when it comes to the protection of citizens’ digital rights. This is evidenced by the large number of countries, such as South Korea, Japan and Brazil, that sought to emulate its groundbreaking GDPR policy. As the end of the transition period looms, how will the UK Government ensure that digital rights law not only lives up to the EU’s high standards but exceeds them?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the GDPR has ensured that we have high standards and, as I say, we are absolutely committed to maintaining them. We have no intention of diverging substantially from GDPR, but obviously we will be looking to see whether there are ways in which we can improve our regime while maintaining those high standards.
The independent Information Commissioner recently revealed that the Conservative party had racially and religiously profiled 10 million voters at the last election. I was shocked to learn that it did this by buying data that
“identified a person’s…ethnic origin and religion based on their first and last name.”
Can the Minister explain to the House why his party does this?
Misinformation and Disinformation Online.
The Government take the issue of misinformation and disinformation very seriously, and DCMS is leading work across Government to tackle it. As this can be particularly harmful during the pandemic, we stood up the counter-disinformation unit to bring together cross-Government monitoring and analysis capabilities. We are working closely with social media platforms to help them to identify and remove incorrect claims about the virus and to promote authoritative information.
Online misinformation is a great harm to us all. It can make people refuse life-saving medicines, it can make people believe that the so-called leader of the free world has been cheated out of an election, and in the last of the 16 days of action on gender-based violence against women and girls, it is important to note that 52% of young women and girls have been abused online and that 87% think the problem is getting worse. When will we finally see the online harms Bill, given that the social media and tech companies are doing nowhere near enough to protect individuals and society at large?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight this. We know that the vast majority of misinformation is harmful but legal. It is really important that we develop a comprehensive piece of legislation, working closely with civil society and the tech platforms, so that where disinformation is illegal or encourages illegal behaviours it can be dealt with, and so that we can address false narratives online and try to root out the content that is legal but harmful, particularly to children. With that in mind, we will be publishing the online harms response very shortly, and we plan to bring forward the legislation early next year.
Like many other Members, I have been sharing information about the excellent developments on the vaccines with my constituents on social media, but I have been deeply worried by some of the anti-vax nonsense I have seen in response. What is the Minister’s advice to my constituents when they see this information online? Should they simply report it to the social media companies and expect them to remove it—they have a pretty poor track record of doing that—or is there some way of feeding into the disinformation unit that she has described?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. Anti-vaccination propaganda can be really harmful and can deter people from getting treatment that could save their life or the life of a loved one. That is why it is really important to bring it to the attention of the social media companies themselves. Last month, my colleague the Secretary of State, alongside the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, met the social media companies, which agreed to reduce the spread of harmful and misleading narratives, particularly around the potential covid-19 vaccine. We are holding them to account for this; it is vital that they get it right and that their work is transparent and effective.
Creative Industries: Support to Work in the EU
The Government continue to engage with creative sectors so that they know how to prepare for changes at the end of the transition period. We are seeking a reciprocal arrangement with the EU that would allow UK citizens to undertake some business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. We cannot comment on the details of those arrangements at the moment, as the negotiations are still ongoing.
As the least musically talented member ever of the Musicians Union, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am sort of pleased that the Minister gave that answer, although it does mean that I am slightly floundering as to what question to ask her now, because that was what I was going to ask. Musicians really need that reciprocal exemption. I know she says that what is important is that they are ready and prepared for when they can resume touring again, but it is really late in the day to leave this, and Ministers told the Musicians Union that it would be quite an easy thing to do. Is it possible to get some reassurance to them now, rather than later?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady; she may not have musical talent, but she has some of the best musical taste in this House. The cultural and creative sectors are, as she knows, some of the UK’s greatest success stories and produce talent that is recognised the world over. Being outside the EU will not change that, but it does mean that we need practical changes on both sides of the channel. That will not come as a big surprise; DCMS has been engaging for very long time with the relevant trade and membership bodies, which cover a membership of approximately 150,000 businesses and freelancers. We have also had “Get ready for Brexit” and “Check. Change. Go.” public information campaigns, so we have been keeping people updated every step of the way.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.