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Volume 688: debated on Thursday 4 February 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

Culture Recovery Fund

What progress his Department has made on delivering support for the culture and heritage sector through the culture recovery fund. (911814)

What progress his Department has made on delivering support for the culture and heritage sector through the culture recovery fund. (911816)

What progress his Department has made on delivering support for the culture and heritage sector through the culture recovery fund. (911820)

What progress his Department has made on delivering support for the culture and heritage sector through the culture recovery fund. (911823)

Over £1 billion-worth of funding from the culture recovery fund has already been allocated across all four nations of the UK. The funding is supporting over 3,000 arts and heritage organisations in England alone and more than 75,000 jobs.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. It is great that the Government are taking the theatre sector seriously, as demonstrated by this fund, but there is so much more that we can do to help our cultural offer that is not just cash injection. I implore him to push the Government to re-engage with the European Union on visa and carnet-free travel for performers, their kit and their support teams. I know that the EU walked away from our offer, but it must be brought back to the table. Touring performers will be left with a double whammy of an industry devastated by covid and the loss of an entire continent as a venue. Will he please bang the table and get the EU back to talk on this?

First, I thank my hon. Friend for banging the table so well for the culture sector over so many years. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture has previously said, the door always remains open should our European friends wish to reconsider our mutually beneficial proposals, which would have allowed UK touring professionals to tour more easily, but they rejected them. In the meantime, where visas apply, our agreement with the EU contains measures designed to make the necessary processes as smooth as possible. A working group has been set up by the Secretary of State to look at any obstacles that might face British performers seeking to tour. We will continue to seek to co-operate with our European friends on this important issue.

The £1.5 billion culture recovery fund has provided a lifeline to the culture and heritage sector during the pandemic. Does the Minister agree, though, that public money should not be spent on ideologically motivated projects by people who hate our history and seek to rewrite it, and will he review funding allocations accordingly?

I thank my hon. Friend for his deep interest in the heritage and cultural sector, which we have talked about on many occasions. He is absolutely right that the culture recovery fund has been a lifeline for heritage and cultural organisations. These grants are intended to help organisations with essential costs associated with operating, reopening, mothballing and recovery. I can assure him that the culture recovery fund money is awarded by our arm’s length bodies according to a strict set of criteria, and the funding goes to organisations in need of serious financial support, not for ideological projects. In addition, any grant award above £1 million is reviewed by the independent Culture Recovery Board to add additional assurance that funding is going where it is most needed.

Because of the nature of the industry, many performers organise their business in such a way that they sometimes fall through the cracks of Government support. What support is the Minister making available to performers who are not in an eligible organisation for the purposes of the culture recovery fund, such as ballet dancers, actors, musicians and many more?

May I first take the opportunity to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday?

The Government have supported self-employed persons in the performing arts sector through a number of pan-economic schemes, including the self-employment income support scheme. According to the latest statistics, over two thirds of self-employed people have been eligible for this scheme. Tens of thousands have been eligible within the culture sector, and they have claimed during its first, second and third phases. In addition, Arts Council England has given over £47 million in awards to individuals through non-CRF funds in this financial year alone, and that is on top of the 75,000 jobs being sustained through the CRF directly.

Aerospace Bristol in my constituency is very grateful to the Government for the support it received from its successful bid during the first round of the culture recovery fund, which was in excess of £500,000. Like many other museums, it will continue to need revenue support until it can reopen. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the current bid by Aerospace Bristol under round 2 of the fund will be given a sympathetic hearing?

I was very pleased that the excellent aerospace museum in my hon. Friend’s constituency received money from the culture recovery fund in the first round. It is a wonderful showcase of world-class British engineering, and I can confirm that organisations in receipt of grant funding from the first round of the CRF were eligible to apply to the second round. I am sure that the Aerospace Bristol museum will get a fair hearing as he requests, but it is important to say that all decisions on CRF grants are made by our independent arm’s length bodies, which are committed to a transparent and robust decision-making process.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) just now—happy birthday to her—I think I heard the Minister say that a third of self-employed people in the creative sector were not able to access the self-employment scheme, minus those supported by extra schemes made available by Arts Council England, which I think he said was about £47 million of support. Can he calculate for us how many people in the creative sector have been forgotten by the support schemes so far? Will he say what representations he has made to the Treasury to aid that remaining number of people?

I thank the hon. Lady. To clarify, I said that over two thirds of people who are self-employed in the country have been eligible for self-employment income support. Within the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, more than 60,000 people applied for and have received SEIS funding in phase 3. Some 76,000 did so in phase 1, and 72,000 did so in phase 2. As I said, Arts Council England has given additional support to the tune of £47 million of awards to individuals through non-CRF funds already.

The culture recovery fund was a great advent, but it will only go so far. It was never intended to cover three lockdowns and potentially 18 months of disruption. The news that the Lowry in Manchester has relaunched its emergency public appeal is a warning beacon blazing in our cultural landscape. Does the Minister recognise that more targeted help will be needed for our world-leading arts and cultural sectors? What plans are in train to deliver that help? Is a culture recovery fund 2 necessary?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I take the opportunity to recognise what a champion he is for our country’s cultural and creative industries. Some £400 million of CRF funding was held back from the first round of funding as a contingency to support cultural organisations later on in the pandemic. That now forms the basis of the second round of grant funding, which is currently being processed. I can assure him that we will continue to work with organisations to support flexibility in their plans, should the wider context change following awards being made. We have already extended the time period over which some of the original funds can be spent, and we are always in conversations with the Chancellor and the Treasury.

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

We remain on track to deliver a fantastic games on time and on budget. It will bring lasting benefits for Birmingham, the west midlands and the whole country. The west midlands region will benefit from a £778 million investment to stage the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham, including £594 million of funding from central Government. Along with our partners, we continue to work hard to deliver the games in what are obviously very challenging circumstances.

I know many people, including me, are looking forward to the Commonwealth games next year. I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but does he also agree that the games will give a much-needed boost to the tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as providing excellent opportunities and a lasting legacy for people and businesses in Staffordshire and across the west midlands?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Birmingham 2022 will be largest sporting event ever held in the west midlands, delivering a wealth of excellent opportunities, including £350 million in procurement opportunities for local businesses, world-class sporting facilities, a comprehensive volunteering programme and a vibrant cultural programme. The organising committee has created a dedicated business portal called “FinditinBirmingham”, where any business can register to be informed about procurement opportunities. To date, more than 40 opportunities worth around £250 million have been listed on the portal. In addition, our excellent, top-calibre West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has championed a £24 million business and tourism programme to help maximise the considerable long-term opportunities for the games.

EU Travel: Performing Artists

What recent steps his Department has taken towards establishing cultural visas for (a) performing artists, (b) musicians and (c) support staff with the EU. (911817)

What recent steps his Department has taken towards establishing cultural visas for (a) performing artists, (b) musicians and (c) support staff with the EU. (911837)

The UK’s creative industries are the finest in the world, and this Government are, of course, determined to support them. I deeply regret that the EU rejected our proposals, which would have enabled performers, artists and support staff to work freely across Europe. In recent weeks, I have discussed our approach with leading voices from music, including the head of Universal Music globally and, yesterday, Sir Elton John and his manager, David Furnish. We are working urgently to develop a plan to make it easier to tour across all of Europe.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, such as it was. This Government’s Brexit reality has the live music industry staring into the abyss and sports such as Formula 1 unable to operate sufficiently. Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, has said that his industry has been dealt a no-deal Brexit due to the UK Government’s refusal to get a deal on touring visas with the EU. Will the Secretary of State assure the music industry, F1 and others that he will put their livelihoods before anti-free movement platitudes and go back to the negotiating table with the EU?

Of course we continue to engage with the EU. As I say, I deeply regret that it rejected our offer. It is worth noting that what we put forward was what the music industry had asked for. We will continue to engage with the music industry, and there are opportunities both with individual member states and with the Commission directly.

One of my constituents is the orchestral leader of two major British orchestras. More than 50% of her work with British orchestras is touring abroad in the EU, but she is a self-employed musician, so she does not have anybody to wade through all this new red tape for her. Putting covid to one side, by what specific date does the Secretary of State hope to fix this absurd, bureaucratic, self-defeating situation, so that self-employed musicians can enjoy visa-free travel in the EU?

I agree with the hon. Lady: it is absurd and self-defeating. It could have been solved, and it could still be solved today by the EU matching the offer that we have unilaterally made to EU nationals. She talks about support. I know her constituency well; it neighbours mine. For example, The Horn music venue in her constituency, which is a home to emergent artists, has received a quarter of a million pounds under the culture recovery fund. The Goblin theatre has received £51,000. Wind and Foster has received £63,000. We are demonstrating as a Government through our actions that we are standing behind culture in this country.

The Government are very keen to blame the EU for the barriers being put in place for touring musicians, but Brexit was born and bred in the UK. Does the Secretary of State agree that the onus is on this Government to fix the abject failure in statecraft, and can he confirm what urgent steps are being taken to ensure that touring musicians do not become yet another example of the collateral damage of Brexit?

First, I would like to reassure touring musicians and all those in the creative industry. I know how important the opportunity to tour is for them; it is something I discussed just yesterday with Elton John, and I have discussed it with many others. It is a vital part of them building their careers. That is why we have set up the working group with musicians, so that we can find ways of supporting them to continue to tour not just in Europe but across the whole world. There are huge opportunities for the industry.

Sorry. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is working with the EU on this. Music is worth £5.8 billion to the UK economy, and I have been surprised at how many Putney residents and businesses rely on touring. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State is working on a future plan. Will that plan be across the EU, not requiring red tape for each individual country, which will be a huge barrier? What is the Government’s plan to ensure that creative workers do not miss out on vital earning opportunities and a chance to represent Britain on the global stage?

I share the hon. Lady’s passion for the creative industries. That is why we have put the support in, including in her own constituency. For example, the World Heart Beat Music Academy has received over £100,000, and the Exodus track and the Deptford Northern Soul Club have received over £50,000. On what we are doing to promote touring, there are basically three threads to it: first, we are working with the industry to help it overcome barriers. Secondly, we are working across Government to overcome barriers; and, thirdly, we continue to engage both with the Commission and member states to see what further support we can provide.

I deeply regret that Ministers have rejected the EU’s offer. Like petulant weans, Ministers have walked away from negotiations on musicians’ and artists’ visas. The Government did not get what they wanted, and have given up. Stating that the UK’s door remains open is simply not good enough for the people who desperately need visa-free travel in the EU. Without it, there will be disastrous consequences. British haulage firms go on tours, but they will go bust. British crews will lose out to cheaper competitors from the EU, and all but the most successful bands will struggle to tour in Europe. The result will be bad for the economy and bad for culture. Surely the Secretary of State must now realise, as so many Tory MPs do, that renegotiations are the only option. Going off in a huff is not the answer; this is all far too important.

To be clear to the hon. Gentleman, the reason why we rejected the offer from the European Union, which he seems so keen to accept, was that it was not binding, it did not cover touring, it did not cover technical support staff and, crucially, it did not cover work permits. Of course, we continue to engage with it, but I must say to him that the most devastating consequences for musicians in Scotland would be to rip our precious shared cultural heritage apart by pulling Scotland out of our Union—I would note that £450 million a year is generated in Scotland through domestic music tourism; 90% of the revenue is through domestic markets—and that would be terrible for Scottish musicians.

Far-right Online Conspiracy Theories

The Government take the issue of disinformation, including far-right conspiracy theories, very seriously, and DCMS is leading work across Government to tackle this. Our counter-disinformation unit brings together monitoring and analysis capabilities across Government, and we work closely with social media platforms to ensure that swift action is taken and authoritative sources of information are promoted.

To tackle far-right extremism and conspiracy theories that undermine our vaccine roll-out, new legislation is urgently needed. Social media companies must take responsibility for the content shared on their platforms. Can the Minister therefore update the House on when the online harms Bill will be introduced, and give her assurances that the Bill will achieve this vital aim, which will keep our country safe?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As I have said, tackling disinformation in all its forms, including vaccine disinformation, remains a key priority for the UK. As we set out in the full Government response, the online safety Bill will introduce a duty of care that requires companies to address online harms such as harmful disinformation that could impact on people’s health and safety on their platforms, and that legislation will be put forward this year.

Mr Speaker:

“No one should have to accept racist abuse as the price to pay for being in the public eye”,

the Secretary of State assured footballers. No one should have to accept racist abuse full stop, and no one should be subject to extremist grooming or have their lives endangered by anti-vax misinformation, but they are, and for 10 years Conservative Governments have refused to act. As the head of UK Counter Terrorism Policing tells us, extremism has become so widespread online that it “cannot be policed”. Will the Minister say what steps she has taken to protect us and, please, no more vague assurances for the future?

Of course, we want the internet to be a very safe space for all users, and we are very clear that what is unacceptable online is just as important as what is unacceptable offline. That is why we are absolutely committed to tackling extremist views, racist views and views that promote violence, hatred and division against individuals and against communities. We want the internet to be a safe space for all users, which is why the online harms framework will require companies to have very clear terms and conditions about how they would respond to such hateful content, and they will be expected to implement those conditions consistently and transparently.

Covid-19: Leisure Centres

Sport and physical activity are incredibly important for our physical and mental health and are a vital weapon against corona- virus. The Government recognise the integral role local leisure centres play in providing vital facilities within their communities, and last year the Government announced a £100 million national leisure recovery fund to support public sector leisure centres to reopen. Applications to the scheme have now closed, but I am pleased to say that over 99% of local authorities that were eligible for the scheme have applied, and funding decisions are currently being made and will be announced shortly.

Dalton community leisure centre in my constituency is badly in need of support. It is a fantastic organisation—a community-run charity with a devoted team led by Bernard McPeake—but covid has hit it very hard, with losses running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. It supports 17 schools and the national leisure centre recovery fund offers a ray of hope. What comfort can my hon. Friend offer organisations like Dalton that they will be supported by this scheme?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the pivotal role played by Dalton community leisure centre, and indeed leisure centres up and down the country, in sustaining physical and mental health in their communities. That is precisely why we announced the fund. I cannot pre-empt the award that my hon. Friend will be getting locally at this moment in time, but of course we know it will make a real impact for the reasons he articulated. Also, as we have said before, reopening sports facilities overall will be an absolute priority when the time comes to begin easing some of the current restrictions.

Digital Divide

Now more than ever it is obvious that the value of closing the digital divide is great. That is why we have worked with industry to provide the connectivity for vulnerable users that they need, why we will continue to encourage providers to offer social tariffs, and why, to boost digital skills, adults can undertake specified digital qualifications up to level 1 free of charge.

Coronavirus and lockdown has sped up society’s reliance on online services, but 42% of those aged 75 and above do not use the internet and Age UK says that

“there is little evidence that the pandemic has led to significant numbers of those previously digitally excluded getting online”,

so what are the Government doing to help older people access the equipment and training they need to get online, and to ensure that essential services such as NHS services and banking continue to be delivered equally to those who remain offline?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the need for that equality of access. The Department continues to work across government to make sure that, whether for supermarkets or banks, there is that equality of access, and of course the NHS makes all the efforts it can, as it has recently in the vaccination programme, to ensure that people are contacted in a way that suits them. But the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the issue, and it is why the Department will also work with organisations such as Citizens Advice to tackle what is a perennial problem.

Anti-Vaccination Content Online

The Government take the issue of vaccine misinformation very seriously, and DCMS is leading work across Government to tackle this through the counter-disinformation unit. We are working closely with social media platforms to help them identify and take action to remove incorrect claims about the virus, including anti-vax content that could endanger people’s health.

My sister is bravely battling cancer for the second time, so I was excited to tell everyone who has supported her on social media last night that she would be receiving her vaccine on Saturday. Within minutes, some very special individual was spouting anti-vax nonsense on that post. In six months last year, Facebook removed 12 million pieces of content and put labels on 167 million more that failed fact checking. Anti-vax rhetoric puts lives at risk. What practical steps can my hon. Friend take to work with social media platforms to make the point that freedom of speech is not absolute if it leads to societal harm?

It is lovely to see my hon. Friend in real life. I am very sorry to hear about his sister’s health concerns. I wish her a very speedy recovery and I am really pleased that she has got her vaccination.

Freedom of expression is an essential quality for a thriving democracy, but the act of sharing misinformation should not be confused with well-intentioned citizens asking perfectly valid questions about the safety of the vaccine. Of course, it is really important that harmful disinformation that is designed to undermine people’s confidence in these vital vaccines is addressed and removed as quickly as possible. That is why we are working so closely with social media platforms and have secured a commitment with them to ensure that authoritative messages about vaccine safety reach as many people as possible.

Topical Questions

Last week, I met a number of footballers to discuss the issue of racist and misogynistic abuse on social media as part of a series of roundtables on the future of football. To be clear, we will not tolerate racism in any form, and we are committed to holding platforms to account through our new online safety laws, which we set out to the House in December. I also held a roundtable this week with players and campaigners across a number of sports to discuss the issue of concussion and what more can be done to improve player safety. Of course, in the meantime, we continue to work across Government on a road map for the recovery and reopening of our sectors.

The hopes and ambitions of thousands of Newcastle United fans for their great club are caught in limbo due to the ongoing takeover saga that the English Premier League helped to create. Can there be a more pressing reason for the Secretary of State to deliver the fan-led review of football governance promised in his party’s 2019 manifesto?

I reassure the hon. Lady that I remain firmly committed to the fan-led review, and events such as the meetings to discuss racism that I mentioned will help to frame it. Certainly, the events relating to football finance over the past year have demonstrated the need for that, and we will be making further progress on it this year.

If I were to make a report of online abuse to a social media company, it is likely that a team halfway across the world would look at it and that I would not get a response for a few weeks. It may even not be classed as abuse, because the team may not understand nuances in the English language. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be better for social media companies to use UK-based teams that understand nuances in the English language—what is abuse and what is not—and are therefore quicker in responding and perhaps more effective in stamping out online abuse and racism? (911775)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that is something that I have raised with social media companies. I know that many people are concerned that the moderators are not actually based in the United Kingdom, and speed of response is crucial. Through our online safety Bill, we will require social media companies to take swift and effective action against criminal abuse online, and as part of that we will put in place effective user reporting and redress mechanisms.

I am not quite sure about that yet, Mr Speaker, but thank you for the introduction.

The Minister for Media and Data, the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), who is not in his place this morning, has rightly won praise for his work on journalistic freedom and the protection of journalists, so may I ask the Secretary of State what advice he would give to fellow Ministers who respond to standard queries from journalists with public attacks and Twitter pile-ons?

May I begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his place and, on behalf of the whole Conservative party, wishing the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) a swift recovery? I know that she is doing very well.

The hon. Gentleman mentions press freedoms. I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Media. We will shortly be publishing the material to which the hon. Gentleman refers—that is to say, the action plan to provide safety for journalists. That will be coming forth very shortly.

I thank the Secretary of State for his kind words about my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens); she will be watching and will be very grateful.

Ofcom is to become a super-regulator with a huge breadth of responsibilities and all their technical complexities, particularly in the digital sphere: online harms and safety, the BBC and broadcasting in general, security of telecoms infrastructure against hostile threats, broadband, and the Post Office. Does the Secretary of State agree that the new chair of Ofcom should have at least some knowledge of and experience in those complex sectors in order to be appointed?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the position of Ofcom chair is vacant. I can update the House that I will shortly be launching the competition for that new role, and a number of excellent candidates have already expressed an interest.

I have grave concerns about restricting the advertising of products that are high in fat, sugar and salt, because I am not convinced that a level playing field on enforcement can be achieved between broadcasters and online platforms. How does my right hon. Friend plan to make such platforms legally responsible under statutory rules for ensuring that advertising for food and drink that is high in fat, sugar and salt does not appear online? (911777)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Covid has been a stark reminder of the importance of reducing obesity, and that is why it is right that we look to restrict the advertising of those products. I have been clear from the beginning in my discussions with the Prime Minister and others that we must ensure equivalence between the approaches to traditional broadcasting platforms and online. Any restrictions should not disproportionately disadvantage broadcasters over online providers, which is why we will bring in reforms to both media at the same time.

In the light of the arrest of freelance photographer and National Union of Journalists member Andy Aitchison following his reporting on a demonstration at Napier barracks in Kent, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to prevent undue interference with the freedom of the press to freely report on the conditions in which asylum seekers are held? (911776)

Freedom of expression is one of the cherished liberties that we have fought for, and one that Members of this House have defended for generations. I fully intend to continue to promote freedom of expression. As part of that, we will be publishing the plan for the protection of journalists, which will be coming forward shortly, as I said to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson)

Many people, including those with very limited resources, suffer online harms as a result of financial scams promoted on the likes of Facebook and Google. Will my right hon. Friend consider including protections and provisions against that in his forthcoming online harms legislation? (911780)

Like my hon. Friend, I am deeply concerned about the growth of online fraud, and we are working closely with industry and law enforcement to disrupt those committing crimes online. While the online harms legislation will focus on user-generated content, we are also determined to tackle fraud such as phishing and fake websites. The Government’s “Cyber Aware” campaign has been set up to inform the public about how to keep safe online.

I hope the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating the team at Celtic Connections on an amazing virtual festival over the past few weeks, but the artists performing there are desperate to get back in front of live audiences, including many of my constituents. Instead of indulging in a blame game with the European Union, when will there be actual progress on ensuring visa-free travel for our world-class artists? (911778)

I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Celtic Connections on the huge success of its first wholly virtual festival, with more than 27,000 tickets sold and audiences tuning in from over 16 countries. That is testament to the strength of our United Kingdom. Of course, I will continue to work to provide ways to ensure that artists can continue to tour, but it is a bit rich for the Scottish nationalist party to talk about blame games; they are virtually its raison d’être.

The Six Nations rugby tournament starts this weekend, with England playing Scotland at what will be a sadly empty Twickenham stadium, but at club level matches are not permitted. What plans does the Minister have to encourage players of all sports, just as soon as it is safe to do so, to get back on to the pitch? (911783)

Like my hon. Friend, I very much regret that there will not be fans in the stadiums for the Six Nations, particularly after the interrupted tournament last year, but we in this House all understand the reasons why. We have had to take decisive action to maintain this national lockdown, but we will be working to get fans back in stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so.