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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 18 March 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

Exports to EU: Art and Antiques

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that art and antiques can be easily exported to EU countries. (913589)

The UK has one of the world’s leading art markets and the free trade agreement we negotiated with the EU will allow it to flourish. We have taken steps to facilitate the export of cultural goods to EU countries. We have developed a new inland pre-clearance process for export licences for works of art, and we are digitising the export licensing system for cultural goods. Those steps will reduce border friction and avoid delays and security risks.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s incredibly helpful response, there are small businesses in the art and antiques market that are suffering from these teething problems, such as Dart Gallery in Dartmouth in my constituency. So what further steps are the Government going to take to ensure that there is a streamlined approach to exporting art and antiques in future years?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to champion the businesses in his constituency. We care deeply about supporting them. That is why the Secretary of State met representatives of the art market only earlier this month to discuss issues. We will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure that it can keep trading smoothly with the EU. We recognise that this means a period of change for business at a time when everyone has been responding to the unprecedented pressures of the pandemic, but this is an unparalleled opportunity for the UK to do business differently and prosper. We will continue to support businesses to allow them to take all the opportunities.

Gigabit Broadband

Since 2019, gigabit-capable broadband coverage has risen from 10% to now well over 30%, but with the publication this morning of Ofcom’s market review, the way is paved for the Government to lay out their thinking in much greater detail. We will be publishing Project Gigabit very soon to explain where we will be taking the best broadband connections first and how we will tackle the hardest-to-reach premises as well.

I thank the Minister—my county colleague, as the Member for Boston and Skegness—for that response and look forward to a Government announcement in the near future. We have all become more reliant on our broadband connectivity in recent months, and I look forward to the full—and it needs to be full—roll-out of gigabit broadband. I represent two district areas. City of Lincoln Council has 99.4% superfast connectivity, but North Kesteven District Council, where I represent Skellingthorpe, Bracebridge Heath and Waddington East, has only 95.3% superfast broadband, with 2.74% of households receiving less than 10 megabits per second. How will my hon. Friend ensure that the roll-out of gigabit broadband benefits all those in rural areas, including across Lincolnshire, where BT took vast amounts of easy taxpayer money but has not delivered fibre connections or access for all by a long way?

I know just how keen my hon. Friend is to tackle broadband roll-out in the rural parts of his constituency as well as in the urban. As I mentioned, Project Gigabit will lay out a nationwide plan and it will do so in a way that promotes competition so that we get the best that the whole of the market can offer, including Openreach, but also other providers.

Our Parliament, our businesses, our students, our economy and our social lives all depend on broadband. In 2019, the Prime Minister promised full fibre for all by 2025, and the 2020 Budget set aside £5 billion for that. Can the Minister confirm that only £1.2 billion of that £5 billion is planned to be spent by 2025, and that today’s decision by Ofcom to remove pricing controls will deliver greater profits for BT while allowing Openreach to charge more in rural areas that are already broadband-poorer? When will the country as a whole get the broadband infrastructure we so desperately need?

The hon. Lady knows that the Government will spend the £5 billion that has been committed as soon as possible and as quickly as the industry can get the cable into the ground. She also knows that the important balance to strike is between a competitive market that makes sure that we get everyone, from Openreach to Gigaclear to CityFibre, involved, and ensuring that those businesses can make a fair return. That is the balance that Ofcom has sought to strike today.

With the publication of Ofcom’s broadband review, does the Minister agree that the time has come to respond more fully to the key recommendations of the DCMS Select Committee report in relation to broadband roll-out, as it seems clear that the Government are set to miss their revised targets? Will he commit to give the Committee its full answers by 1 April? In addition, is the £5 billion sum for Project Gigabit reported in today’s Daily Telegraph just a repackaged announcement, or is the £5 billion now guaranteed from the Treasury?

The Ofcom report, as I say, strikes a balance between trying to get competition and trying to get a fair return. I think that is a reasonable approach. It is of course important that we lay out the plans in response to the Select Committee’s questions. Project Gigabit will, in due course, do an awful lot of that work. I look forward to responding in full to the Committee’s questions, perhaps even appearing in front of it once again.

Data Flow to and from EU

Under UK law, personal data can currently flow freely from the UK to the EU. The trade agreement also ensures the continued temporary free flow of personal data from the EU to the UK until adequacy decisions are adopted. The European Commission published positive draft adequacy decisions on 19 February and we expect the EU to complete the technical approval process soon.

We all know how important the flow of data is for UK business, but frankly the Government have handed the powers to the EU to turn our data on and off. They have turned us into supplicants, effectively. What are the contingency plans, given that relationships are frosty, should the EU use those powers?

As I say, the EU Commission has already provided an assessment of the UK’s data protection laws, which found us to be adequate, and there is absolutely no reason why that should not be confirmed once the processes are under way. However, we have said that it is sensible for businesses to make contingency plans by putting alternative transfer mechanisms in place, just in case there comes a point at some future date, but we expect adequacy to be granted within the timescale permitted.

Culture Recovery Fund

What progress his Department has made on allocating further support to the culture and heritage sector through the Culture Recovery Fund. (913592)

Over £1 billion from the culture recovery fund has been allocated, including £800 million supporting almost 4,000 organisations and sites across the whole of England. More than 80% of grants and 85% of loans awarded in the first round of the fund have now been paid. As Members will have seen, an additional £390 million for the fund was announced in the Budget, taking dedicated support for culture and heritage during the pandemic to almost £2 billion—an unprecedented sum.

The culture recovery fund has provided a vital lifeline to many organisations in my constituency, from the Cholsey and Wallingford railway to the Oxford Philharmonic to the Didcot Railway Centre, which is a popular family attraction. Does my right hon. Friend agree that just as people have been very good at supporting their local shops during the pandemic, it would be great if, when restrictions lift, they can go and visit their local culture and heritage sites, even if they have been many times before, to help them get back on their feet?

I completely agree. The Government have been here for culture throughout the pandemic, and as we emerge from it, I know that the public will want to be there, too. As our cultural institutions reopen, we will encourage people to get out there and support them. That includes attractions in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as he referenced, such as the Didcot Railway Centre and the Cholsey and Wallingford railway, both of which have been supported through our culture recovery fund.

Live Events and Cultural Festivals: Government-backed Insurance Scheme

If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential merits of introducing a Government-backed insurance scheme for the live events sector. (913594)

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on establishing a Government-backed insurance fund to help support the return of live events and cultural festivals during the covid-19 outbreak. (913599)

The Government are aware of the concerns that have been raised about the challenge of securing indemnity cover for live events, and my officials and the rest of the team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport continue to work closely with the affected sectors to understand all the barriers to reopening, including financial support, certainty around the public health situation and the potential challenges of insurance.

Insurance providers, live music venues, promoters and artists have jointly called on the UK Government to support an insurance fund to get live cultural events back up and running, with assurance that covid flare-ups will not ruin their chance at a recovery. Will the Minister meet with representatives from the live music industry to discuss those proposals?

Yes, I meet representatives from the live music industry all the time, and the Government road map sets out a clear plan that will allow events to return quickly and safely. That is being backed up by the events research scheme, which will give the evidence to provide the how and the when. We really understand how vital it is to get people back to doing the things they love as quickly as is safely possible, and we understand the huge benefits to our economy in allowing that to happen.

I was pleased to hear the Minister’s report of meetings with industry stakeholders and insurance bodies. Will she release all documents relating to those discussions, to allow proper scrutiny of the decision making around insurance for live events this summer?

Where appropriate, of course we can publish documents, but sometimes we have to have conversations behind closed doors, so that people can get off their chest how they are feeling and we can do our best to tackle it. We understand that there are a number of obstacles for our sectors at the moment, and the culture recovery fund has been fantastic at supporting them to keep going through this really difficult time. The hon. Lady will be delighted to know that her Richmond Park constituency has benefited to the tune of over £1 million from the culture recovery fund, which has supported so many incredible organisations, such as the Orange Tree theatre.

As if the Government’s refusal to underwrite live music insurance was not bad enough for the industry, the UK Government rejected a deal with the EU that would have allowed artists and their crews to tour without visas, as they did pre Brexit. At her recent Select Committee appearance, the Minister said that as far as she knew, no negotiations with individual states were taking place to resolve these arrangements, but she promised to strain “every sinew” to resolve this Brexit disaster. That was over a month ago. Have the Government finally engaged in bilateral talks over visa agreements for artists? If so, with which countries? What progress has been made? Artists are waiting to hear.

The hon. Gentleman knows that not all of what he said is 100% true. The Treasury has always said that it would look at indemnity if it was the only obstacle to events being able to take place, and in the current public health situation there is huge uncertainty, which is clearly another major obstacle. He also knows that we did not turn down an excellent visa option from the EU. He knows that the visa option that was on the table would not have permitted touring; it was just for ad hoc events and would not have supported all the support crews that necessarily go with a tour. With regard to international discussions, I met my colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office only yesterday.

Fourth National Lottery Licence

The national lottery is a national treasure that enhances the cultural and sporting lives of millions of people across the UK, and it has funded over £1 billion in projects supporting the response to covid-19. The Gambling Commission is running the competition for the next licence and is following best practice from across the public sector for competitions of this nature.

I thank the Minister for his answer. It is vital that the national lottery competition is not just open and transparent but seen to be open and transparent by everyone involved. One of the biggest funds that the national lottery supports is grassroots sport. This week, Consett AFC heard that its FA Vase final will have to be played without any supporters at it, despite the FA cup final just a couple of weeks later being played with supporters. May I urge the Minister to speak to colleagues and the FA to see whether there is any possibility that this vital final—the first time Consett has been to Wembley in over 120 years—might be played with fans?

I am aware that my hon. Friend is a huge fan of Consett AFC, and of course he and his fellow fans are very excited about this historic match, which is due to take place in Wembley. We are working to try to get spectators back into stadiums as soon as possible. I fully understand his disappointment that it does not look as if it will be possible in time for the match, but I have no doubt that he and thousands of others will be cheering on his team from their sofas.

I will ask a question more directly to do with the national lottery. The national lottery helps to fund many charities, cultural organisations and heritage sites, and whoever is awarded the new licence must be beyond reproach. Conservative party donor Richard Desmond—who persuaded the Prime Minister to raise the jackpot limit to benefit his own lottery and then successfully lobbied the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government over the controversial Westferry development, saving himself £40 million, resulting in an unlawful planning decision that was followed soon after by another donation to the Conservative party—wants to run our national lottery. Does the Minister believe that Mr Desmond is a fit and proper person to do this?

The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of the national lottery. Indeed, I point out that his constituency has received over £6 million in funding over the last five years. Which applicant should take on the franchise is determined by the Gambling Commission, and of course it will want to be satisfied that the successful applicant meets the highest standards of probity and integrity, but it is a matter for the Gambling Commission.

Covid-19: Elite Sport

What steps his Department is taking to support the return of elite sport as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (913596)

The continuation of elite sport was an early priority for the Government during the pandemic. Behind-closed-doors matches have enabled vital broadcast revenue to continue to flow into elite sport, as well as to bring joy to millions of fans at a time when it is sorely needed. Travel exemptions have allowed international elite sports competitions to continue safely during the pandemic. We also provided a £300 million winter sport survival package, giving lifelines to sports organisations impacted by restrictions on spectators. Of course, a further £300 million was announced recently by the Chancellor to continue this support to elite sports while restrictions remain in place.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that in Burnley our local economies rely on the football club that fills hotels, restaurants and bars. While we know that getting all that back will need to be done cautiously and in line with the Prime Minister’s road map, may I urge him to look at whether Burnley football club can be included in the trials taking place to get more fans back using things like testing, so that more and more fans from Burnley can get back to the turf?

My hon. Friend is a worthy champion of football, and in particular of Burnley FC. In fact, I do not think I have ever had a conversation with him without the words “Burnley FC” featuring very strongly, so I am sure his constituents are very grateful for that. I know he shares my view that sport is not the same without fans in stadiums. Officials from the Department will have heard his offer. He will understand I cannot give him a guarantee today, but I do appreciate his lobbying today.

It is of course vital that we again get fans back in stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so. The events research programme will be used to provide key scientific data as to how small and large events could be permitted to reopen safely in line with the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown. Government Departments are working very closely together on a range of options to support commercially viable ways to reopen businesses and leisure venues, and further details will be released in due course.

Covid-19: Culture and Entertainment Industries

What steps his Department is taking to support the reopening of the culture and entertainment industries as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (913598)

What steps his Department is taking to support the reopening of the culture and entertainment industries as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (913602)

The Government’s road map provides a step-by-step plan to safely reopen culture, entertainment and sport. This includes an events research programme, which will consider how restrictions can be lifted at step 4 through piloting major events such as the FA cup final and the world snooker championships. Funding announced at the Budget, including a further £390 million for culture and £300 million for sport, will support these industries as they reopen.

Southend is home to a number of brilliant local festivals, such as Leigh Folk festival, Village Green and the Leigh regatta. Sadly, it has been announced that Southend carnival has been cancelled for a second year in a row due to uncertainty surrounding any ongoing restrictions in the summer. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that events planned for later in the year will be given plenty of notice of whether they will be allowed to go ahead?

I share my hon. Friend’s regret that Southend carnival is not going ahead. The Government will of course give as much notice as we can, and we have already set out a clear plan that will allow events such as that to return quickly and safely. We are working closely with our stakeholders to give them as much notice as we can and to guide them through each step. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am committed to getting people back to doing the things that they love as soon as we possibly can.

The past year has had a huge impact on our young people, and I know we all share the ambition to do as much as possible to support them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as restrictions are eased and many organisations reopen, it is vital that children’s sport is prioritised?

Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We all of course in this House know how important sport is for young people’s physical and mental health. That is why all outdoor sports can resume from 29 March, and I would note that that is the first significant easing after schools. In addition, the Education Secretary and I are working closely with sports’ national governing bodies and Sport England on an extensive offer of activities in schools over the summer period.

Fibre Spine Infrastructure: West Dorset

My hon. Friend leaves no stone unturned in advocating for his constituents to get better broadband, because we all know how important it is in rural areas. Superfast broadband coverage in Dorset is now up to 96%; that is progress, but the Government have more work to do, and Project Gigabit is a crucial part of delivering that.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Dorset Council has worked incredibly hard to gather two thirds of the money that it needs for the Dorset fibre spine. The Chancellor gave a stonking budget of £5 billion to my hon. and right hon. Friends, and I am just asking if the Minister would make 0.05% of that £5 billion pound Budget available to West Dorset so we can sort out the fibre spine.

I do not want to preannounce anything that is in Project Gigabit, but I can certainly say to my hon. Friend that the project he mentions is on the radar of DCMS officials, and I look forward to continuing those conversations so that we can deliver the improvements that I know are so valuable to his constituents.

Work Permit-free Travel: Musicians and Performers

What assessment he has made of the effect of the removal of work permit-free travel between the UK and EU for musicians and performers on the UK's creative industries. (913603)

What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on work permit-free travel for musicians and other performers to and from the EU. (913610)

The Government recognise the importance of international touring for our creative and cultural sectors. The DCMS-led working group on creative and cultural touring, which involves sector representatives and other key Government Departments, is working through the issues to ensure that the sector gets both the clarity and the support that it needs.

Musicians are eager to get back to work when restrictions allow, but for those who would normally tour Europe that will require a mountain of paperwork to be negotiated both for themselves and their instruments. This is increasingly urgent as we approach the lifting of lockdown restrictions, with little time left to negotiate bilateral agreements. Can the Minister confirm that Ministers are talking to their EU counterparts about securing visa waivers to allow our musicians to tour Europe freely when restrictions are lifted?

The hon. Lady is right: the end of freedom of movement has inevitably had some consequences for touring artists. We want our cultural and creative professionals to be able to work easily across Europe, in the same way that EU creatives are able to work flexibly in the UK, and we are working very closely with the sector to consider all the available options. I have said right from the start that our door will always be open if the EU is willing to reconsider its position, but we are also working with colleagues across Government and members of our working group on our engagement with different member states. I met FCDO colleagues only yesterday once again to discuss this, and we want to ensure that touring can resume as easy as possible for UK artists.

My constituent George Jackson is a conductor. He has told me that in order to be able to fill last-minute jobs in the EU he would previously have needed just to get on a plane or train and been ready to be with the orchestra the next day, but he says that now he faces expensive and time-consuming paperwork just to achieve the same as before. It seems that the Government have managed to unite artists and creatives across the country in wanting to see the Government sort this out. Even Sir Elton John was urging the Government to fix this mess, so in that spirit can the Minister commit to keeping our creative industries standing rather than letting the sun go down on them?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and we understand the strength of feeling on this. The Secretary of State met Sir Elton John recently as well to discuss the issue. We care passionately about finding a solution to this, which is why we set up the DCMS-led working group on creative and cultural touring. It involves representatives from across the creative and cultural touring sectors and all the key Government Departments that have a handle on this, and we are working through all the issues and all the options to help the sectors resume touring as easily as possible when it is safe to do so, but, as the hon. Lady said, the priority is getting touring performers the information and support they need to tour, and, crucially, working bilaterally to ensure the process is as smooth and seamless as possible when they are able to do so.

Topical Questions

This month’s Budget provided further support to sports, arts, tourism, heritage and creative industries, including an extra £700 million to help cultural and sports venues reopen their doors when restrictions ease, and an extension to our hugely successful film and TV production restart scheme. The Budget also included several measures to put tech and digital connectivity at the heart of our recovery, including half a billion pounds for the Help to Grow scheme, and last week I published our 10 tech priorities for the coming year.

As we move from rescue to recovery, we have announced a number of pilots to help get people back, including at the FA cup final. I met the events research programme again on Tuesday; as a first step, I look forward to the return of grassroots sports on 29 March.

As highlighted earlier by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), the FA vase final between Hebburn Town and Consett AFC has been rescheduled to take place behind closed doors at Wembley stadium on 3 May. This is the biggest match in Hebburn Town FC’s history, so I want to add my support on this issue. Will the Secretary of State work with the FA to make the final a pilot event for allowing the safe return of spectators to such sporting events?

I share the hon. Lady’s desire to get sports fans back in stadiums as quickly as we can, as has been highlighted by my colleagues on the Government Benches. We have already set out a road map, and I think it is important to people that we stick to that road map, which would see fans returning socially distanced from 17 May.

We have already set out a pilot for the FA cup final. It is important to understand what these pilots are about. They are about testing fans coming into and out of stadiums; they are not windows to allow extra events to happen. We will of course keep this under review, and if there were a possibility, of course I would grab it.

Despite warm words from mobile phone operators and promises to Government, communities such as Broughton in my constituency are still waiting for companies such as O2 to make good on their promises to give us halfway decent mobile phone coverage. What more can the Government do to push the mobile phone companies to make sure that we get the service we are paying for up here? (913550)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the need for speed. As he will know, the shared rural network will see the Government and industry jointly investing over £1 billion to increase 4G coverage throughout the UK. On 5G, over 200 towns and cities already have 5G, and our ambition is for the vast majority to have it by 2027. In addition, as my hon. Friend has outlined, building on today’s welcome announcement from Ofcom, I will shortly be providing further details on our plans to make the UK giga-fit.

Over the last two weeks, we have seen an outpouring of grief over the death of Sarah Everard, and we have read and heard numerous accounts of women made to feel unsafe in their daily lives. The Secretary of State will know that words online often translate into actions offline. Last June, he said at the Dispatch Box that the online harms Bill, which was supposed to follow the White Paper published two years ago next month, would be introduced before the end of this parliamentary Session. We are still waiting. Does he accept that the continuing delay has left women and girls at risk for too long, and does he commit to measures to protect them online when he finally publishes the Bill?

May I begin by welcoming the hon. Lady back to her rightful place in the Chamber? She is absolutely right to highlight the issue of online abuse of women. That is why our internet safety Bill will bring forward measures to help protect women online, including measures to enable them to better report abuse, and will also ensure that they should get appropriate responses from platforms. That could include, for example, the removal of harmful content, sanctions against offending users, or changes to processes and policies to support better protection. This is a real priority. We will bring forward the draft legislation at the beginning of the new parliamentary Session, and by the end of the year the full Bill will be before the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for his words. I know that he has a very well-publicised interest in the nation’s heritage, particularly in statues, telling museums and gallery experts how to do their jobs through the policy of “retain and explain”, so perhaps he can explain today what input his Department had into the Government’s legislation this week that provides for longer sentences for hitting statues than those that have been given for raping women.

I really wish that Members in this House would take a more temperate approach towards this. The hon. Lady knows full well that the most serious violent and sexual offences, including grievous bodily harm with intent to rape, already carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The purpose of what we are introducing in respect of statues is to help protect statues that have tremendous emotional value—for example, the Cenotaph and others—but that may have quite low financial value.

If it is now the Labour party’s position to oppose “retain and explain”—that may be the case; I have heard from the Leader of the Opposition that he thinks that some statues may need to come down—perhaps she could explain which statues she thinks should be removed from this country’s glorious heritage.

What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to support the recovery of towns with large hospitality and tourism economies from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic? (913553)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; I know of his passionate concern about this. The Government have introduced a range of targeted measures to support hospitality and tourism through covid-19, including business rates relief and the new restart support grants, as well as the 5% VAT rate. He will know that his Southport constituency is receiving £37.5 million from the £1 billion towns fund, and that will support the development of new projects there, including a new waterfront conference centre.

Yesterday, the Government announced that superfast broadband coverage was going to be 97%. That is great: well done, Her Majesty’s Government! In my constituency, the coverage is—can you believe it, Mr Speaker?—78% and yesterday Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister responsible, announced that we would not achieve the full figure until 2026, having already promised delivery by this year. My plea is very simple: please will Her Majesty’s Government step in and sort this out? (913551)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The UK Government have provided over £100 million to deliver broadband in Scotland and it really is deeply disappointing to see that the Scottish Government are still failing to deliver the R100 programme effectively. The Scottish National party, I believe, promised 100% superfast coverage by 2021—yet another broken promise. We have already announced that central Scotland will be the very first part of the UK to benefit from our £5 billion investment in Project Gigabit, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be a stronger role for the UK Government in delivering this programme going forward.

The Department has done great work in bringing superfast and gigabit broadband to much of my constituency, but there are still blackspots. Will my right hon. Friend consider asking Ofcom and Building Digital UK to reconsider their decision to exclude properties in the RG20 and RG17 postcodes from the gigabit batches? (913555)

As my hon. Friend will know, we are on a national mission to transform our digital infrastructure, spanning the length and breadth of the UK, and our plans to invest £5 billion in connecting hard-to-reach communities include many rural properties in the RG17 and RG20 postcodes. We will shortly be announcing Project Gigabit, our plan to make the UK giga-fit, and I look forward to updating the House on details.

The chair of the BBC has a responsibility to ensure the independence of the corporation and to uphold its values, so what was it about the CV of a multimillionaire Conservative party donor and close associate of the Chancellor, Richard Sharp, that first attracted the Government to appoint him as chair of the corporation? And do the Government consider the fact that he once managed a firm that funded a property company described by a Conservative MP as creating “modern ghettos for the vulnerable” to be consistent with the values that the corporation ought to be upholding? (913552)

I think that an excellent choice has been made in the choice of the new chair of the BBC. He is a person with considerable financial and commercial experience who is deeply committed to the BBC, and it would be better if the hon. Gentleman refrained from making such slurs against him.