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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 695: debated on Thursday 20 May 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

Football Governance: Fan-led Review

Football is nothing without fans, so it has been a joy to see them back cheering on their teams this week, and we stand unequivocally on the side of fans. Our manifesto committed to putting them front and centre of our review of football governance and we are delivering on that. That is why I appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) as chair and, this weekend, I will announce the membership of the expert panel, which will include players, management, regulators and, of course, fans. This is a serious review; I know people want to see change and this review will deliver it.

I am sure the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating Hull City on being league one champions this year. Hull City are one of many examples in recent years of where football club owners have not had the best of relationships with their fans. The recent breakaway attempt by the European super league cartel of greed brought many of the issues that concern fans to a head. Fans do not just pay a lot to support their clubs; they are custodians of their heritage and they deserve respect. To avoid taking his eye off the ball, will he explain a bit more about exactly how fans will lead the fan-led review and when it will report back to the House?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. First, of course, I join her in congratulating Hull City. She is absolutely right that football clubs form the heart of their communities and, indeed, our heritage. It is essential that fans play a significant role in the fan-led review, and I have been discussing that extensively with my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford.

In terms of explicit engagement, the chair will be engaging extensively with supporter trusts and fan groups over the coming weeks, but I understand that that will not work for everyone, so there will also be a consultation process, which we will set out. Of course, the chair, the Sports Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston)—and I will be engaging with parliamentarians as part of the review as well. On the question about timing, I would expect an interim report by the summer and a further report by the autumn.

There are two football teams in my life: Manchester United, who are No. 2 in the premiership, and Rochdale, who are sadly heading for league two of the football league. The idea that they are part of the same football pyramid has frankly been a nonsense for many years, but what unites the supporters of both those clubs and many more is the demands that we will never again see the ability for a European super league to take place, that the clammy hand, the dollar-studded fingers, of the corporates such as the Glazers be taken off the throat of football—that is so important—and that, once again, we will recreate a proper pyramid of football in this country. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will legislate to bring about those kinds of ends?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The points he made about the football pyramid are precisely why the terms of reference of the review, which we set out to the House, explicitly covered examining

“the flow of money through the football pyramid, including solidarity and parachute payments, and broadcasting revenue.”

I have said before, and am happy to say again, that I have set up this review with someone who is genuinely independent in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. I fully hope and expect to accept the recommendations, and should those require legislation, we will find time to do that.

As an MP for Coventry, where, in recent years, our football club has repeatedly forced fans to drive miles from the city to watch home matches, and as a diehard Liverpool fan, one of the clubs involved in the proposed breakaway European super league, I know fans’ anger at owners’ decisions all too well. Ultimately, this will be changed only with fan ownership, like the 50+1 rule in Germany, but the Government could make a more immediate change to improve this. On major decisions such as moving ground or forming a new league, they could require clubs to secure a 50% plus 1 majority of season-ticket holders. Will the Government heed that demand or will they just kick the problem into the long grass?

The hon. Lady mentions the governance structures in other countries. The terms of reference of the review explicitly say that we will be exploring

“governance structures in other countries, including ownership models, and whether any aspects could be beneficially translated to the English league system”.

The review will proceed at pace, as I set out in a previous answer, and we will then proceed at pace to implement any recommendations that follow from it.

The greed of the super-rich club owners who wanted to destroy the football pyramid, which benefits everybody, and proceed with their botched plans for a European super league has been well and truly kicked into touch by the power and solidarity of football fans across our country, but this Government helped to create the crisis by ignoring Labour’s calls for years and by failing to progress with a fan-led review of football governance, so would the Secretary of State like to apologise on behalf of the Government for failures and missed opportunities and tell us exactly when the review will report back to this House?

I do not intend to apologise. I would have expected the hon. Gentleman to welcome the robust action that this Government took, standing behind fans and standing alongside the nation, in stopping these outrageous proposals. On the fan-led review, while Labour has talked for years and years, it is this Government who are actually delivering on it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

“Guess what? Next time you come into the stadium you will be paying, son, not playing.”

That is how one youngster of my acquaintance had his dreams crushed by a Premier League club when being released as a player. With the fan-led review into football, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), under way, does the Minister agree that it needs to be more than about the architecture of our national game and that it needs to incorporate a review of how clubs treat the 98% of young people who do not make it, how they equip them for life beyond football, and how they safeguard them and their mental health?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I have discussed with him. As ever, he is absolutely right. Clubs clearly owe an obligation and a duty of care particularly to the young people they work with, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford will consider those points. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Football Association has recently received a report on safeguarding and has committed to implementing all its recommendations. We will certainly be holding the FA to account for doing that.

Given that there was a Select Committee report and a Government response saying that they would legislate 10 years ago, it is a bit rich for the Secretary of State to claim that he is acting swiftly—but anyway, that aside, given the announcement only last week that the Government are prepared to set aside competition objections to preserve the status quo for three years, he will understand the healthy scepticism at the idea that the Government genuinely want change. So to answer that scepticism, will he confirm that, by the end of this Parliament, we will see a better model of redistribution in football that will see more money shift down the pyramid—yes or no?

The hon. Lady is conflating two issues about competition law and the Premier League. The Sports Minister has set out the Government’s position in a written ministerial statement. This is about securing football finances during a period of crisis, and it is essential that we do that. Clearly we will all have an open mind as we get the response, but the reason for considering this is that we want to ensure that money keeps going into the game.

On the point about change, of course that is precisely why I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, who I know the hon. Lady has worked closely with in the past, and I think we can trust her to come up with serious recommendations to address precisely the issues that the hon. Lady raises. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of that review, but I can give an assurance that I will deliver on the outcome of the review as much as we possibly can. I am not pre-empting it, but we will find legislative time for doing so.

Broadband and Digital Connectivity: Rural Areas

The Government are making huge progress on our ambition to deliver gigabit broadband across the whole country. Only last week, Openreach increased its planned investment target and it has set itself a target of 25 million premises to connect in the next five years. Some 40% of UK premises can already access gigabit broadband, and we expect that to rise to 60% by the end of this year. That is on top of the shared rural network commitment that will see mobile coverage increase across the whole country.

A number of rural areas have been recategorised as urban for the purpose of broadband community vouchers. While the majority of premises will retain their eligibility under the new voucher conditions, premises in an area where Ofcom believes a gigabit-capable network is likely to be built commercially—including Ofcom area 2—will not be eligible for a voucher. Does my hon. Friend agree that that lack of certainty risks villages such as Three Oaks in my beautiful Hastings and Rye constituency ending up being missed out? What steps can he take to ensure that this cannot happen?

It is of course welcome news that a commercial roll-out will reach more of the country than ever, but my hon. Friend raises an important point. This Government will make sure that no part of the country is left behind on that roll-out, which is why there is flexibility in the voucher scheme that she describes and why Project Gigabit is there to scoop up all the remaining premises. I am happy to discuss the villages that she mentions in person as well.

I am pleased to see the Government delivering on their pledge to level up connectivity across the UK, including through the £1 billion deal to bring better mobile coverage across the country and banish rural hotspots. That will greatly aid constituencies such as Wakefield, which suffers from poor mobile coverage in some rural areas. Will the Minister confirm that his Department has already begun using this funding to improve mobile coverage in rural areas?

It is good to see that working from home can provide a grander backdrop than this place. My hon. Friend is right to welcome the shared rural network. The roll-out has already started to benefit a large number of constituencies. It began in Wales and we will be talking in the coming weeks in much more detail about where it is going to benefit in coming years.

Residents in the rural part of Ashfield suffer from a lack of access to superfast broadband and feel that accessing it through the community fibre partnership scheme is far too expensive. When will areas such as Teversal in my constituency get access to this much-needed service?

My hon. Friend is right to say that community fibre partnerships, although they work well in some places, do not work well everywhere. That is why Project Gigabit is so important; that £5 billion of Government money will be coming down the tracks very quickly. We published plans in April and there will be more detail in June, and Ashfield certainly will not be left behind.

I thank the Minister for his helpful answers so far in response to the substantive question. I want to ask him specifically about access for homes in very rural areas, which have historically had not much better than dial-up speeds. How will he help those homes? In Suffolk, we have found that fibre-to-cabinet is not adequate in improving broadband speeds in many of our more rural parishes and villages. What will he do for very rural areas that need better than fibre-to-cabinet?

The universal service obligation is a help in the situations my hon. Friend describes, but of course we need to go further. That is why the Government are consulting on what we do in the very hardest-to-reach premises, and I look forward to talking more about what satellites and other solutions can offer in the near future. We have already seen some commercial roll-out, for instance, from Starlink, and interesting work is being done by OneWeb to make sure that absolutely no premises in this country is left without the connectivity it deserves.

I strongly welcome the Government’s commitment to rolling out faster broadband, but I constantly get letters from people in parts of my constituency, such as Barlborough, Clowne, Heath and Shirebrook, saying that the broadband connections are not good enough. Will the Minister meet me to discuss those areas and what more we can do to improve their broadband connections?

I am of course happy to meet my hon. Friend, but he will also know that in the Project Gigabit plans that we have laid out Derbyshire is very much already on that road map. That is good news and I look forward to talking about it in more detail with him.

Digital Inclusivity

Our 10 tech priorities include building a tech-savvy nation so that no one is left behind in the digital revolution. Adults can, free of charge, undertake qualifications designed to build digital skills up to level 1, and the Government are encouraging broadband providers to roll out low-cost-broadband social tariffs for lower-income households.

Recently published Office for National Statistics data showed that in the first quarter of 2020, some 22% of people in Luton who were over 16 had not used the internet for three months—that is more than double the national average. Many of my constituents were severely disadvantaged at the start of the pandemic, particularly as work, school and social lives moved online. To support my constituents—who had to choose between data and dinner—I would like specific information about whether the affordability of access to broadband and online services will be adequate.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that the pandemic has demonstrated how digital inclusion and accessibility have been fundamental to our ability to learn, work and meet our friends. Social tariffs are already available that offer low-cost landline and broadband services for those on certain means-tested benefits. However, the Government are now encouraging all fixed-broadband providers to introduce a social tariff.

The Minister says that no one should be left behind, but 60% of over-50s with household earnings under £20,000 per year are not online; more than half of adults who are not online are disabled; 2 million households in the UK have been without internet access during lockdown; and there are up to 900,000 children without devices. Yet the Government’s digital inclusion strategy was last updated in 2014 and there is still no target for inclusion. Why will the Minister not tell us what proportion of the population she is happy to leave behind in this digital age?

I feel that that is a massive under-representation of the huge amount of work that has happened over the past year. The Government agreed a set of commitments with the UK’s major broadband and mobile operators to support vulnerable customers during the covid-19 period. A whole heap of extra laptops—1.3 million of them, on top of the 2.9 million that were already in schools—have been rolled out to young people. In February, to tackle the disproportionate impact of covid-19 on disabled people, the Department launched a £2.5 million digital lifeline fund to support 5,000 people with learning disabilities to access devices, connectivity and digital skills support.

Protection of Online Users

What steps his Department is taking to (a) protect users online and (b) improve the accountability of technology companies. (900236)

Last week we published the Online Safety Bill. For the first time, tech companies will be held accountable by an independent regulator for keeping their users, especially children, safe from harmful content and behaviours online. If companies fail to keep their users safe, Ofcom will have the power to fine companies up to £18 million or 10% of their annual global turnover.

I thank the Minister for her answer. This is an incredibly important policy area. As well as the online harms that she mentioned, an increasing number of people throughout the country, including in my Aylesbury constituency, sadly fall prey to online financial scams, which can not only have a profound impact on somebody’s financial status but result in great anxiety for victims. Will the Minister outline the action her Department will take to ensure that technology companies really step up and play a full part, alongside the police and banks, to protect us all from online fraud and identity theft?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue, which he is absolutely right to do, because we know that scams of this kind can ruin lives and, as he says, a growing number of people are encountering them online. The Government are approaching the issue in three ways. First, we are working closely with law enforcement, technology companies and banks to tackle online fraud at source. That work is led by the Home Office, which is currently developing an ambitious fraud action plan, on which we have been providing support. The Online Safety Bill that we published last week will tackle any kind of fraud that is facilitated through user-generated content. On top of that, we are consulting on tougher advertising regulation and will be doing that later this year.

Football Super League

What assessment he made of the potential effect of the super league on levels of competition in professional football in the UK. (900239)

The Government were vocal in their opposition to the European super league, which would have been detrimental to the entire football pyramid.

In fact, the whole House was united in opposition. I am glad that all the English teams that were to be involved have now withdrawn from the project, and that was the right result for football fans, clubs and communities right across the country.

The super league was based on the American model of football, which does not have promotion and relegation. It has other criteria such as the draft and salary caps to make it a more competitive league. Will the Minister give an assurance to this House—in fact, prejudge the review if you like—and promise that, whatever happens, there will be promotion and regular relegation between the different football leagues?

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I know that he shares my passion for American football, but it is not necessarily a model that we would wish to emulate. It has strengths and weaknesses, but, at heart, football—in fact, all sport—is about competition and fairness, and those should underlie the sport. We are conducting the fan-led review. I am afraid that I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of that review, but I think that we are all looking forward to the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), a highly regarded and respected Member of this House, will be conducting over the coming weeks, and I am sure that he will contribute to that debate.

Tourism Industry: Covid-19 Recovery

What steps his Department is taking to support the tourism industry's recovery as covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (900240)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this timely topic ahead of English Tourism Week, which kicks off this weekend. In total, we have provided more than £25 billion already to the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors to see them through this challenging period. With large parts of the sector now reopened, we are working with partners to champion the UK’s tourism offer through the “Escape the Everyday” marketing campaign, for example. Businesses can also benefit from the VAT cut, business rates relief and other measures. Our tourism recovery plan will set out the role that the Government will play in accelerating the tourism sector’s recovery from covid-19.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for his excellent work in promoting this sector, an important part of which is business tourism, which is also getting going again. For example, keeping it very local, Harrogate Convention Centre will host Clarion Events’ Home & Gift Buyers’ Festival in July, and that will bring many thousands of visitors to the town. This sector of the industry is large in scale and consequently has a significant supply chain, both directly and indirectly, including, for example, hotels and guest houses in Harrogate. Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will do all he can to ensure the best restart possible for this important business sector?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I pay tribute to his support for the tourism sector—business tourism as well—both in his constituency and right across the country. Business events are indeed highly valuable to the UK economy, directly contributing more than £31 billion each year before the pandemic, supporting a vast supply chain and filling hotels, often in the tourist off-season. The Events Research Programme held its first business event pilot in Liverpool last month, which I was delighted to attend. That is a big step forward in our work to fully reopen the sector. Our tourism recovery plan will soon set out more detail on how we will support business events with their long-term recovery.

Leaving the EU: Touring Creative Workers

What recent steps have the Government taken to fix the red tape issues for touring creative workers caused by Britain leaving the EU. (900255)

We are working flat out with the industry to support creative workers to tour the EU, and we have a dedicated DCMS-led working group to achieve that. Our priorities are to provide clarity for artists on any rules, to work bilaterally with other EU nations to ensure that the new processes are as easy and straightforward as possible, and to try to secure transitional funding support.

We are extremely proud of our Stockton International Riverside Festival, which, as well as attracting street acts from across the world, commissions its own work to showcase what our own talented people can do. Now those same people face those barriers of fees and all other manner of problems—and they are still barriers today—if they want to take their work into the EU. That is due to the Government adopting that attitude of “it’ll be alright on the night”. Well, it will not. I heard what the Minister said, but what guarantees will she give artists from Stockton and the rest of the country that the Government will sort out the travel problems soon and that we can share our art and culture with the world?

As I have already explained, we have been working non-stop since the transition period finished to make sure that we were working through those issues. We have confirmed that portable musical instruments do not require carnets. We have confirmed that touring artists will not be double-charged social security contributions, and we have published new guidance for touring to other EU nations. Through bilateral discussions, which have been taking place at official level between me and the Secretary of State and our opposite numbers in the EU, we have established that at least 17 member states allow some visa or work permit-free touring activities, and we are continuing to do that work on a daily basis.

Events Research Programme: Liverpool Pilots

What steps he plans to take in response to the pilots held in Liverpool and London in May 2021 as part of the events research programme. (900252)

My top priority has been getting back to the things that we love. We have now moved to step 3, but I know that it is essential that we return to events without social distancing at step 4. That is why we have undertaken the events research pilot programme. Pilots including sporting events at Wembley, the Brits and music events in Liverpool have been building up a picture of how the virus spreads in different settings, and we have been looking at a range of factors, including ventilation, testing protocols and people’s behaviour.

The successful and safe reopening of events is, of course, vital to individuals and the economy generally, but particularly in my constituency of Edinburgh West. We have already lost the impact of Edinburgh International Festival each year, but also specifically the Royal Highland Show, which contributes £65 million to the economy, and more than a year of international rugby events at Murrayfield. With the measures that the Secretary of State has outlined, I hope that we will soon be able to host these events again, but will he assure me that the impact of these trials and the lessons learned will be shared with the Scottish Government to ensure that they can also take them forward?

Yes, I am very happy to give the hon. Lady that assurance. This programme has been world-leading. I do not think that any other country in the world has done quite such extensive piloting of events, and the outcomes of the pilots are helping to shape the sort of guidance that we will impose at stage 4 of the road map.

Topical Questions

Earlier this week, I joined millions of people up and down the country in sharing the joy of seeing great sporting, cultural and tourism venues open again. I was delighted to reopen the National Gallery, and to visit Tate Modern and the English National Ballet. However, those institutions and others can only operate sustainably if we move to step 4 and remove the remaining restrictions. We set up the events research programme to examine safe ways of doing that. I can tell the House that we have had positive findings from the pilots at events such as the Brits, the FA cup final and at the Crucible, and this will inform our approach to reopening at stage 4.

The proposal for the European super league was driven by a small number of clubs wanting greater financial power and control, which in some ways was exactly the reason that the Premier League itself was set up in the first place. I was somewhat disappointed by the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), when he described the £4.8 billion deal that the Premier League has just done on TV rights—with only £100 million coming to the rest of football—as money flowing “through the…pyramid”. May I seek reassurance from the Secretary of State, therefore, that his support for the financial status quo will not in any way compromise the ability of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) to recommend in her review the radical changes to governance, regulation and the distribution of finance in football that the vast majority of fans want to see?

The short answer is yes, of course I will look at the outcome of the inquiry that I have commissioned. I have specifically asked my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) to look at football financing and the pyramid, because I know all the challenges with it. That is separate from the interim measures that will cover the next three years. That will ensure that money flows through the pyramid, because it is not just the additional £100 million; it is all the other payments to the English Football League that will be secured through that announcement, should it go ahead.

The shared rural network is a fantastic initiative. What good news can we have for the notspots of Hampshire? (900321)

Yes, our £1 billion shared rural network is eliminating mobile coverage notspots across the country, including in East Hampshire. Operators have already announced the first 333 upgrades and 54 new sites in England. We will shortly be announcing the next stage of the programme. Although I cannot give full details now, I very much expect this to contain more good news for my right hon. Friend’s constituents.

More than 3 million people participate in parkrun in England, and it plays a major role in the physical and mental wellbeing of participants. Parkrun has had legal permission to return since 29 March under the covid framework from the Government and Public Health England, but there is completely inconsistent decision making across authorities, and the situation is threatening parkrun’s future. As Great Britain Olympian Greg Rutherford has said:

“If we’re all allowed to go and pile into restaurants and pubs again why on earth would we not be allowed to run about outside?”

Will the Secretary of State give a clear, simple statement here today and say that local authorities and landowners need to recognise and accept the nationally approved framework and allow parkrun to start again?

Yes. I completely share the hon. Lady’s frustration that this is not happening. I have discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and he and I will shortly be sending a very clear message and signal in writing to local authorities about our expectation that those events should proceed.

I am delighted with the Secretary of State’s response and grateful for it.

Singing also makes a positive difference to the health of over 2 million people who sing in amateur choirs. The go-ahead was given for indoor rehearsals from Monday of this week, following step 3 of the roadmap, but on Tuesday, literally as conductors were on their way to rehearsals, late guidance was issued by DCMS limiting indoor rehearsals to just six people in total. This news was devastating to choir members but also to their conductors and directors, who lose their income because of it. I am afraid that confusing and contradictory communication is the hallmark of this Government. Last year it was the Secretary of State encouraging rehearsals for pantos that were never going to happen; this year it is choral concerts with no rehearsals. What is going on? Why the late guidance? Will the Secretary of State publish the evidence that led to his decision? Thank goodness his Department is getting an experienced director of communications, because he needs one.

I share the frustration of many Members of this House that we have not been able to permit more people to participate in amateur choirs. I can tell the House and reassure Members that that decision was made on the basis of very clear public health guidance. Ultimately, the Prime Minister and I did not feel that we could contradict that public health guidance. Of course we published the guidance, and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies recommendations are regularly published. I very much hope and expect that by step 4 —all going well, we will proceed with that on 21 June—we will be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact and ease restrictions on large events and performances, including those that apply at step 3.

Next month Falmouth is welcoming the world’s media as part of the G7 summit and showing off the very best of Cornwall’s heritage and culture. As my right hon. Friend will know, Falmouth University produces some of the world’s best graduates in the creative arts industries. Will he meet me to discuss how best we can nurture this talent to potentially grow the film, TV and post-production elements in Falmouth in order to provide these quality industry careers here in Cornwall? (900322)

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a great supporter of Cornish culture and heritage, and I know of the outstanding reputation of Falmouth University. We have done a huge amount to support this country’s film industry, which is currently probably stronger than it has ever been, notwithstanding covid. I or one of my ministerial colleagues would be delighted to meet her to discuss what more we can do to support the Cornish film industry.

Last week the Culture Secretary boasted that his Government were defending heritage. If only that were so. Cuts have led to almost 800 library closures, the Whitehall Bell Foundry has been passed by Tory Ministers into the hands of commercial developers after 450 years of continuous existence, and we have heard nothing of what will replace Creative Europe culture funding. What is the Culture Secretary’s focus in telling museums what statues they can have and blocking trustees that he does not like? As one museum curator said, “arm’s length” Government interference is now becoming “knuckle length” interference. Should the Culture Secretary not be focusing on sorting out the Brexit visa mess rather than on petty culture wars and museum meddling?

There were an awful lot of questions wrapped into one from the hon. Gentleman, but in terms of what I am doing and where my primary focus is, it is about returning the things that we love and ensuring that we move from stage 3 to stage 4 of the road map to enable heritage attractions, theatres and companies up and down the country to operate normally again. We have given £2 billion-worth of support—the single largest injection by any Government ever—but I make no apology whatever for standing up for this country’s heritage against a small and noisy minority that wants to tear down the things that we enjoy as a nation.

I am disappointed we did not get through more topicals, folks, because it means there are disappointed Members.