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Topical Questions

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 1 July 2021

I have announced ambitious proposals for broadcasting reform, including the equalisation of regulation of video on demand services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, prominence for public service broadcasters, and the potential change in ownership of Channel 4 in order to secure its long-term success.

We continue to work closely with all our sectors as we plan for the full reopening on 19 July, and our next wave of pilots is helping us to do so safely and permanently. One of those pilots will, of course, now go down in history after England’s glorious win at Wembley on Tuesday, and I know that the whole House will join me in wishing the team the very best of luck in the quarter finals in Rome on Saturday.

I want to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the issue of displaying the Union flag in the Welsh Parliament. As many will know, the Presiding Officer of the Senedd banned the display of the Union flag by Conservative Members last week. Yesterday, the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, described it as “vacuous symbolism” by

“tea towel Tories of 2021”.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that people across Wales are proud to display the Union Jack because of their pride in the country in which they live and of what the UK stands for? What actions will—

I share my hon. Friend’s pride in the Union flag, because it unites us as a nation and a people. As he well knows, the Union flag is the national flag of the United Kingdom, and it is so called because it embodies the emblems of three countries united under one sovereign: the kingdoms of England, Wales, Scotland and, of course, Northern Ireland. It is quite extraordinary that the First Minister should describe it as vacuous symbolism by tea towel Tories. It really does show how out of touch he is with the people of Wales, and the Labour party is with the wider United Kingdom.

I remind the Secretary of State of the election results in Wales in May.

I too wish England all the best for the quarter finals. It was a fantastic game, and I look forward to a repeat of the performance in the quarter finals.

On 23 March, the Minister for Digital and Culture, when asked about Government-backed insurance for the live events industry, said that

“the decision is with the Treasury right now.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2021; Vol. 691, c. 309WH.]

We are three and a half months on, and there is silence from the Government. Can the Secretary of State say today whether the Government are going to underwrite time-limited insurance for live events? The industry just needs to know the answer—a straight yes or no, please.

I very much understand the industry’s desire for insurance, and I have engaged with it. I have said all along that, as with film and TV insurance, the first step is to get all the other restrictions removed. We are making very good progress towards doing that on the 19th. At that point, if there is a market failure, namely that the commercial insurance providers cannot insure for that, we will look at whether we can extend insurance with some sort of Government-backed scheme. We are engaging extensively with the Treasury and other Government Departments to see what that might look like.

Festivals continue to be cancelled, even those scheduled for after 19 July, such as Womad, because the Government still have not published any guidance about sector reopening. They were forced into publishing the results of the events research programme last week after our urgent question, but they are also briefing to the press that nightclubs, for example, are going to reopen with no testing or proof of vaccine requirements. Businesses have had 15 long months of this chaos. The Secretary of State will not confirm insurance now and he will not publish guidance, so will he explain how festivals and live events scheduled for after 19 July can go ahead?

As I have said previously, we are making very good progress towards 19 July. Given that the evidence is suggesting that despite rising infections, we are breaking the linkage to hospitalisations and deaths, I really do hope and expect that we will be able to have that full reopening from 19 July. We have always said that we would clarify and confirm that at least a week in advance, which would be by 12 July. Festivals have benefited from millions of pounds of wider support through the culture recovery fund, and, of course, at least one of our events research programme pilots is in relation to a festival.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, may I ask the Secretary of State how the shared rural network and other measures are finally going to get us the improvements in mobile phone coverage across north Lincolnshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire that we so desperately still need? (902071)

The shared rural network will eliminate the partial notspots across huge swathes of the country, particularly in Yorkshire and the Humber; it will take the region from 95% to 99% coverage from at least one operator, and from 81% to 90% coverage from all four operators. I know how hard my hon. Friend has been working on this issue, and I look forward to working with him to continue that progress.

May I take this opportunity to wish the Sunderland Empire in my constituency a happy 114th birthday? The Government boast free trade deals with 17 countries, each having different rules, making the situation almost as hard as it is with countries with which we do not have trade deals. When are the Government going to sort this out and get a deal to allow our artists, musicians, truckers and support staff to tour across Europe properly, and save this industry before it is too late? (902073)

We are 100% aware of the importance of the UK’s creative and cultural industries, and the importance of musicians and performers being able to tour easily abroad. We have moved with great urgency to provide the clarity that they need about the current position. Through our engagement with member states, we have established that at least 17 of the 27, including France, Germany and Italy—some of the biggest economic contributors—do allow visa and permit-free touring. We continue to talk to the others.

I think we can all agree that football is absolutely, 100%, definitely coming home. With charity beginning at home, when the two come together they are absolutely unstoppable. This weekend, I am joining the Maccabi 24-hour football challenge in Prestwich in my constituency. Will the Minister join me in wishing everyone the best of luck and crossing his fingers for the best weather for us? (902072)

I am afraid that I cannot promise the weather—I wish I could! I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in wishing all those participating in the Maccabi 24-hour football challenge the very best of luck. I have no doubt that the time will fly by if they keep top of mind the inspirational example of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling from Tuesday’s success against Germany. This is a fantastic opportunity for volunteers to raise money for their club to refurbish a local pitch, and I understand that the FA will be matching some of the money raised. I wish him the very best of luck.

Nightclubs cannot open today, and they do not know in what capacity and under what rules they will be working when they do. They have no income and are still racking up debts, and today they have to start paying towards furlough payments. Does the Secretary of State think that is fair on them? (902077)

Nightclubs actually fall within the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I am very happy to answer the question. The key thing is to get them to reopen. We are making very good progress towards doing that on 19 July. Many of the existing schemes—certainly the culture recovery fund—will continue to pay out for the coming weeks and months. Indeed, we have said that claims can be made in respect of the culture recovery fund until the end of this year, so a wide range of support remains available for our cultural institutions.

Many of my constituents have benefited hugely from investment by Hillingdon Council in youth facilities. The youth investment fund has the potential to bring these benefits to a much wider group of young people. Will my hon. Friend provide an update on the plans the Department has for the use of this money? (902074)

The youth investment fund aims to level up access to youth provision over the course of this Parliament, but £30 million has already been committed as capital funding in 2021-22. That will provide investment in new and refurbished safe spaces for young people so that they can access support from youth workers and enjoy beneficial activities, including sport and culture. We know how valuable these facilities are, and details of the bidding process for the next rounds will be announced in due course.