Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

Our world-class arts, culture and heritage received another huge boost in the Budget and spending review, with more than £850 million to protect museums, galleries, libraries and local culture in every corner of the country. The Budget also contained a number of measures to back our booming tech sector. The Budget also contained measures for football pitches and tennis courts, to the value of £205 million of investment across the country. In the meantime, we continue to make good progress on our trailblazing online safety Bill. I met the Joint Committee two weeks ago, and I look forward to receiving its report.

Culture and heritage are so important to our local communities, and that is particularly the case in my constituency of Burnley and Padiham. We have some real gems, like Townley Hall and Burnley Empire theatre. The latter would be a real benefit to our town centre, but it is in need of regeneration and restoration. What is the Department doing to help communities restore some of these assets so that we can make them better?

My hon. Friend raises an important question. Historic and cultural buildings, such as the Empire and Townley Hall, are at the heart of their communities, and we are determined to protect them for future generations. I am pleased that eight organisations in my hon. Friend’s constituency received just over £1 million from the culture recovery fund, as well as £20 million from the levelling-up fund, and a grant of more than £1 million from Historic England’s high streets heritage action zone initiative. I urge my hon. Friend to contact Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund to explore further funding opportunities.

I remind everybody that we need to be short and sweet in topical questions to get everyone in.

After the Owen Paterson scandal, where the Government did not like the fair process that was set up and just ripped up the rules, now the Government have changed the job description for the chair of Ofcom to give failed candidate Paul Dacre another go and put a lobbyist whose firm has represented Facebook, Apple and Sky on the panel to scrutinise candidates. Will the Secretary of State restart the process with the original job requirements and an independent panel free of any conflict of interest, and confirm that she will accept the recommendations of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport when it reports on the prospective candidate?

As the hon. Lady knows, the appointments process follows due process, is in line with the governance code for public appointments and is under the auspices of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. We are very careful to follow that code to the letter, and that is exactly what we are doing. As the process has already been launched and is under way, as the hon. Lady knows, I cannot comment further.

It seems that theory and practice just do not add up. As we have repeatedly heard, Government corruption is not restricted to this place. The public appointments process has led to a litany of political appointments, notably Tory peer Baroness Tina Stowell as the chair of the Charity Commission after the DCMS Committee rejected her appointment. Her tenure was marked by political manipulation rather than independent governance. The current process for a replacement is being led by John Booth, who donated £200,000 to the Tory party. Will the Secretary of State recommence the appointment process, removing all political interests and ensuring full independence of the appointment panel, and then—

Order. I have to get other people in on topicals. It is unfair for people to take all the time, when it is Back Benchers’ Question Time as well. Please, we have to help Back Benchers. I call the Secretary of State.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The hon. Lady mentioned sleaze and this Government about four times: I thought she was going to enlighten us on the earnings from Mishcon de Reya received by the Leader of the Opposition, but she failed to do so. She also failed to mention that this Government appointed Vera Baird, the former Labour MP for Redcar, as the Victims’ Commissioner. The process is fair. It is overseen by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and a code of governance.

Up and down the country, local councils are setting their budgets for next year. Due to the lack of help in this Government’s Budget last month, there will be more closures of leisure centres and swimming pools. When will the sports Minister step in to provide funding to stop these devastating losses?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we have stepped in to support sport to the tune of £1 billion during the pandemic, with £100 million specifically to support leisure centres, to enable them to survive during covid and then remain open. We are always willing to work together with local councils, which also have skin in the game and responsibilities for the delivery of local leisure facilities, to ensure that everybody can swim.

Last night I met the national Girl Guide advocates, who spoke passionately about the need to tackle online abuse and cyber-flashing, which is made much more scary when it is anonymous. I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cares deeply about these issues. Will she meet me to discuss the ten-minute rule Bill I am introducing next week to look at choice of verification?

Channel 4 makes an enormous contribution to job growth and region-based media production. In fact, of the 200 independent media production companies that Channel 4 has commissioned over the past two years, almost 140 rely on the broadcaster for at least half their work. Will the Minister concede that the privatisation of Channel 4 will endanger hundreds of jobs and make a mockery of the Government’s levelling-up agenda?

We are currently looking at all the consultation responses we have received on the question of whether to move ahead with the privatisation of Channel 4. We will look at the question of the independent sector and its health. The sector is thriving at the moment and the impact of the public service broadcasting sector on it is reducing, but it is something we will look closely at.

Joe Nihill, a 23-year-old former Army cadet from Whinmoor in my constituency, tragically took his own life after accessing so-called suicide forums. His mother Catherine and his sister-in-law Melanie are running an inspirational campaign to ensure that what happened to Joe does not happen to other families. As we wait for the online safety Bill to progress, will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Catherine and Melanie on their inspirational campaign and in sending a firm message to tech giants that they will now have to take action to remove these suicide forums that prey on vulnerable people?

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating his constituents. He is absolutely right, and the online harms Bill and the regulatory framework that will accompany it will do just what he asks. Those online platforms and online giants have the ability right now to remove those harmful algorithms that direct children and young people to suicide chat rooms. I call on them to start that work, because if they do not, the Bill will be here in the new year and they will be subject to huge fines and possibly criminal action.

The actions of Football Index can only be described as scandalous. The Scottish National party called for an inquiry, and that has been delivered. Can the Minister guarantee that the actions the Government take as a result of the inquiry will ensure that such shameful behaviour by the gambling firms will never be repeated?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. We are taking this very seriously. As I said on an earlier question, a detailed review by a QC is being conducted already to make sure that the regulatory action—whether by the Gambling Commission or, in different circumstances, the FCA—is appropriate. It is important that these gambling firms are looked at very carefully, and it is our intention that the Gambling Commission do that.

Can I reiterate the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) about the collapse of Football Index, and reiterate the need for Ministers to look at the issues of better redress and the failings in this case, on behalf of my constituents affected?

Yes, it is being looked at extremely carefully, and I can assure the hon. Lady that that work is going on.