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Topical Questions

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 6 January 2022

Unfortunately, Mr Blomfield is not here to ask the first question. I would like the Secretary of State to answer the question about departmental responsibilities, and then I will move on to the next one.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do not think I said happy new year to you at the beginning of questions. Happy new year to everyone here today.

I know it has been a tough few weeks for our world-class arts and culture sector, which has found itself grappling with omicron and covid rather than the festive rush. We have supported the sector throughout the pandemic and in December we doubled the emergency funding available, to £60 million, to overcome this latest challenge.

In the meantime, UK tech enjoyed another record-breaking year in 2021—I think this country had three times the tech investment of any other EU country. As we head into 2022, it promises to be a historic year for the future of the UK. We continue to make fantastic progress on our three showstopper events—Birmingham Commonwealth games, Unboxed and Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee, all of which will bring the whole country together in a year of celebration and renewal.

T2. So-called conversion therapy is a horrific abuse of some of the most vulnerable people in society, specifically targeting LGBT young people. The introduction of the online safety Bill will hopefully coincide with progress on banning conversion therapy. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that online promotion of this terrible abuse will be banned in all circumstances in the Bill? (904856)

The online safety Bill will be before the House very shortly. I do not think I can answer the hon. Lady’s particular question, because that is not a policy of the Department—it is not our policy area—but the online safety Bill will be here shortly and we can discuss it further.

T4. Last month, I was lucky enough to attend Keighley’s very own rugby league world cup, organised by Joe O’Keeffe and his brilliant team at the Keighley Cougarmania Foundation, which involved 12 local primary schools each representing a different country. The energy and enthusiasm was absolutely fantastic, but we can do much more to support grassroots sport. What more can the Department do to support primary schools and grassroots sports foundations? (904861)

I congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents on organising what sounds like an incredibly successful event. He and I know just how important sport and physical activity is for our physical and mental health.

At the recent spending review, the Chancellor announced an additional £205 million for up to 8,000 community football pitches and multi-use sports facilities across the country. Every year, our arm’s length body, Sport England, distributes millions of pounds to support grassroots sport right across the country, including more than £180,000 in my hon. Friend’s constituency since 2019.

Happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to all in the House.

There is a total lack of ambition to make Britain a world leader on high-speed broadband. Reforms made in 2017 are holding back 5G connectivity in many areas across the country. Instead of paying a fair price to sports clubs, churches and local authorities to host and upgrade masts, the telecoms companies are slashing rents and holding community and sports groups to ransom through the courts, to boost their bottom lines—multibillion-pound organisations making profits on the backs of groups that have kept our communities going during the darkest days of the pandemic. Will the Government look again at the scope of the telecoms Bill that is due before the House shortly, to make rent evaluations fairer, rebalance the market and ensure that we can get 5G broadband across the UK improved?

Order. I had the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman as a Whip, and we used to have this challenge of Front Benchers’ questions needing to be short in topicals, so I was hoping he would set the right example, as I am sure he will next time.

We have put forward an important piece of legislation on this, to get our ambitions out there on improved wireless and broadband connectivity. I would be keen to engage with the hon. Gentleman further on these issues, but we think we have struck the right balance between the mobile network operators and those who receive rents.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that the singing of the national anthem is something that provides a great sense of unity and pride in our nation. In this year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, will he take steps to encourage national broadcasters to play the national anthem and ensure that the BBC restores it at the end of the day’s programming before it switches to News 24?

We fully support the singing of the national anthem, Her Majesty the Queen and other expressions of patriotism, including the flying of the Union Jack. The more we hear the national anthem sung, frankly, the better. Of course, organisations such as schools are free to promote it, and the more we can do in this area, the better it will be.

You may have a sense of déjà vu, Mr Speaker, when I tell you that before Christmas the Secretary of State appointed a preferred candidate as Charity Commission chair. Within a week he was gone, when it was discovered that he had sent a photo of himself in a Victoria’s Secret store. Does the Secretary of State do no vetting when she appoints candidates? When she appoints a new candidate, can she promise us that it will be less chaotic a process than last time round?

As I have said before, all our interview processes are undertaken in full compliance with the governance code and the principles given by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. We asked Martin Thomas at interview whether he had anything to declare, which he said he did not. He has rightly apologised for his error of judgment during the application process. I have accepted his resignation. The Select Committee will examine this matter and the error of judgment, but of course he also passed through the cross-party Joint Committee process. We are reviewing our processes; we review them constantly. I am afraid there is not much more I can say about this.

On Monday I visited Harefield United football club in my constituency, which told me, as many other grassroots football clubs do, of its frustration at being unable to access excellent facilities in local schools. What discussions have taken place between the Department and the Department for Education about opening up those brilliant facilities to a wider range of grassroots sports clubs?

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. We have to open up school facilities for more sporting activities. I have already had several conversations with DFE Ministers about opening up school facilities. We are also working together on the school sport and activity action plan, and in the spending review additional money was allocated to support the opening up of school facilities and the teaching of PE in primary schools. My hon. Friend is raising a really important point; more action will be taken.

We know that over Christmas children and young people would have been watching mainly streaming services rather than terrestrial TV, so can I press the Minister? Would it not be an easy and quick win to require all streaming services to use the British Board of Film Classification age verification system? We know that Netflix does, but Disney does not, which causes confusion for parents. This would be an easy, quick win for the Government, as well as everyone else.

I know that the right hon. Lady is passionate about this issue, which is something we are actively looking at, as I mentioned earlier. Those ratings are already voluntarily taken on by the likes of Netflix and others, but we are looking at what more could be done.

If there is evidence that officials in the Department have inadvertently advised the Secretary of State on the application of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the HMRC film production company manual, would this be of concern to her, and would she agree to meet me and my constituent about this matter?

I have met my hon. Friend in my office and we have discussed at length the situation regarding transport between film venues. It seems to fall into a difficult area. I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport and am awaiting his response. When I have had his response, I will revert to my hon. Friend further.

The minor reforms made as a result of the collapse of the Football Index by the Secretary of State’s Department are thin gruel for my constituents who lost thousands through that scam. What are the Government doing to ensure that both the Gambling Commission and the Financial Conduct Authority are fit for purpose, and that my constituents get the justice that they deserve after the collapse of that scam, the Football Index?

The Gambling Commission has revoked the licence of the Football Index’s operator. The individuals have surrendered their personal licences. The matter has been referred to the Insolvency Service, which is investigating allegations of directors’ misconduct. It has the power to conduct criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions, including for fraud if appropriate. On the broader question of compensation, there is no statutory basis upon which compensation can be paid to people who have lost money as a result of the collapse of a betting firm, but the investigations by the Insolvency Service are ongoing.