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Topical Questions

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 24 March 2022

As Putin continues his brutal assault on Ukraine, we have led the way in making the Russian regime a sporting and cultural pariah, convening Ministers from across the world to form a united response against the Russian dictator. We have helped to protect a historic football club while pursuing severe sanctions against Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich. I have also met the Ukrainian Culture Minister. In fact, we talk every day to discuss what other support we can give. I am also pleased to announce that the Government are providing the BBC with an additional £4.1 million in emergency funding to help the World Service continue broadcasting directly into Ukraine and Russia. This will ensure that audiences in the region can continue to access independent news reporting in the face of systemic Russian propaganda.

Chelsea football club is supported by many Kensington residents. I welcome the new ticketing arrangements announced last night. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the sale process? What the fans and the community are looking for is certainty, and of course victory over Real Madrid.

And we wish them well with that. There are certain principles that apply to Chelsea within the Department and with myself. We applied the sanctions to Roman Abramovich, and obviously he cannot benefit in any way from the club, but it was important to maintain the integrity in the club and enable the club to continue to play and the fans to continue to enjoy football. With regard to the sale, I believe that there has been a huge amount of interest. All I will say here is that anyone who is interested in buying Chelsea football club should please go straight to the club. The Government are not handling that side of—

Order. We only have seven minutes, and we are on topical questions. We need to be short and punchy, just to get some more Members in.

Perhaps I ought first to declare an interest as a Manchester City fan who plans to attend the FA cup semi-final against Liverpool, but is it not wrong to hold that match between two north-west teams at Wembley on a weekend when there are no trains running from the north-west to London? What influence will the Government use to get the FA to sort this problem out, ideally by moving the semi-final to another venue? Is this not just further evidence that we need the voice of fans in football decision making, and that the fan-led review needs to be urgently implemented in full?

There were a number of questions there. We are working with the Department for Transport and trying to ameliorate that situation. It is an FA decision, so we are also discussing it with the FA. It is important that we get the fan-led review in place. We have agreed in principle to a regulator, and we hope to bring that forward as soon as possible.

T7. The 2025 UK city of culture shortlist has just been announced, so this is a perfect moment to review and improve the bidding for the next cycle, which is currently time-consuming, burdensome and very resource-intensive. On behalf of Southend West and the new city of Southend, which will bid to be the 2029 UK city of culture, will the Department consider having a dedicated city of culture team to guide and support applicants through the process? (906290)

I pay tribute to Sir David Amess for his work championing Southend, which now continues. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), who is keen to support the bid for 2029. We have just announced the final four for 2025. She makes some good suggestions, and we want the application process to be as open as possible. We will provide whatever help we can, and I am happy to talk to her further.

The Online Safety Bill was published last week. MPs on both sides of the House wanted Zach’s law to be included, to protect children with epilepsy from cruel thugs who send flashing images online to trigger epileptic attacks. How many children would this measure save, and why was it not included in the Bill?

The epilepsy measures are being considered by the Ministry of Justice, but the new communications offence in clause 150 will capture epilepsy trolling because it is engaged where a communication is sent with the intention of causing serious distress.

I have been told by several credible sources that DCMS is briefing that the Secretary of State still wants to introduce a new Joint Committee, by a motion of this House, to monitor the regulation of online harms—even the name of its Chair and for how long it will sit have been briefed. Given there is no collective agreement and that paragraph 104 of the Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report expressly rules out such a new Joint Committee to scrutinise digital regulation, what is the Secretary of State’s actual position on this?

We ruled out wider legislation in statute, but a Joint Committee to undertake post-legislative scrutiny of the Online Safety Bill would be established by a Standing Order and is under consideration. This is a groundbreaking, globally leading Bill, and there is expertise in both Houses. There cannot be too much ongoing scrutiny of this Bill.

T2.   The gambling industry currently makes a voluntary contribution to the cost of the education, health support and research required to address gambling-related harm. The then Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), said in 2019 that“the Government reserve the right to pursue a mandatory route…if a voluntary route does not prove effective.”—[Official Report, 2 July 2019; Vol. 662, c. 1072.]In other words, the 2019 voluntary agreement is conditional on its being effective. With the gambling review imminent, how do we know whether the current voluntary contribution is effective? (906284)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his tireless campaigning on this issue. We are very conscious of the debate on the voluntary levy and the effectiveness of treatment. I have met and discussed this with clinicians such as Dr Matt Gaskell from the Leeds gambling centre and, of course, Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones from the London clinic. I assure the hon. Gentleman that his question is under active consideration.

This would have been my follow-up to Question 10. Which organisations need to do what to improve further the roll-out of gigabit-capable broadband?

I am delighted to report that 88% of premises in my hon. Friend’s constituency can access gigabit-capable broadband, which is above the national average. Across the UK, it is two thirds. We are on track to deliver more, and we will begin procurement in 2023 to mop up the bits of his constituency that are not covered by the commercial roll-out.

T3. The enhanced communications offences are welcomed on both sides of the House, but does the Minister recognise that one problem the police encounter is that they cannot always identify the perpetrators? How will that be addressed? (906285)

The hon. Gentleman raises a good question. Matters concerning identifying potential suspects are, generally speaking, dealt with under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which I know the Home Office is considering taking a look at. He is right to say that it is important for the police to be able to identify perpetrators where allegations are made, and the Government, particularly the Home Office and the Security Minister, are looking into that question carefully.

On Saturday, on a visit to Northwood football club in my constituency, Ian Barry and the directors showed me a site where there is bowls, football, cricket, tennis and a number of other activities. What opportunities does the Minister see to join up the grant funding streams across different sports so that we can create enhanced, multi-sport facilities at community level?

That is a very important point. Through the Football Foundation in particular, we work closely with local authorities and clubs to help them work collaboratively. That includes working with multiple clubs to share facilities, because that makes sense. We are also investing £205 million to build or transform up to 8,000 multi-use sports facilities and £21 million to refurbish park tennis courts.

T4.   The Secretary of State’s colleague the Chancellor is intending to increase VAT on live music tickets by 7.5 percentage points, which is 50% extra. What steps is she taking to promote live music and save it from this Government’s crippling tax rises? (906286)

As I said, I will be meeting UK Music and I am happy to discuss this matter with it. We have provided a huge amount of support to the live music industry throughout the pandemic, including a really successful reinsurance scheme, but I am happy to take the hon. Gentleman’s points away.

People are turning to the internet for advice on the cost of living, and we are also seeing how fake ads claiming to be from people such as Martin Lewis are used by fraudsters. So will the Secretary of State look at compelling online platforms to verify advertisements that exploit the trust and expertise that high-profile people have built?

I am delighted to report to my hon. Friend that the measures he is calling for are in the Online Safety Bill, which was introduced to Parliament just last Thursday. I believe it will have its Second Reading shortly after the Easter recess, and I look forward to debating those matters with him then, but they are in the Bill.

T5. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is one year since the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee that he wanted to fix the barriers stopping music tours of Europe. What are the Government going to do to make that promise come true? [R] (906288)

I have addressed this in a number of ways earlier today. As I say, I am meeting UK Music. We have done a number of things with Departments and with counterparts in other countries to reduce the barriers for touring musicians, and we will continue to carry out that work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last month, I took the Minister to see Belper Town football club, which is a true grassroots football club. However, Derby County is in danger, and this could have a huge knock-on effect on grassroots football in the region. Please will he confirm when the full recommendations from the fan-led review of football governance, which could have helped Derby County avoid administration and all the pains of the past six months, will be brought into force?

It was a pleasure to visit Belper Town football club. My hon. Friend is making valid points, and she knows that I have met the English Football League and the administrators about the situation at Derby County. We will be bringing more information forward about the response to the fan-led review very shortly.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I need some guidance from you about the answer I have just been given. Paragraph 104 of the report we have just published today and laid before the House states that

“we see real risks of duplication in creating a Joint Committee focused on digital regulation more broadly. Such a committee would cut across the work of existing parliamentary committees that are already well placed to scrutinise digital regulation and for this reason we do not support the recommendations on this from the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill”.

Should such commitments given in writing to a Select Committee be adhered to, perhaps not forever, but for more than 24 hours? What is your view on those who are briefing at the same time as a Committee Chair receives certain commitments in writing? Will you make it clear to the House that the establishment of such a Committee would need Opposition parties to agree to fill it?

I do not want to carry on the debate. The hon. Gentleman asks how Ministers can clarify their policy on establishing a Joint Committee on digital regulation. It is open to the Minister to make a written or oral statement to the House on the matter. Alternatively, the hon. Gentleman can table further questions to the Department. He may wish to contact the Table Office for advice. Also, as Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee he has a lot more powers than other people in this House, and a decision on establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses would be a matter for both Houses. So he may pursue this in other ways, but I certainly do not want to extend the debate any further.