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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Volume 715: debated on Thursday 26 May 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the Government’s tax policies on the movement of racehorses between the UK, Ireland and France; and if he will make a statement. [R] (900235)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to his tireless work campaigning on behalf of the horse-racing industry. The Government recognise the contribution that racing makes to our sporting culture and to the rural economy. We equally understand the critical importance of being able to move racehorses across international borders. We are aware that the industry has provided proposals to HMRC and the Treasury regarding the VAT arrangements, and I can tell the House that the Treasury is actively considering those proposals at the moment.

I thank the Minister for that encouraging answer. As he knows, the owners of racehorses coming to this country to race have to deposit a VAT-equivalent security, returnable when they leave, whereas the owners of horses coming to this country for what are classified as work purposes do not. Given that it would not cost the Exchequer anything to correct this anomaly, and that it would help cash flow and reduce the administrative burden on racehorse owners, I hope that the Minister will continue to speak to the Treasury with a view to correcting it.

I thank my hon. Friend for his clear articulation of the issue and his powerful expression of it. I will certainly convey that to Treasury colleagues who are currently considering the matter.

Can I just say, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I really enjoyed the different tradition we had this morning when we entered the Chamber? It is the first time I have seen it, and I would like to say how well the House does it.

Racehorses are very important to my constituency; they are an integral part of some of my constituents’ lives. The Northern Ireland protocol has obviously complicated things, so can the Minister tell me how my constituents in the racehorse industry in Strangford and in Northern Ireland can get through the minefield of bureaucracy and red tape?

The Government are extremely mindful of the challenges that the way the Northern Ireland protocol is being applied is imposing on communities across Northern Ireland. It clearly affects the horse-racing industry as it affects others. I know that my colleagues across Government are working extremely hard as we speak to find practical ways of fixing those problems, and I am sure that my colleague the Foreign Secretary will keep the hon. Member and the House updated on her efforts.

The anomaly on VAT, which ridiculously argues that a racehorse coming here to race or a brood mare coming here to breed is not coming for work, needs to be sorted.

Can the Minister also please ensure that the horserace betting levy is increased and reformed far sooner than is currently proposed? Although horse-racing is doing great at the moment, there is a significant challenge with the low level of prize money, which is leading to fewer runners and too many horses running overseas rather than here. We need to make sure we support the industry.

I thank the former Secretary of State, who is a representative of a horse-racing constituency, for his question. Clearly quite a lot of money is going into the horse-racing industry via the levy. It is on track to raise about £100 million this year, most of which ends up in prize money. However, my right hon. Friend has made a number of powerful representations, both in this House and privately, about the need to review that levy earlier than was planned, and his powerful representations are being actively considered as we speak.


We are making excellent progress on delivering the biggest broadband upgrade in UK history, so that we have fast, reliable digital infrastructure for decades to come. In the past three years, national gigabit coverage has rocketed from 6% to 68%, we are investing £5 billion so that people in hard-to-reach areas can get ultra-reliable speeds, and we have already upgraded more than 600,000 premises. We also have £500 million-worth of contracts out for tender covering areas from Cumbria to Cornwall.

Under this Government, broadband speeds are anything but levelled up. For example, the average download speed in North Shropshire is just 49 megabits per second. In Tiverton and Honiton it is just 43 megabits per second, which is half the national average of 86 megabits per second and 60% slower than the average speed in London. The Prime Minister reportedly cracks jokes about this behind closed doors, but if the Government truly care about rural Britain, why are they leaving it in the digital slow lane?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I do not share her characterisation of what is happening. I am pleased to say that there is almost 99% superfast coverage in her North Shropshire constituency, which is above the national average. Shropshire is also included in lot 25 of Project Gigabit, so those areas that are not covered by the very fast commercial roll-out of our gigabit scheme will be out for procurement—we expect it to happen in the next year—in order to build to those harder-to-reach premises.

In the meantime, if there are any premises in North Shropshire that can receive vouchers, I recommend that the hon. Lady’s constituents apply for them. I am also pleased to say that Shropshire Council is supporting a local top-up fund to supplement our voucher subsidy and has invested £2 million to date. As I say, I do not agree with her characterisation of the progress we are making.

I know that my hon. Friend shares my and my constituents’ frustration at the failure of the Scottish Government and their ironically named Reaching 100% scheme to deliver for people in Scotland. [Interruption.] It is six years late and millions of pounds over budget, notwithstanding the protestations of the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). What is the Department doing to help level up broadband connectivity for my constituents in rural Scotland?

The situation in Scotland is, admittedly, tricky. I have talked to my counterpart in the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Government’s strategy prioritises some of the islands and seeks to have greater spend in some of those hard-to-reach areas than we have in parts of England. I cannot ask people in other parts of the country to suffer for decisions made by the Scottish Government on the areas they are prioritising. I am keen to continue working with the Scottish Government on trying to get connectivity to Scotland, because I share my hon. Friend’s passion for that, but we are also looking at what we can do for the very hardest-to-reach premises, a number of which are in Scotland.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Madam Deputy Speaker.

A staggering 1.1 million people struggle to afford the most basic broadband and mobile services, and the pandemic has only reinforced the fact that broadband is now truly the fourth utility. Our day-to-day lives cannot function without it. Inflation is now running at 9%, and broadband packages have risen by 12%. With the roll-out stagnating, prices rising and household incomes being squeezed, why did the Government and Ofcom allow Openreach and other providers to raise network prices above inflation, hitting consumers and raking in profits, without real investment in full fibre?

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that such services are now key utilities. As he will know, we debated the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill yesterday, in which we are seeking to bring down rents to reduce prices for operators and, therefore, for consumers.

The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the great work we did on social tariffs with providers throughout the pandemic. The Secretary of State recently wrote to providers to understand what more the Government can do to promote those social tariffs. We have also been working with the Department for Work and Pensions to roll out social tariffs to even more people, particularly those on universal credit.

It is pleasing, week on week, to see more and more villages in my constituency getting fibre-to-the-premises broadband, but many small operators tell me that the “Equinox” Openreach discount on the wholesale price is having a distorting effect on the speed of roll-out from those smaller operators, particularly to rural communities. Has my hon. Friend modelled the impact that that discount is having on the market? What can her Department do to fix it?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important regulatory issue, which is actually led by Ofcom. It has been raised with me by altnets, and it is of concern. The Government want as much competition in the market as possible, as we think that is speeding up roll-out. The commercial sector is going great guns on this. I appreciate his concerns, and this week I met Councillor Martin Tett in the Buckingham constituency to talk about what more we can do to speed up the roll-out to my hon. Friend’s constituents.


My Department is playing an active role in delivering the national cyber strategy 2022, backed by £2.6 billion of public money. That includes a focus on enhancing the nation’s cyber-skills. The UK Cyber Security Council was launched by the Department last year and received its royal charter in early 2022. It will play a key role in building world-leading skills architecture for the cyber profession. We are also ensuring that tech is designed in a secure way, and our new Telecommunications (Security) Act 2021 is helping to protect the most vulnerable parts of UK networks and services.

Given that fraud is one of the main purposes of cyber-attack, will the Government take the advice of the Royal United Services Institute to make cyber-security and tackling fraud a national security priority, so that the full apparatus of our security establishment can be brought to bear against overseas fraudsters?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Tackling fraud needs a co-ordinated response from Government, so although policy on fraud is led by the Home Office, I assure him that the Government as a whole are taking significant action. I mentioned our national cyber strategy. We have also secured funding so that the UK intelligence community can set up a dedicated anti-fraud mission, and later this year we will publish a new strategy to address the threat. The Department recently introduced the Online Safety Bill, which will tackle some forms of online fraud and fraudulent advertising, and that will be built on by a wider online advertising programme.

Cyber-threats come in lots of guises, ranging from spreading misinformation to undermining democracy, stealing data and intelligence, and fraud, as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). Perhaps the most serious threat is the downing of critical infrastructure. What assessment has the Minister made of both the threats on downing critical infrastructure in the UK and how we overcome and challenge the people who seek to do it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking this issue so seriously. We, as a House, need to give great consideration to it. We have a number of new powers in place, including the National Security and Investment Act 2021, which gives us greater powers to look into some of the investments being made in this area. On critical national infrastructure, he will understand that I cannot go into great detail, but I simply wish to assure him that I spend a great deal of time on that issue. The more that consumers and businesses depend on our critical national infrastructure, the greater attention the House needs to pay to it, and I assure him that I am doing a lot of working in that space.

Online Harm: Women and Girls

4. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of provisions in the Online Safety Bill on the level of protection from online harm and abuse for women and girls. (900240)

The Online Safety Bill, which went into Committee on Tuesday, rightly has extremely strong protections for women and girls. The hon. Lady will have noticed that, in schedule 7, crimes such as harassment, stalking, revenge porn and extreme porn are designated as “priority offences” , and those measures protect women in particular. They are offences where social media firms have proactively to take steps to prevent that content appearing online. We have also added cyber-flashing as a new criminal offence to the Bill.

Will the Minister consider what penalties can be brought against social media companies that fail in their duty to protect young girls and women, given that the number of eating disorders have risen exponentially in the past few years and, sadly, young women and girls are having suicidal thoughts owing to the way these automatic artificial intelligence practices work? What action will the Minister take on that?

The hon. Lady is raising an incredibly important issue. Both girls and boys are covered under the provisions that protect children from harms. When we designate the list of harms, I expect that it will include eating-related matters and suicide and self-harm content, mindful of the terrible case of Molly Russell, who committed suicide after being bombarded on Instagram. We will also be publishing, in due course, the list of harms applying to adults. The penalties that will be applied if companies breach these duties include fines of up to 10% of global revenue, which tends to be about 100% of UK revenue. In extreme cases, if they persistently fail to comply, there are denial of service provisions, where these platforms’ ability to—[Interruption.] This is an important question. Their ability to transmit into the UK can be completely disconnected.

Will the Minister consider amending the Online Safety Bill in the light of the Financial Conduct Authority’s recent warning that there has been an 86% increase in screen-sharing scams in just the past 12 months?

Yes. The Bill is technology-agnostic, meaning that it does not refer specifically to technology because, obviously, technologies evolve all the time. My hon. Friend touches on fraud; the Bill was amended before its introduction to include in the scope of its duties advertisements that promote fraud, but I am happy to meet him to discuss further the particular issue he has raised.

Violence against women and girls is a systemic problem online, but the Government have failed even to name it in the Bill. The Minister knows that there is widespread support for tackling this issue in the sector and among his own Back Benchers, and I know that Members from all parties would welcome it if he went further. I ask once and for all: why have the Government failed to tackle violence against women and girls online in its most basic form and not included misogyny as a priority offence in the Bill?

I strongly dispute the suggestion that the Bill does not protect women and girls. I have already said in response to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) that we have created a new cyber-flashing offence and that we have named offences such as harassment, stalking and revenge porn as priority offences—

Those things are already priority offences in schedule 7 to the Bill. The Bill went into Committee on Tuesday and I look forward to discussing with the shadow Minister and other Committee members ideas to improve the Bill as it goes through Parliament.

I warmly welcome what we are doing with the Online Safety Bill to protect people from harm, because tech companies have been far too lax at doing so for far too long, but there is concern in some quarters that we will unintentionally end up restricting freedom of speech by conflating opinions that people do not like to hear with actual harms that are done online. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that we will ensure that we stay on the right side of that line and protect freedom of speech in the Bill?

Yes, I can categorically give that assurance. There has been some misinformation around this issue. First, there is nothing at all in the Bill that requires social media firms to censor or prohibit speech that is legal and that is harmless to children. Reports to the contrary are quite simply untrue. In fact, there is express provision in the Bill: clause 19(2) expressly provides for a new duty on social media firms to have regard to free speech. Such a provision does not currently exist.

Fan-led Review of Football Governance

5. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the recommendations on the financial sustainability of football clubs in the fan-led review of football governance; and if she will make a statement. (900242)

The fan-led review of football governance identified financial sustainability as a core issue affecting the game, which is why the primary focus of the new independent football regulator will be to improve clubs’ financial sustainability, to protect them now and in the future. Further details will be set out in the White Paper in the summer.

Newport County AFC is a leading Fair Game club and a great example of how supporter ownership can bring about sustainable financial and governance structures and excellent community engagement; it is certainly true in the County’s case. With that in mind, will the Minister meet Fair Game to discuss its proposal for a sustainability index, which would overhaul the parachute-payments system and reward responsible clubs that demonstrate that they put their supporters first?

The regulator will be tasked with improving how clubs are financially and operationally run. Improving corporate governance and financial oversight will greatly reduce the likelihood of financial distress and make football much more resilient and sustainable for the long term. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), who is the Minister responsible, has just whispered to me that he would be happy to meet the hon. Lady.

I think the whole country is looking forward to the women’s European football championships being held in England this summer. That will provide a further boost for one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the agreement that the FA has reached to redistribute money from the Premier League to the women’s game, and the fact that that will support grassroots football for women and girls?

I am absolutely delighted to endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. It will be a fantastic summer, with not just the Euro 22 women’s finals, but the Commonwealth games; it will be a summer of sport. It is a fantastic decision. Women in sport do not get enough sponsorship, enough time on television, enough support, or enough money. Pushing women in sport is a key priority of my Department, and this is a great decision. We want to see more decisions like that moving forward.

Office Working

6. What her policy is on the proportion of time that officials in her Department are expected to work from departmental premises. (900243)

We operate hybrid working, whereby staff are expected to spend, on average, two days a week in the office, recognising that some roles require more office-based work than others. This is designed to maximise the use of our office capacity, as we currently have 800 desks for 2,000 staff in London. There are huge advantages to working in the office, but also to working at home, including fostering a sense of community and belonging. I am fully supportive of the hybrid approach.

Figures released in April showed that 43% of staff in the Department were working on departmental premises. Can the Secretary of State tell me what proportion of staff in her Department were working from home before the pandemic; what the proportion is now; and what steps she is taking with the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency to encourage more civil servants to work in the Department?

Before covid-19, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport followed a “smarter working” operating model where occasional working from home was an option. This enabled us to reduce our desk capacity to save money, and, typically, we expected about 40% of staff to be working from home, or from another location, on any given day. Since covid regulations were relaxed, staff in my Department have been returning to the office as part of a hybrid working operating model, with an expectation of some working from home. As I said, we have 800 desks for 2,000—well, 2,180—staff in our London office. The occupancy levels continue to increase, with an almost 80% occupancy on some days, but those figures are of the capacity that we have available to actually sit staff down in the Department. Due to our desk ratio, we now expect about 60% of our London-based staff to be working from home, or from another location, such as Manchester, on any given day.

Privatisation of Channel 4

7. What discussions she has had with industry stakeholders on the Government’s proposals to privatise Channel 4. (900244)

The Government consulted extensively on the future of Channel 4, and the views from a broad range of industry stakeholders informed our policymaking and final decision. As a Scottish MP, the hon. Member may be particularly interested to know that I met STV and MG Alba about the broadcasting White Paper, which included the proposal to privatise Channel 4. My officials also recently met representatives from the Scotland Office and the Scottish Government. We are at a unique turning point in public service broadcasting. We think we have the chance to make Channel 4 bigger and better, while preserving what makes it so special.

When the Secretary of State was asked by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee why she wanted to privatise Channel 4, she said that it was because it was costing the taxpayer too much in subsidies. I think she was the only person in the room who was labouring under that particular delusion. Given that that excuse has gone, is it not time to come clean and say that the Secretary of State’s mission against Channel 4 is to do not with making it a better broadcaster, but with trying to shut down a broadcaster that has a nasty habit of broadcasting the truth, in particular truths that the Secretary of State might prefer not to be made known?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I know the Secretary of State’s reasoning for this decision better than he does. He also mis-characterises what was said at the Select Committee. He will be aware that Channel 4 is uniquely dependent on linear advertising, that it cannot own its own content, and that its borrowing sits on the public balance sheet. We think we have an opportunity to free it from some of those constraints to allow it to invest more in content to get private sector capital into the business, and we think that that will help to grow Channel 4, so that it can invest more in the businesses that he purports to care about.

The Secretary of State said that she wanted to remove the straitjacket from Channel 4. Except for the opportunity to borrow, which I did not know Channel 4 had asked for, the only straitjacket is the public service remits. Will those be reduced in any way?

Can the Minister kindly tell the House why the aim to compete with Amazon and Netflix should be one of the purposes of Channel 4, especially if either Netflix or Amazon, or a similar-sized foreign-owned organisation, might buy Channel 4?

This is not necessarily about allowing Channel 4 to compete in exactly the same way as Netflix and Amazon; it is about understanding the changing market dynamics that those companies are creating. As I said in my previous answer, Channel 4 is uniquely constrained. Its borrowing would sit on the public balance sheet, but it also cannot own its content. We believe that in today’s market, it needs to be able to own its content in order to have much greater flexibility in how it runs its business, and getting private capital into the business would help it to do that. While people can bury their heads in the sand about the fundamental dynamics in the market, we are taking some difficult decisions, which we think are the right decisions to secure not only the future of the business, but the future of the kind of content that audiences in this country love.

Yet again, the Secretary of State fails to come to the Dispatch Box herself to defend one of her own flagship policies, despite publishing a media White Paper and the Government consultation and tweeting over recess that she was selling Channel 4 off without coming to this place. Perhaps the Minister can clear up some of the confusions about the level of support for the Government’s plans. Despite the impression the Secretary of State gave at her recent Select Committee hearing, is it not the case that according to the Government’s own report, even when the 38 Degrees responses are removed, only 5% of respondents agreed that Channel 4 should be privatised? What is more, the majority of stakeholders are also against the sell-off. So can the Minister tell us who, apart from a small coterie around the Prime Minister, actually supports their plans?

I think the hon. Lady has been living in a different world. Only last week or the week before, the Secretary of State was grilled for three hours in Select Committee and took endless questions on Channel 4’s future, and—[Interruption.] I have to answer the questions that are put to me. We do not have advance sight of which ones the hon. Lady will come on to. I will simply say that the fundamental facts of the market dynamics that I have set out remain. In the consultation that she cites, a huge number of responses were to the 38 Degrees redrawing of the questions we set. We have the responsibility as a Government to look at the long-term trends in this business and to make a decision about what is best for the business, for the taxpayer and for UK audiences and creative industries. That is the sole thing driving the decisions we make in this space.

Sorry, but I thought it was Ministers who decided which questions they responded to, not the other way around. It was their decision to do it this way. [Interruption.] The question about Channel 4 is on the Order Paper.

Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State made up her mind long, long ago, based not on the evidence or the responses, but on her own ideology and a petty vendetta against Channel 4’s news coverage? The evidence is compelling: privatisation is bad for levelling up, bad for the skills pipeline, bad for the independent production sector and bad for our world-beating creative industries. Just like the forthcoming BBC licence review, is not this process just a sham? She does not listen to evidence, the industry, the public or many of her own Back-Benchers. Why does she not drop the ideology, support British jobs and British broadcasting, and stop the sell-off?

I would simply say that that is not the truth. This is not a decision driven by ideology; it is about what is best for our creative sector, what is best for audiences and what is best for the taxpayer. I am sure the hon. Lady will have plenty of opportunities to have ding-dongs with the Secretary of State on those issues in the forthcoming media Bill debate.

Commonwealth Games

I am here. We are investing almost £600 million in Birmingham and the west midlands for the 2022 Commonwealth games, which will deliver a world-class event and provide a wide range of services, including safety and security, health services, traffic management, visas, customs and inspection provisions, creating 30,000 games-time employment opportunities in the process. We are working hard to ensure that the games leave a lasting legacy for the city, the region and the country.

In this platinum jubilee year, the Birmingham Commonwealth games will give us the perfect opportunity to celebrate Her Majesty’s enduring and dutiful commitment throughout her reign to maintaining relationships throughout the Commonwealth. I have had first-hand experience of that through my work with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Commonwealth games will give us a global stage to remind our friends and allies of the continued importance of strong relationships between like-minded nations?

That is a very good point and reiterates what I said earlier. This is the year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee as well as of the Commonwealth games and the women’s Euro 2022. It is a year for the whole of the UK to come together to celebrate everything that the UK has to offer and to enjoy events such as the Commonwealth games. In this year of all years, at such a difficult time in the world, upholding the Commonwealth’s shared values, the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity are more important than ever.

Topical Questions

My Department has a wide-ranging and comprehensive legislative programme announced as part of the Queen’s Speech. The Online Safety Bill and the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill are making great progress on digital connectivity across the UK. Our data reform Bill will reduce the burdens on scientists and businesses and will truly take advantage of Brexit. Our draft digital markets Bill will rebalance power from big tech to business and consumers and we will shortly set out our plans to legislate for an independent regulator of English football. We will boost our public service broadcasters through our upcoming media Bill.

I am also planning to announce today that we will publish the terms of reference for the BBC mid-term charter review, setting out our plans to review the governance and regulation of the BBC.

The House of Commons Library confirms that the majority of my Delyn constituency is in the worst 30% for connectivity in the UK, with more than 10% of my constituents still receiving less than 10 megabits per second broadband speeds. It is not a devolved matter and should be delivered by DCMS, so I hope that my right hon. Friend can confirm what the UK Government specifically are doing to help my constituents out.

Responses to the recent Welsh market review are being assessed to determine which premises require Government subsidy through Project Gigabit. We will then work out with the Welsh Government how to provide gigabit coverage to as many premises as possible. Further support is available through our gigabit broadband voucher scheme and those unable to access at least 10 megabits per second may be able to request an upgrade through the universal service obligation. As of January, Ofcom reported that 0.3% of premises in Delyn may be eligible for a broadband universal service obligation connection.

I congratulate St Johnstone on their emphatic premiership play-off win last week and wish Scotland good luck next week against Ukraine, for if we win we will move on to Wales the following weekend when we will surely cuff them. That game next week, which I am sure you are looking forward to, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be broadcast live on Sky Sports. With the awarding of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish TV rights to Premier Sports and Viaplay, Scottish fans will have to subscribe to four different platforms to follow the game. England fans are able to watch their men’s national team free to air through ITV and now Channel 4. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can address this inequity without harming Scottish football’s financial situation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Minister for Sport, the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and, I think, probably the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure would be happy to meet him to discuss that. As the hon. Gentleman may know, the broadcasting White Paper has just been published and the media Bill is coming forward shortly. I am sure his comments can be considered, and he may want to contribute to the process.

T3.   How can my right hon. Friend ensure the availability of sufficient clean spectrum for programme making and special events, or PMSE, after 2030 to support the use of radio microphones in our vibrant entertainment and film industry? (900255)

We are in regular contact with Ofcom and the radio industry on these issues, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further, so that I understand the interest driving his question.

T4. Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), 96% of the people who responded to the Channel 4 consultation did not support privatisation. Having worked directly in the independent sector with a Channel 4-backed project, I saw for myself the importance of the drive that Channel 4 brings to that particular market, which is vital to our economy. There is no support in the creative sector for privatising Channel 4. Can the Government please explain why they are not paying attention and are determined to privatise Channel 4? (900256)

Some 53% of people in a public poll actually thought that Channel 4 was already privately owned. They did not realise—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure has already said, we have to address a rapidly changing broadcasting landscape in the UK at the moment. It is a bad business model for any organisation to depend on one form of revenue. As we know, linear advertising is decreasing and Channel 4 is dependent on that advertising. It is a decision we have to take for the benefit of Channel 4. As I have already said, Channel 4 itself—[Interruption.]

As Channel 4 highlighted in its own document, “4: The Next Episode”, it wants to raise investment and invest in more content, and we are setting Channel 4 free to be able to do that. If Channel 4 does that while state-owned, it is offset against the public balance sheet. We cannot allow that, because Governments do not own money—we only have taxpayers’ money—so we have to enable Channel 4 to be set free to raise investment and to continue to make the amazing and distinctive British content and edgy, diverse programmes that it does.

T5. I welcome the Government’s intention to strengthen the protections for legitimate journalism in the Online Safety Bill, but can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say when those clauses will be brought forward? Will she extend them to cover specialist publications? (900257)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and his long-standing interest in this area. Clause 50 of the Online Safety Bill already exempts recognised news publishers from the provisions of the Bill, and in clause 16 there are particular protections for content of journalistic importance. As we committed on Second Reading, I think in response to one of his interventions, we will be looking to go further to provide a right of appeal in relation to journalistic content. Work is going on to deliver that commitment right now, and we will bring forward further news as soon as possible. I will make sure that my right hon. Friend is the first to hear about it.

T6. The Government claim that protecting children online is key to the Online Safety Bill, yet we now know that the issue of breadcrumbing, whereby abusers move children from one platform to another to cause them harm, is sadly extremely widespread. Can the Secretary of State explain exactly how the Government, through the Online Safety Bill in its current form, will prevent this vile abuse from continuing? (900259)

We have targeted in the Online Safety Bill the platforms that create the most harm and where the most harm happens. We have done that in consultation with a number of stakeholders, including the Children’s Commissioner, but we do understand the problem that the hon. Member talks about. The Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), is taking the Bill through Committee. We are looking at other platforms where harm exists and the practices that the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) talks about. What I will say is that the Online Safety Bill cannot fix absolutely everything on the internet—we cannot fix the internet, but we can do as much as possible within that Bill to reduce as much harm as possible, because keeping children safe is at the heart of the Bill and is the core principle that runs through it. We are open to discussions about anything we can do to improve the Bill, but we think we have gone as far as we can in protecting freedoms of speech and democratic content and protecting children, who are the most important part of the Bill. I am sure my hon. Friend will have discussions with the hon. Member.

Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), I have worked in the broadcast industry. Subject to certain conditions, I support the sale of Channel 4. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any sell-off will be subject to requirements to make minimum British content, news content and the innovative programming that we so much enjoy on that station?

I thank my hon. Friend for enabling me to lay out some important points. Channel 4 is being sold as a public service broadcaster and the criteria that he has outlined will absolutely be in there. If anybody cares to read the broadcasting White Paper, we have put a number of things into the media Bill—not just the sale of Channel 4—that will help Channel 4, including provisions on prominence and the introduction of a code that will put all public service broadcasters and streamers on a level playing field in terms of what they can broadcast in the UK. It will be sold as a public service broadcaster and there will be a requirement to continue to make distinctive British content, such as “Derry Girls”, “Gogglebox” and all those programmes that are distinctly British. There will be a requirement to do that, as well as what he has listed.

T7. I put on record my best wishes to the two opposing sides around my constituency, the men’s and women’s teams of Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC, on a successful season for all involved. To stay on football, I and many of my constituents are disappointed that the north-east has not been selected to host any games in the upcoming 2022 women’s Euros and the closest game will take place more than 120 miles away in Rotherham. Can the Secretary of State tell the House why the north-east will not be home to any of the games? What benefits will people from Jarrow and the north-east gain from that highly anticipated football tournament? (900260)

There is always overwhelming demand from our fantastic sports facilities around the country to host those amazing events. That is why we are aggressively pursuing many international and other sporting events so we can make sure that the love is spread across the whole country. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is disappointed on this occasion. Those decisions are not made directly by Government, but we work with all the organising authorities to try to ensure that we level up sporting opportunities across the country. I am happy to speak to her about future opportunities.