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Topical Questions

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 7 July 2022

In the last few weeks, we have seen huge crowds at Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee, Glastonbury, Silverstone and Wimbledon. The women’s Euros kicked off last night, and the Birmingham Commonwealth games are on their way. It is set to be a great British summer of culture and sport.

Speaking of sport, last week I was lucky enough to attend an event celebrating the upcoming rugby league world cup—[Interruption.] I know that Mr Speaker is a huge fan of the sport, and while I do not share his detailed expertise, he will be delighted that rugby league’s execs have told me—and him, I believe—that rugby league has never had so much publicity and so much attention. All I can say, Mr Speaker, is, “You’re welcome.”

The Government deserve considerable credit for their recent announcement to allow safe standing in all premier league grounds. However, the rule change does not permit seat locking for safe standing, which is essential if we are to be able to increase capacity and provide cheaper ticket prices like those in Germany, as the overwhelming majority of fans want. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me, officials from the Football Association and the English Premier League and colleagues from the all-party parliamentary group for safe standing to discuss the issue and get on—

I assure my hon. Friend that the safety of spectators at football matches was the key priority in the development of the policy. The report found that keeping seats unlocked would offer greater choice to spectators and was supported by the data from the spectator survey. Of course, I am always happy to meet and discuss the matter further.

It looks as though the Secretary of State will shortly have a lot more spare time on her hands, perhaps for more sport and physical activity, but that becomes much harder if leisure facilities and swimming pools close because of high fuel costs and reduced footfall. Operators are really worried. What more will the Government do to support local authorities and the rest of the sector as they face the Tory cost of living crisis?

The leisure centre sector was supported with £100 million throughout the pandemic. We continue to work, and discuss ongoing issues, with the sector, but I am delighted that we are seeing improvements across all leisure sectors.

T4. My right hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday was British IP Day, and that the creative industries for which she is responsible rely on intellectual property protection. Is she aware of the deep concern across the creative industries about proposals to dilute copyright for artificial intelligence, and will she raise the matter urgently with her colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy? (900953)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question and for his continued support to me and the Department. Last week, we published our response to the consultation on intellectual property and artificial intelligence, of which I am sure he is aware. Following that consultation, we intend to amend copyright law to make it easier to analyse material for the purposes of machine learning, research and innovation. That will promote the use of AI technology and wider data mining techniques for the public good.

T2. Mr Speaker, you will know that the bulk of the nation’s cultural treasures are held in London. Many of them do not see the light of day from one year to the next, and they are not even seen by people with access in the south-east. What will the Secretary of State do to make sure that the nation’s cultural treasures are spread among the nations and regions? (900951)

This has been an objective of mine since I first arrived in the Department. Yesterday I visited the British Library, which holds many of the nation’s treasures. We want to ensure that collections in libraries, museums and art galleries reach across the country, so that everybody has access to and can see, enjoy and learn from those national treasures. At the beginning of my tenure and recently, I asked every organisation to look again at what they are doing to ensure that that happens.

T5. My right hon. Friend has already said that the penetration of high speed broadband has gone up in just three years from 6% to 69%, particularly in rural areas. However, is she aware that in parts of Westminster and Birmingham, for example, it is very, very slow? What can we do to speed up urban broadband? (900955)

I am sure Mr Speaker has a response on Westminster, but as of July 2022, London has 81% gigabit coverage. It is an urban area: it is easier to cover and easier to reach homes. Birmingham is at 93%. Those figures are up from just 14% and 21% respectively in November 2019.

T3. York is ambitious to make it on to the UNESCO world heritage site tentative list. We will certainly display our many heritage assets and our social history, encouraging inbound tourism to the UK. However, it is a very expensive process. What support will the Department give to help cities like York to make it on to the tentative list? (900952)

We are looking at the long list of potential future bids for UNESCO world heritage sites. Many people will be surprised that York is not already on the list, for many of the reasons the hon. Lady outlines. I am happy to have a conversation with her. I do not think there is an expectation of financial support, but we should be able to provide support and advice.

T7. As the Secretary of State knows, we have some fantastic canals and waterways in this country. Many are historic and need protecting. The fantastic volunteers at the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust in my constituency do an incredible job. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on supporting this country’s historic canals and waterways? (900957)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is working with the Canal & River Trust on the current review of the Government’s annual grant funding of the trust, as required by the 2012 grant agreement. The UK’s historic canals and waterways represent some of the finest examples of working industrial heritage in the world. They play an important role in the wider visitor economy and as a valuable green space for local communities. Because of their unique social, cultural and economic importance, the Canal & River Trust, an independent charity, benefited from £3.2 million.

The Government recently introduced a dual registration scheme to support touring trucks, because touring was completely forgotten during the Brexit negotiations. Although we do not have a Minister for this area, can somebody tell me how orchestras that own their own vehicles and do not benefit from the scheme for small-scale operators will be able to operate in this area, helping our creative industries?

A huge amount of work has gone into touring, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I am sure that he will be delighted with the recent announcement from Greece that it will, along with Spain and others, open up and allow our musicians and artisans to tour across the EU. Negotiations are taking place on a daily basis and problems are being resolved as we move forward.

The Hillingdon outdoor activities centre at Harefield in my constituency has given generations of children the opportunity to experience new sports. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to ensure that more children can benefit from such opportunities in future?

The Government encourage everyone, no matter their age, to be as active as they can be. We recognise that outdoor activities centres provide opportunities for all members of society to be active. Outdoor activities centres were supported through the pandemic by Government assistance, such as the furlough scheme, and there is a range of programmes, including the National Citizen Service and the £80 million green recovery challenge, with delivery partners that include outdoor activities centres.

I know the Secretary of State to be a great survivor. If she does survive, will she look again at her terrible war against public service broadcasting—Channel 4 and the BBC?

I am disappointed with the hon. Gentleman’s question. We have worked together for 18 years, and I have no war. I have two objectives: to ensure that both Channel 4 and the BBC survive and that they are fit for the ever-changing broadcasting landscape. With the greatest respect, I say to him that we need to be aware of how the landscape is changing at warp speed.

As has been mentioned, the Commonwealth games are fast approaching, allowing athletes from Wales to display their proud individualism under our great Union. Will my hon. Friend the Minister join me in congratulating Jacob Edwards from Olympus Gymnastics in Wrexham, and wishing him all the best as he represents Team Wales?

I am absolutely delighted to wish Jacob Edwards the best of luck. Of course, the nations compete separately in the Commonwealth games, so there is an England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales dynamic that we do not have in the Olympics. I wish all nations the best of luck.

The Secretary of State was very upbeat in her response to the Opposition Front Bencher, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), who asked about local authority leisure centres. They are in financial distress because of the rising costs of energy, and that is particularly true of those that run swimming pools. Is the Secretary of State saying that they are safe for the future, and if so, how is she securing that?

The cost of living challenge—in terms of energy costs, which we all face across all sectors—is a problem that the Government are addressing. We supported the leisure sector throughout the pandemic. Conversations are taking place with sectors about the problems that they face and the solutions that the Government can help to find.