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Topical Questions

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

I want to start by paying tribute to my Department for its role in Her late Majesty’s funeral and the Lying in State. At the same time, we have also been getting on with delivering the Government’s priorities. In the coming weeks, we will, among other things, be announcing a new package of measures to assist broadband roll-out, bringing back the Online Safety Bill, providing an update on Channel 4 after reviewing the business case and updating the Gambling Act 2005 and the fan-led reviews.

T2. The Chiltern Open-Air Museum in my constituency is a much-loved part of the local community’s culture and history and frequently used as a filming location. Sadly, a dispute with the developer, who owns the freehold to the museum’s land, has forced it to cancel the Halloween spectacular and give up several other opportunities to raise vital funds on which the museum relies. Does the Minister agree that museums such as these are essential in preserving local and national history, and will he join me in supporting local efforts to allow the museum to thrive? (901730)

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of museums. Our Department is aware of the situation that she has raised and the Arts Council has been in direct contact, but I will keep a close eye on this and will keep her updated on any progress.

T3.   Having a good internet connection these days is as important as being connected to the electricity grid, and yet there are still parts of West Worcestershire where my constituents struggle to put together consortia of vouchers to enable the roll-out. Can the Minister look urgently at the whole process and see whether she can find a quicker and easier way to get this essential service to every rural part of the country? (901731)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting her particular concerns in West Worcestershire. We obviously share her desire to get great connections to everybody as quickly as possible. We are reviewing the voucher scheme and checking that it is working correctly at the moment and seeing whether it can be enhanced. I see from the figures that her West Worcestershire constituency is lower than average on gigabit connections, but we have an active procurement review under way and hope to be able to give her more details on that soon because we will be mopping up all the hard-to-reach areas of her patch.

T4.   Under the BBC’s Digital First plans, the current “Look East” service based in Cambridge will be axed, meaning that news about my Luton South constituency will be covered by journalists in Norwich, some two-and-a-half hours away by car. Will the Secretary of State ask Ofcom to consider whether this would constitute a breach of the BBC’s charter obligations, which require it to ensure that all audiences are able to fully engage with major local issues? (901732)

T8.   Community clubs such as Accrington Stanley are at the heart of constituencies such as mine in Hyndburn and Haslingden. The fan-led review is crucial in protecting community clubs and providing sustainability and fairness in the game. Can the Minister please update me on the Government’s position on the fan-led review? (901736)

I understand the importance of and the attachment that many fans have for the fan-led review and recognise that this is a very important sport nationally. Obviously, as a new Minister, I want to take the time to look at it in detail, which is what I am doing at the moment. I am pleased to say that my first meeting was actually with the fans’ groups to hear their views first.

T5. With the men’s competition kicking off last Saturday and the women’s and wheelchair teams due to get going next week, the rugby league world cup is getting into its stride. To secure the legacy of this great event and Bradford’s being city of culture 2025, I am backing an ambitious levelling-up bid to transform Odsal stadium, the iconic home of the Bradford Bulls, which is in my constituency. With the recent economic uncertainty, I am concerned that the bid could fall by the wayside. Will the Minister show Bradford that the Government are serious about levelling up and visit Odsal stadium with me? (901733)

It seems, following the earlier question from the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), that I am going to have a day trip to Bradford, which I am more than happy to do, considering that it is right next door to my constituency. I was pleased to be at the launch of the men’s tournament; it is fantastic that we are hosting the rugby league world cup, and the hon. Lady rightly highlights Bradford’s ambitious plans, particularly given its city of culture status. I would be more than happy to come and see her.

We need more full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband in the Kettering constituency. Can we have it sooner rather than later?

I welcome my hon. Friend constantly holding my feet to the fire on Kettering’s gigabit capability. He is actually above the national average, with 88% of premises in his seat having gigabit-capable broadband, but I am glad to say that we are doing more. We will be awarding a procurement next year to try to tackle all those bits we have not yet reached.

T6.   Despite Scottish Tory rhetoric, broadband and telecoms are entirely reserved to Westminster, but because of the slow pace of Westminster’s roll-out the Scottish Government have had to invest £600 million in speeding up broadband roll-out, which the UK is now using as a springboard for its own roll-out. Can the Minister now promise that the Scottish Government will receive a proportionate share of the UK Government’s £5 billion funding—money that the Scottish Government were forced to spend and should not have had to spend if the UK Government had had their act together? (901734)

My understanding is that some of the main challenges come from the Scottish Government’s R100 programme, which is making the roll-out rather challenging. His colleagues in Scotland have asked for Scotland to have more than the per premises cap, basically asking us to give more money to Scotland than we are giving to other parts of the country. I do not think that is fair, and I do not think we should be paying for the mistakes of the regime.

A year ago, I and a number of colleagues from across the House had to intervene when, due to poor governance, Derby County football club went into administration and came within a few days of going out of business before being rescued by local supporter David Clowes. Can the Minister assure the House and all football fans that the recommendations of the fan-led review will be implemented in full, so that we can get better governance in this important industry?

Sadly, my hon. Friend’s example demonstrates the need for reform within football. I can tell him that I am taking this matter incredibly seriously, which is why I want to take the time to review and ensure that we are getting this right. We want to give confidence to all the fans who enjoy this great sport.

T7. The Association of Photographers is extremely concerned about the Government’s plans for copyright exemption for commercial text and data mining, which allows artificial intelligence companies to freely scan the images created by photographers such as my constituent to generate new ones. Getty Images, the largest such platform in the world, has banned the upload and sale of such AI-created art. How will the Government protect the photography sector as that technology evolves? (901735)

I confess that, as the Minister for the creative industries, I share some of the hon. Lady’s concerns. I will be meeting my ministerial counterpart who has the Intellectual Property Office in his portfolio to look at this matter, because I appreciate some of the issues the hon. Lady raises.

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that UK radio listeners are able to find British broadcasters, including the BBC and commercial radio, in a world where access through smart speakers is controlled by global tech companies?

The media Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 and the Government will introduce it when parliamentary time allows. We have been looking at including radio.

Charities in my constituency face the double whammy of more people needing urgent help and fewer people able to donate, given this Government’s calamitous handling of the cost of living crisis. Just last month, Slough food bank reported a 66% increase in annual usage, with a staggering 888 food parcels handed out each month. As we approach the winter months and the situation inevitably worsens, what steps will the Government take to ensure that such organisations can operate throughout the winter?

As the hon. Member will know, we introduced the energy price guarantee to help organisations with the cost of living, and are working with all sectors through the current challenging time. I am happy to meet the hon. Member to discuss the matter further.

Mr Speaker, I apologise to you and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for my discourtesy in not being here at the beginning of topical questions. Earlier this week, I met representatives from the creative industry. They would warmly welcome the media Bill if the Channel 4 provisions were dropped. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this issue?

I want to push the Minister a little bit further, as he might appreciate. There is widespread support for the fan-led review. Okay, have the discussions about how it is going to be done, but can we have a commitment from the Front-Bench team that they are going to implement the principles of the review—an independent regulator, fairer distribution of funding, and an end to parachute payments?

The hon. Gentleman is very good at pushing me on points, but I am sure he would accept that it is only right that I check all the details before making commitments. I assure him, though, that we will be publishing the White Paper very soon.

Is the Minister able to update the House on any discussions he has held with the premier league and the English Football League to encourage a fairer distribution of money throughout the Football League pyramid?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met both organisations; as I say, my first engagement was with the Football Supporters’ Association. It is right to listen to all those views, and we are aware of discussions that are happening across the various groups, but I recognise that reform is needed. That is the firmest commitment I can give at this stage.

The Secretary of State will, I hope, have been made aware that in the early hours of this morning, the main telecommunications cable to Shetland was cut. As a consequence, this morning, my constituents in Shetland have very limited access to telephone or broadband services, with all the implications that has for the emergency services, let alone local families and businesses. First, can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that we will get a full statement on what is happening? I am told at the moment that it could be two days before services are replaced. Secondly, in the longer term, can we have a proper look at the resilience of that service? It is just not acceptable for a community the size of Shetland to be left without telecommunications for this long.

We can commit to get the right hon. Member an update before the end of play today. Of course, our roll-out is important, but resilience is equally important.