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Topical Questions

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 1 December 2022

Next week, the Online Safety Bill will return to the House. I have made a number of changes to the legislation to strengthen the protections for children and offer a triple shield of protection for adults, while also safeguarding free speech and consumer choice.

In the meantime, I am sure that colleagues across the House will join me in congratulating England on their win on Tuesday night and, of course, show their support for the decision of the Sports Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), to wear the OneLove armband while representing the Government out in Qatar. I am proud of my right hon. Friend for standing up in solidarity with the LGBT community.

Northwood youth club in my constituency has served generations of young people, with access to activities including cooking, sports, arts and many other things, but it now needs investment. Can my right hon. Friend update me on the progress that the Government are making on the distribution of the youth investment fund?

The Government know the importance of local youth services; that is why we launched the national youth guarantee. The youth investment fund is a £368 million investment to build up or refurbish 300 youth facilities in levelling-up priority areas. The fund opened for applications on 1 August, building on the £12 million that we distributed for minor capital projects earlier, and we expect to announce the first awards early in the new year.

There is a running theme here, with the fan-led review delayed, the gambling White Paper delayed, the data Bill delayed, the Online Safety Bill delayed, the media Bill delayed and, apparently, Channel 4 privatisation cancelled. It is a bit like getting an Avanti train, Mr Speaker.

Like on the trains, delays cost businesses. Take the media Bill: there is now a real risk to the very future of our public service broadcasters without it. Can the Secretary of State tell us: will this particular train ever leave the station?

We are fully committed to the media Bill, as we have already said and as the hon. Member knows. It has not actually been delayed; it was announced in the Queen’s Speech for this Session.

The Government are making an absolute mess of the Online Safety Bill. After years of inaction, we now know that they plan once again to delay the Bill from progressing. Their approach will supposedly give adults greater choice online, but it does absolutely nothing to tackle the harmful content at its root. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether the abhorrent yet legal extreme content that led a man to shoot and kill five people in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) would still be available to view and share freely online under the terms of the Bill?

Not a single clause in this Bill is actually changing—in relation to children, it is being strengthened. In relation to illegal content, of course that content is still being taken down, as the hon. Member would know if she read the stuff that we have published. We are also introducing a triple shield of defence, which was lacking before, and we have made the promotion of self-harm and intimate image abuse an offence, while also protecting free speech and free choice. It is important that the Opposition remember that making a Bill stronger is not watering down.

T2. Social mobility—getting people out of poverty—is more important than income inequality, and access to culture and heritage play a vital role in it. I welcome the funding for the next three years for four organisations in beautiful Hastings and Rye. Hastings Contemporary, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Project Art Works and Home Live Art will all receive a share of nearly £2.5 million between 2023 and 2026. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating these organisations on the work that they do in bringing growth and creative opportunities to my constituents, and will she pay a visit to Hastings and Rye to enjoy the delights that it— (902515)

Order. I think we have had this before. These are Topical Questions, and we need very short questions so that all the other Members can get in. Unfortunately we are struggling for time, and we cannot use other people’s time: it is not fair.

I entirely agree that social mobility is at the heart of what we want to do, and I congratulate those four institutions. If the Minister for Arts and Heritage or the Secretary of State will not come to Hastings and Rye, I certainly will.

T4. Why is there no right to appeal against decisions made by the executive complaints unit in the BBC? Does the Minister agree that it would strengthen confidence in the BBC if there were an independent complaints process enabling people to appeal against those decisions? (902517)

I know that this is a long-running issue of concern for the hon. Gentleman. The BBC announced some changes to its complaints process yesterday, but I appreciate that he does not think they are strong enough. We will be looking into this in the course of our reviews of the organisation.

T3.   I recently received positive news from Leeds United football club: the area where I sit, as a season ticket holder, is being converted to rail seating. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for safe standing, may I ask the Minister to meet me to discuss how rail seating could be extended to other clubs? That would be financially viable for them, and would give their supporters a better viewing experience. (902516)

Clubs that are subject to the all-seater policy—such as the wonderful Leeds United—may now apply to offer licensed standing areas, provided that they observe stringent criteria set by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority. For instance, they must ensure that the density of spectators is no higher than it is in seated accommodation. I welcome the news that Leeds United wish to sign up for this opportunity, and I should be more than happy to meet my hon. Friend in the new year, after I have met the SGSA to discuss this very issue later in the month.

T6. Short-term holiday lets are taking over urban, rural and coastal communities, causing the housing crisis to escalate and undermining the hospitality sector. The consultation closed three months ago. On Friday, I will present a private Member’s Bill proposing the licensing of such short-term lets. Will the Secretary of State support that Bill to regulate the industry? (902519)

As I think the hon. Lady will know, in my previous role I fully understood the issues and challenges involved in this. We have received 4,000 responses to the call for evidence, which we are currently looking at. We are also working on the issue with colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. I recognise that we need to sort it out.

T5. Constituents of mine who work in London’s tourism sector are extremely worried about footfall following the Mayor of London’s decision to expand the ultra low emission zone. What discussions is the Department having with the sector to ensure that it is protected? (902518)

Tourists, like residents, want to breathe clean air in London, but they also want good public transport as an alternative to driving. When I was Minister for London, my main concern in relation to tourism was for those working in the industry, at the lower-paid end. We need to have a sensible discussion, and we need a Mayor who remains accountable for the results of the consultation that is on the table.

T8. An audit conducted by Open Democracy found that think-tanks such as the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs and Policy Exchange—favourites of the Tory party—had raised more than £14 million from mystery donors in the past two years. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Charity Commission about ensuring that funding of this type is transparent and sourced from UK donors? (902521)

We work closely with the Charity Commission, and of course all donors and charities have to work transparently. I shall be happy to meet the hon. Member for discuss this in detail.

T7. I join others in congratulating England on qualifying for the knockout stage of the World Cup, and, indeed, congratulating my hon. Friend the Sports Minister for his demonstration at the event. At home, however, more than half our Premier League clubs are now owned to foreign owners. In some cases that has been very successful, although I think that in Manchester there may be different views on either side of the city. What action can the Minister take to ensure that foreign owners are appropriate for this country? (902520)

I thank my hon. Friend for those kind words. Foreign investment and ownership have benefited football, from elite to grassroots level, and we must be careful not to exclude good investment from the game. However, it is absolutely right that good custodians be permitted to own football clubs, and that skilled and experienced directors run them. We will publish our White Paper on the reform of football club governance in the coming weeks; it will set out our approach to improving that governance, and the owners and directors test.

The charity Women in Sport recently reported that 1.3 million teenage girls across the UK are dropping out of sport; 50% do not feel good enough to participate. What are the Government doing to smash those stereotypes and ensure that girls keep playing sport, as I did when I was a girl, and get stuck into it?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the issue. It is worrying that the progress made with women and girls has not gone back to pre-pandemic levels. This issue is a key priority for me; I will be working closely with the Department for Education on it. We are developing the sports strategy, which I hope will address many of the issues that she raised.

I was a teenage anorexic, and it is terrifying how many of our children are affected by anorexia today, so will the Secretary of State meet me to make sure that the Online Safety Bill protects children from content that glorifies all forms of self-harm, including anorexia, and that those measures are implemented swiftly?

I would be delighted to meet my right hon. Friend. The Bill will ensure that children do not see content that promotes self-harm or glorifies eating disorders. Of course, the Bill will now be strengthened by a provision ensuring that adults will no longer see content promoting self-harm. I will invite the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), who has responsibility for victims, to join that meeting, to explain the clauses that we have added.

The Minister quite rightly wore the armband in Qatar. Does he agree that it is completely disgraceful that FIFA stopped Harry Kane and other captains from wearing the armband as a demonstration of solidarity? Will he encourage our Football Association to work with other, like-minded FAs to ensure that FIFA changes its approach to the awarding and running of World cups?

That was one of the reasons why I wore the armband. It was totally unacceptable that both the Welsh and English teams, at the 11th hour, were faced with an impossible decision. I thank those teams for wanting to wear the armband; it means a lot to all of us. I have already spoken to the FA about where we go from here. We cannot, at the end of this tournament, just let the matter come to an end. We need to talk about the future.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement on Cumbria’s gigabit roll-out, and thank her for her visit to Workington yesterday; she was very welcome. Does she agree that the announcement is a game-changer for places such as Workington, and a demonstration of real levelling-up by this Government?

It is indeed a game-changer, and I thank my hon. Friend for all the lobbying that he has done on behalf of his constituents to ensure that Cumbria has better levels of connection. It is testament to his hard work that we have rolled out Building Digital UK’s first regional contract in Cumbria.

Am I allowed to say, “Pinch, punch, first day of the month”? The Government should wake up to this opportunity; there are loads of young people coming out of university with media skills. We could put them in schools, and bring culture back to our school curriculum. Could we have a new programme now?

I met the Minister of State, Department for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has responsibility for skills, just this week to talk about how we get more creative skills in the economy to fill all the wonderful jobs being created in areas such as the film and television industry. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm.