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Topical Questions

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 26 January 2023

The Online Safety Bill reached a major milestone when it passed its Third Reading. It is now being introduced in the Lords. Last week I visited Birmingham to hear how the 2022 Commonwealth games has contributed £870 million to the UK economy. Meanwhile, another major event is heading down the tracks, with just 100 days to go until the King’s coronation. The Government are helping to deliver a historic weekend that will bring our country and communities together. Everyone can join us across the whole weekend, whether it is hosting a street party or volunteering through the Big Help Out for causes that matter to them.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that update. There has been much conjecture in the press about widely differing rules on transgender people participating in elite sports, with very different agreements made. Could my right hon. Friend give an update on her position, to ensure that we protect the integrity of women’s sports?

On all sport, the Government are clear that a way forward is needed that protects and shows compassion to all athletes. We are also clear that sex has an impact on the fairness of competitive women’s sport. Fairness should be the primary consideration. We need a common-sense approach in this area, which is why I am holding a roundtable with domestic governing bodies in the coming weeks, and working with UK Sport on an international engagement plan.

Half the DCMS shortlisting panel for the BBC chair had close links to the Conservative party, but even they managed to put forward five candidates. So what does the Secretary of State think it was about the close confidante of the former Prime Minister who was helping with his personal finances that first attracted him to appoint Mr Sharp over the other four candidates? Does she have confidence in the process and that the actual and perceived conflicts of interest were fully disclosed?

Richard Sharp was appointed chairman of the BBC following a rigorous appointment process in line with the public appointments governance code and the BBC royal charter. The advisory assessment panel included a senior independent panel member approved by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, who praised the process as fair and robust. In addition, there was pre-appointment scrutiny by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which confirmed Mr Sharp’s appointment. I understand the current Commissioner of Public Appointments will be investigating.

T2.   We have already heard about the RFU changes in the tackle law for rugby. We understand that they are in the interest of making the game safer, but we have heard concerns among players more broadly. Another issue is that the elite game is administered internationally, but the new laws will apply only at a community level. Many elite and community players believe that is wrong. Will the Minister agree in principle that the rules and laws of any sport should apply equally to all those who take part? (903301)

My hon. Friend has spoken to me on a number of occasions about this issue. As I said to him, these national and international governing bodies are independent of Government, but he raises important points that I will be more than happy to raise in my next meeting with the RFU, and perhaps he and I can have a further discussion about this in due course.

Does the Secretary of State believe the public think it is ever acceptable for anyone to donate hundreds of thousands to a political party and then be appointed by that same political party to a plum public post—in the case of BBC chair Richard Sharp, having been interviewed, we now learn, by a panel including another Tory party donor? Rigorous—really?

As I have already stated, there was a rigorous appointment process, in line with the public appointments governance code and the BBC royal charter. In addition, the House of Commons’ own Select Committee confirmed Mr Sharp’s appointment.

For some of the most vulnerable people in Darlington and up and down the country, terrestrial broadcast TV and radio serves as a lifeline, as we so starkly learned when the Bilsdale mast caught fire last year. Will my right hon. Friend commit to ensuring that broadcast TV and radio will be supported well into the future, so that everyone can enjoy these services?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of terrestrial, particularly to the most vulnerable communities. We have committed to ensuring that it is in place until at least 2034, and we are supporting the continued use of spectrum for that purpose. We have also commissioned a study to ensure that we are fully aware of how TV habits are affecting this.

T3. The advent of music streaming has been positive for new talent getting their stuff out there, but the big platforms and labels can hoover up all the profits, and we have heard heartbreaking stories in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee about young musicians who cannot keep the wolves from the door in the cost of living crisis. Will the Government accept that the recorded music industry and streaming culture need a complete reset, and will they play their full part in getting all the players around the table so that we have fair pay for all? (903302)

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting this issue. The Competition and Markets Authority has already looked into that and was not concerned about competition issues in relation to some of the platforms, but we are looking at this as an intellectual property question. The relevant Minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and I will have a roundtable on this issue, to ensure we are fully across it and to highlight its importance.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the exemption proposed for artificial intelligence from copyright restrictions on text and data mining. I have been struck since I became acting Chair of the Select Committee by the weight of worry from different creative sectors, including music and cinema, that this could destroy the copyright protections that many creators have. Are Ministers looking carefully at that?

I can confirm that we are looking carefully at this. We have had a range of reactions to the proposals. The Minister for IP, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), welcomed the additional evidence, and the Government have now launched a period of stakeholder engagement on implementation options, taking into account the evidence received. We are confident that, together, we can come up with a proportionate response.

T4. On the same topic, I hope the Minister saw Nick Cave’s response when he was sent a song written in the style of Nick Cave by ChatGPT this week. Does the Minister agree with him that creating such music using AI is “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”,and“The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks”? (903303)

I have not heard the song, but I will look it up. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), we are confident that we will design a balanced approach. We will work with the industry to develop the creative industries sector vision and set out our ambitions for the sector, including in that important area.

North Norfolk is home to some of the most incredible and beautiful heritage landscapes. We know that the benefits to our mental health are enormous when we have equal access to these surroundings. Will my right hon. Friend thank my constituent Laura Drysdale, who is director of the Restoration Trust in Cromer, for all her charitable work to help those suffering with mental ill health and support her National Lottery Heritage Fund bid for the Norfolk landscapes for wellbeing project?

My hon. Friend highlights very well the benefits of our many heritage sites and the work done by many volunteers. We are incredibly proud them and grateful for their extensive work to make our heritage sites some of the best in the world to visit.

I raise the plight of the Peacehaven and Telscombe conurbation, which has more than 23,000 people, with no further education provision, high levels of free school meals and pupil premium, and, despite improvements, below average rates of literacy and numeracy. Despite that, the county council wishes to downgrade the library from 900 square metres to 300 square metres and to reduce its opening times. Will the Minister join me in calling for libraries of an appropriate size in large towns? Will the Department publish statutory guidelines on the square meterage and opening times expected per population for large towns?

As the hon. Gentleman says, public libraries are run by local authorities, so it is up to each local authority to identify the needs of local residents. DCMS has previously received representations about the relocation of Peacehaven library and we have engaged with the local authority to understand the plans and their implications. The Secretary of State has a statutory power to intervene by way of a local inquiry if she considers that a local authority is not providing a comprehensive and efficient library service. That is taken seriously, so if a complaint is received, the Department will challenge the council and evidence will be carefully considered before it is decided whether a local inquiry is needed.