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Topical Questions

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 9 March 2023

It was my pleasure to join schoolgirls and England Lionesses for football training in Downing Street yesterday, as we marked International Women’s Day. The event accompanied a major package of support for school sport. That, alongside our recent plans for an independent regulator for football and the biggest ever investment in grassroots facilities, shows that the Government are committed to protecting the long-term sustainability of the game, and sport in general.

Today, we are announcing that youth clubs, charities and many other organisations will benefit from our £30 million know your neighbourhood fund, which aims to create volunteering opportunities and tackle loneliness in disadvantaged areas.

Although not legislated for, intrusive affordability guidelines from the Gambling Commission are estimated to be costing the British horse-racing levy at least £40 million a year and are driving punters either to the black market or away from the sport altogether. Will my right hon. and learned Friend outline to the House whether the Gambling Commission warned her Department of the impact those decisions would have on the sport?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain committed to supporting the horse-racing sector and have committed to review the levy by 2024.

First, let me welcome the new Secretary of State to her promoted position. I have always found her to be a thoughtful and effective Minister, and I look forward to working with her in the future.

Since the gambling review was launched, 10 different gambling Ministers and Culture Secretaries have all failed to publish a White Paper. I know that the Secretary of State is personally committed to gambling reform, but, as she just said a few moments ago, she wants to look fresh at these issues herself. Does she not recognise that this is a massive disappointment for all those concerned —the families who have lost loved ones, those waiting for more research and preventive reports, and even the industry itself, which wants regulatory certainty? So when will she publish the White Paper?

I thank the hon. Lady for what she said, and I look forward to working closely and collaboratively with her on things that matter to our constituents across the country. I recognise that it is important to get the review out as soon as possible, and I assure her that that is what we are doing. I also wish to recognise that while the review has been going on, action has been taken: regulators have banned gambling on credit cards; they have clamped down on VIP schemes; they have strengthened the rules on how online operators prevent harm; they have updated advertising—

Order. I am sorry but I have only 10 minutes to try to get people in. We have to think of other Members; it is not self-indulgent Front-Bench day.

T3. The Theakston crime writing festival launches its 20th anniversary programme later this month, and the festival itself will take place in July. It brings people to Harrogate from across the country and across the world. Has my right hon. and learned Friend made an assessment of the role of arts festivals in driving the visitor economy, including international visitors? (903970)

I thank my hon. Friend for championing a fantastic festival in his constituency and congratulate the organisers on their 20th anniversary. VisitBritain has found that 3% of trips in the UK are made to attend a festival, which equates to more than £1.4 billion a year in spend. That is making a tremendous difference to communities such as the one he represents.

T4. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the tragic crush during the O2 Brixton Academy concert on 15 December. Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson sadly lost their lives, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in passing on our condolences to their families. Three separate investigations have been launched into the criminal, licensing and security aspects, but there is no single authority looking at what happened. I have written to the Secretary of State and her predecessor. Will she meet me to discuss the Government’s role in getting full answers for the victims’ families and ensuring the safety of similar venues nationally? (903972)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. What happened in her constituency was an absolute tragedy and I pass my condolences on to the people affected. We have received her letter, and I am terribly sorry that it has not yet received a response. I was made aware of that only last week. I am asking for this to be looked into, because I appreciate that she has highlighted things that she sees as gaps in the system, but, as she knows, the Met is also investigating this. I will look very carefully to see whether they highlight issues that the Government themselves need to consider.

It was encouraging to see the news this week that Amazon Prime video is taking steps to adopt the British Board of Film Classification ratings. However, this makes the decision of Disney+ to continue to disregard UK best practice even more disappointing. Do the Government agree that it makes it far harder for parents to properly regulate their children’s viewing when age ratings are unfamiliar?

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work on supporting parents and children in transparency in this area. Something that we want to do in the media Bill is to regulate video on demand in the same way that we do with broadcast. We continue to view the BBFC age ratings as best practice, and I too welcome the news this week about Amazon taking on those ratings.

T6.   The leisure sector faces severe challenges coming out of covid and seeing energy bills increasing by 300%. Leisure centres in my constituency have contacted me to ask why they are excluded from the Government’s energy and trade intensive industries scheme. Can the Minister tell me why publicly owned pools and centres have been left off the list of sectors eligible for vital support, and does he acknowledge that closures of not-for-profit facilities are inevitable unless something is done? (903974)

As I said earlier, I am acutely aware of the difficulties that are being felt, but they are happening in different parts of the country, which is why we are taking time to have a look at exactly where those specific problems are and what measures we may be able to take to introduce some help and support. The other thing to think about is that some of these buildings are very old and very expensive to run, so we perhaps need to consider a longer-term solution as well.

As my hon. Friend will know, the creative industries have grown at twice the rate of the wider economy since 2010. Does she agree that, by harnessing the power of science and technology, the sector can continue to prosper and grow? Will she meet me to discuss what more we can do to ensure that this is the place in which to create digital content?

I thank my hon. Friend for championing this role and for all the work that he does on science, technology, engineering and maths, which has such an important overlap with what is going on in the creative industries. We have a creative sector vision coming up, and I am also pleased to highlight that his council, Basildon, has put forward a fantastic bid for a creative centre for screen and immersive tech, and we will be announcing soon whether that has been successful.

T7. What plans does the Secretary of State have to undertake a rigorous research project on the positive societal benefits of community boxing clubs, such as those across my constituency? (903975)

The hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of community boxing clubs. I was very pleased to visit one in Bradford very recently. These clubs are often run by superb volunteers, and that will be a feature in our sporting strategy.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the coronation is not only a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our culture and history—in Lincolnshire, for instance, we hope that the King’s Champion from Scrivelsby will go on having a role, as he has done for 1,000 years—but an opportunity to bring in new people who have never been before. Will she encourage groups representing the young, in particular, to be represented?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is an opportunity for everybody across all parts of the UK to take part. There will be the Coronation Big Lunch street parties and the Big Help Out, as well as screens out for people to enjoy what is a very important celebration on the day itself.

Will the Sports Minister come to Huddersfield to see what is going at Huddersfield Town AFC and Huddersfield Giants, in the teams and the stadium? Will the Secretary of State support my campaign to keep the National Rugby League Museum in or very close to the George Hotel, where it was founded?

How could I possibly refuse an invitation to come down the road to Huddersfield? I would be more than happy to do that and look at the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. Of course, you would want to ensure, Mr Speaker, that rugby league remains in the heart of the community in which it serves.

I know from a previous answer that Ministers share my concern that high energy costs have led to the closure or reduction in hours in around 350 public swimming pools. Will Ministers join me in urging their Cabinet colleagues to give public pools the support that is available to other sectors to enable them to continue playing their essential role in keeping people healthy?

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. I repeat that I am completely aware of the situation faced by many pools and leisure centres. The multiple questions that I have had on that today certainly help my case in my discussions with colleagues across Government.

Which is the greater evidence of political bias: Gary Lineker criticising the Government’s language from his private Twitter account, or the chairman of the BBC giving donations to the Conservative party?

I think that we have dealt with both those questions today. It is important, when people funded by the BBC make comments, that the BBC considers them. I know that the BBC is speaking to Gary Lineker.