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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 9 March 2023

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Football Club Governance: Fans’ Views

1. What steps she is taking to help ensure the views of fans are taken into account in the running of football clubs. (903938)

Fans are absolutely at the heart of football. As we set out in our White Paper, we are introducing an independent regulator for English football clubs, which will put fans back at the centre of how football is run. The regulator will require every club to meet a minimum standard of engagement and will ensure that fans have veto rights on issues such as a change of badge or home shirt colour, and are consulted on any stadium sale. Those are strong protections for fans across the country.

I agree with the Secretary of State. The Blackburn Rovers Supporters Trust is an integral part of Blackburn’s community and is at the heart of everything that happens. The trust was pleased that the White Paper eventually came forward, and welcomed most aspects of it, but it was disappointed that the Government did not make shadow boards or the golden share a requirement of the IREF’s licensing system. It feels that the reforms will not achieve the spirit of the fan-led review if fans do not have a voice. Will the Secretary of State consider, with the participation of supporters trusts, making shadow boards a minimum requirement for the football regulator’s licensing system?

What the hon. Lady says about football clubs being at the heart of their community is the case up and down the country. Our reforms make sure that fans have an integral say in matters that affect them. We are already seeing, and will see, shadow boards at premier league level, but I am confident that the changes that we are bringing in will give fans a greater say in football.

Can the Secretary of State outline to the House how the independent regulator will help with the financial sustainability of clubs, and how it will limit the power of owners, who may wish to gamble with their club’s future to reach the premier league and may fail, as was the case recently with Derby County?

The hon. Member makes an important point. Financial stability is one reason that we have brought in an independent regulator: to ensure that clubs are stable and are not destroyed, which then destroys communities, as I mentioned. The independent regulator will ensure financial stability and there will be owners’ and directors’ tests to ensure that we know who owns clubs and that they have the funds to maintain them.

Charity Sector: Cost of Living

We know that many charities are seeing increased demand for their services from individuals, and they are contending with increased running costs, which is having an impact on their financial situation. With Government support, charities have shown significant resilience over the last few years. I and my Department regularly engage with sector stakeholders and continue to monitor the impact of rising costs.

Research into charities and donation trends has revealed that 36% of consumers will cut their charitable donations in the next three months, which may see charities lose up to £580 million. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the cost of living on the charity sector amid concerns of economic viability? What additional steps can the Government take to support charities through these difficult times?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue; it is one reason that I have made sure that I am continually engaging with the sector to understand exactly what the situation is and how it is dealing with it. There has been significant support in the past and I continue to talk to colleagues across Government about how we can help. I was also pleased that this week, as a result of the dormant assets scheme, a further £76 million has been allocated specifically to address cost of living problems.

Inclusion in Sport

The Government believe that the opportunity to play sport and get physically active should be available to everyone. Sport is central to our national cultural identity, so it must be welcoming to all. We are working closely with Sport England, UK Sport and national governing bodies to improve inclusion across the sector, from the grassroots to the elite level.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I am a patron of Harrogate Gateway FC, which is a football club specifically for people with learning disabilities who just wish to play the sport they love. How does my right hon. Friend work with national and regional sporting bodies to ensure there are clubs and teams in all our communities that enable participation in sport, with all of the benefits that flow from that?

I join my hon. Friend in saying thank you to Harrogate Gateway football club for the work it is doing in helping people with learning disabilities. Sport England recently awarded £1.5 million to Special Olympics GB to help provide innovative opportunities, and inclusion in sport is an integral part of the work we are doing. I am delighted that, yesterday, we ensured equal opportunities for girls and boys at school, announcing over £600 million for school sports. Our forthcoming sport strategy will set out further detail about how we want to make sport more inclusive.

The Government’s failure to include swimming pools and leisure centres in the list of energy-intensive industries that would qualify for support with their energy bills post April is leading to a number of these centres being closed. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the closure of swimming pools and leisure centres, particularly on some of the poorest communities in England? What is he doing to get the Treasury to change its mind?

I have had extensive engagement both with the sector and the all-party parliamentary group on swimming, as well as with the Local Government Association recently, to understand exactly what the situation is, and I have to say that it is different in different parts of the country. We are making an assessment, and I am having further discussions with colleagues across Government about what may be a plan for the future.

Following the Lionesses’ stunning success in the Euros, it is important that we capitalise on the momentum behind women’s football, so we welcome the Government’s commitment to equal access to school sport for boys and girls—we have been calling for that for a long time. How are the Government going to make sure that schools have the facilities to be able to deliver that and how are they going to measure it?

As I said a moment ago, I am delighted that we made the announcement yesterday of over £600 million—it is a significant investment—to ensure that the provision of PE and sport in school is available and that there is equal access for boys and girls. We are also working on a kitemark, so that we will ensure that the quality of the provision is—

Order. Can the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) come back into the Chamber until there have been two full questions? I have one more Member waiting, too. Carry on, Minister.

Think-tanks: Charitable Status

4. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Charity Commission on the potential impact of the charitable status of some think-tanks on the transparency, accountability and effective regulation of those bodies. (903941)

Think-tanks in England and Wales that have charitable status must ensure that they abide by the same rules that apply to all charities under charity law. That includes meeting the Charity Commission’s reporting requirements, and in so doing, demonstrating transparency and accountability to the public.

A number of think-tank charities do exactly what the Minister has suggested, and they gain plaudits from transparency campaigners for their willingness to be open about who funds them. There are others that refuse to give out any meaningful information. They take millions of pounds from American oil companies, and produce so-called research briefings that deny climate change and encourage Governments to ban legitimate protest against oil and gas development, for example. A lot of them are housed at 55 Tufton Street, and pay their rent to a wealthy donor to the Conservative party. They do not ever educate anybody, which for an education charity might be seen to be a wee bit of a problem. What they are in effect doing is laundering money, by taking money from sources that are, by law, prohibited from funding party political activities in the United Kingdom, and using it to promote politically biased research. When are the Government going to get to grips with that, and recognise that a research institution that does not follow the rules of ethics is not a research institution and is not an educational charity, but a political organisation that should be regulated and taxed on that basis?

If the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) has a specific concern about an individual charity or organisation, he needs to raise that with the Charity Commission. It is the regulator, and he must take that up with the commission.

I thank the Minister for meeting me a few weeks ago to talk about Grimsby ice rink. The ice rink is coming up to 50 years old, and it probably has about two years of life left. Places such as Grimsby have not had the kind of investment from Sport England that we would really like, and it could be key to regenerating a new area in Grimsby that is currently very deprived. Can he meet me?

Cultural and Charitable Organisations: Cost of Living

5. What steps she is taking to support (a) cultural and (b) charitable organisations during the cost of living crisis. (903943)

This is a difficult time for DCMS sectors, including our cultural and charitable organisations, given increased running costs. We remain firmly on their side. The Government have taken action to support such organisations with their bills, but my Department is continuing to engage with both cultural and charitable organisations to monitor the impact.

Thanks to the Government’s economic illiteracy and punitive welfare policies, cultural organisations are facing closure and millions are living in poverty. Cultural community groups and food banks almost entirely rely on donations to stay afloat and meet demand. Is it not an abdication of this Government’s duty—and unsustainable—to leave it to charitable donations from the public to fill gaps left by the state?

As someone who spent 16 years of their life working in the charity sector, I would say no. I think that charities have an amazing role to play within our communities, and we have been right behind them. During the covid pandemic, we provided more than £750 million for them, and, as I say, we are continuing to work with them to ensure that they have the support that they need.

The cost of living crisis appears to have caused the BBC to announce that some of the finest musicians in the world will lose their jobs. The BBC’s new strategy for classical music plans to “deliver savings” by axing the world-famous BBC Singers, the only full-time professional choir in the UK, and making 20% redundancies in all BBC orchestras. These plans have been described as

“a dark and shocking day…for the world of choral music”

and “cultural vandalism”.

I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to support the call on the BBC to reconsider the devastating and damaging decision to disband the BBC Singers and make 20% of jobs redundant in all of its orchestras.

As the hon. Lady will know, of course, the BBC is operationally independent, but my colleagues in the Department regularly meet the BBC, and I am sure they will be happy to raise many of the issues that she has just brought to the House.

BBC Mid-term Review

I know that my right hon. Friend has a keen interest in this matter and a great deal of knowledge on it. I was pleased to discuss this matter, and a number of others, with him very recently. The mid-term review is an important milestone in the Government’s road map to BBC reform, and work is well under way. We are currently analysing feedback from a wide range of stakeholders and will set out the detail on the timetable in due course.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the requirement to be politically impartial must cover all those who are presenters on the BBC, including the highest paid? While individual contracts are a matter for the BBC, will she confirm that the mid-term review will cover the issue of enforcement of that rule on freelancers, as well as full-time employees?

As somebody whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany in the 1930s, I think it is really disappointing and inappropriate to compare Government policy on immigration to events in Germany in the 1930s. It is important for the BBC to maintain impartiality if it is to retain the trust of the public, who pay the licence fee. The BBC is operationally independent, and I am pleased that the BBC will be speaking to Gary Lineker to remind him of his responsibilities in relation to social media.

Further to that, will she meet again with the director-general to ensure that the BBC reviews the contract of well-known multimillionaire lefty Lineker—who presents himself as a sports presenter with very scandalous views about Government policy—to decide whether he is a sports presenter or a political pundit who should be paid about £1.3 million less than he currently is from the public purse?

I think that I have made my views on this subject clear. The BBC has a 10-point plan in relation to impartiality, but it is absolutely important that it maintains impartiality so that the public retain trust in it.

It is now over six weeks since it was revealed that the chairman of the BBC helped the former Prime Minister to secure an £800,000 loan before he was selected for the job. Today he remains in post. What immediate steps has the Secretary of State taken to restore trust in the independence of the BBC, in the appointment system and in the Government?

As the hon. Member will know, there is an investigation by the commissioner for employment. It is ongoing and I am awaiting the outcome.

Musicians: Cost of Living

7. What discussions she has had with music industry representatives on the impact of increases in the cost of living on musicians. (903945)

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Ministers regularly engage with music industry representatives from across the live music and recorded music sectors. I met representatives from Live to hear directly about the challenges facing musicians. I look forward to meeting the Music Venue Trust shortly, to hear more from the grassroots music sector on the cost of living pressures.

I am sure the Minister will want to join me in congratulating Mae Muller on being selected as the UK’s representative at Eurovision in Liverpool.

Surely the Minister acknowledges that the creative sector has probably been the most heavily impacted sector throughout this cost of living crisis, and that musicians have probably been the most impacted within that sector. Earnings for recordings are next to zero, Europe is effectively closed to them, musicians who want to travel to the US face visa problems, and studios and rehearsal spaces are at great risk because of sky-high energy bills. The charity Help Musicians has found that 90% of musicians—the lifeblood of the music sector—are worried about how they are going to pay their next food bill, and half are thinking about leaving the industry. Does the Minister believe that this is the worst possible time to be an aspiring musician, and what is she going to do to rectify the situation and support our musicians?

As a musician himself, the hon. Gentleman is a tremendous champion of the music industry, and I appreciate all the work he does. He has raised a series of points. On an individual level, the Government have put forward a substantial package to help people through the cost of living crisis. That is an extension of the cultural recovery fund. We also have the Arts Council England fund for supporting grassroots live music. He highlighted issues about US visas, which I am very concerned about and on which we are engaging with US counterparts. I encourage him to get the industry to engage with that consultation, and I am happy to engage with him on some of the issues he raises.

Many musicians are self-employed and lose out on cost of living payments, particularly early on in their careers, because of the operation of the minimum income floor. They have variable incomes early on, which was raised on Monday with Department for Work and Pensions Ministers. Will the Minister and her DCMS colleagues give their support to meeting representatives of self-employed musicians, to find a workable way through and to make sure that they are not unfairly penalised by how they build their careers in their early stages?

The Department is very alive to the challenges facing freelancers, and we are looking at this in the creative sector vision. I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about this area, particularly in relation to opera. I assure him that it is something on which we continue to engage with other Departments.

Further to the pertinent question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), industry surveys indicate that half of musicians across the UK are contemplating leaving the industry. Not just individual musicians are affected. Grassroots music venues run at pre-tax profits of barely 0.2%. With the triple whammy of Brexit, covid and the cost of living crisis, many may have to close, destroying the ecosystem that nurtures and sustains emerging talent. What assessment have Ministers made of the potential impact that easing the tax burden on music venues could have on improving the outlook for this important sector of our music industry?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those important questions, some of which we engage on regularly with the Treasury, particularly energy. As I said in my previous answer, we have schemes to support grassroots venues. The ACE scheme has been extended to March and we will continue to look at what more we can do to support this important sector.

Gambling-related Harms

8. What recent discussions she has had with gambling industry representatives on tackling gambling-related harms. (903946)

I know that the hon. Member, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm, has a keen interest in this issue. Tackling gambling-related harm is a priority of mine. I have met the Betting and Gaming Council, the British Amusement Catering Trade Association and the Bingo Association, as well as some of those with lived experience of gambling harms, including the Gambling Commission’s lived experience advisory panel and those involved with Gambling with Lives. I also recently discussed with the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust how gambling affects young people. All of that will support our evidence-led gambling review, and we will publish a White Paper setting out our conclusions shortly.

I know this is an important area for the Minister, too. Figures published by Public Health England estimate that the total cost of gambling harm to public health ranges from £754.4 million to £1.475 billion. These costs have been attributed to suicide, depression, homelessness and alcohol dependence among adults, so when will the Secretary of State publish the long-awaited White Paper? Will she commit to including a statutory levy and stringent affordability checks to ensure people are protected and do not gamble more than they can afford?

The hon. Lady rightly highlights the impact gambling can have on some vulnerable people. This is the most thorough review of gambling laws since the Gambling Act 2005 was passed, and we need to get it right so that our regulation is not just fit for the digital age but protects those who are vulnerable. We are looking at the best available evidence, including from the 16,000 submissions to our call for evidence, and we will be publishing our findings very shortly.

Film and Television Production Industry

9. What steps she is taking to help expand the film and television production industry; and if she will make a statement. (903947)

The Government are committed to supporting our world-leading broadcasters and film and television industries. This includes ensuring that public service content is easy to find on a wide range of TV platforms; delivering our UK global screen fund, which is investing £21 million in the international growth of independent screen productions across the UK; and continuing to support the screen sector’s tax reliefs, which provided more than £1 billion in support in the last financial year.

Back in 1982, at the Oscars, Colin Welland said, “The British are coming!” Do you know what? The British have come. I understand that—[Interruption.] You are making me laugh, Mr Speaker. I understand that, by next year, we will have more film stages in the UK than in Hollywood. Will my right hon. and learned Friend continue to support the British film industry, which generates so many US dollars for the British economy?

I will continue to champion this fundamental sector. I am pleased to see that productions supported by the Government’s film and TV production restart scheme and the UK global screen fund were recognised by both BAFTA and Oscar nominations. Indeed, these schemes have supported £3 billion in production spend across the UK and protected more than 100,000 jobs. We are committed to supporting these sectors and to building on our record production spending of more than £6 billion in 2022.

Cornwall is a fantastic setting for TV programmes such as the fantastic “Delicious” with Dawn French, filmed at Pentillie castle, and the new “Beyond Paradise”, filmed in Looe, or big movies such as “Alice in Wonderland”, filmed at Antony House. Those are just three productions that go beside the likes of “Poldark”, “Doc Martin” and even James Bond. What more can be done to promote Cornwall as a filming location?

I agree that Cornwall is a fabulous backdrop for any film, and the UK global screen fund has supported the launch of “Enys Men”, which was also filmed in Cornwall. I was pleased to see Screen Cornwall’s British Film Institute-funded report on how to establish Cornwall as a creative cluster of significance.

I was delighted earlier this week to host a group of female film and television composers in the House of Commons to celebrate their achievements, but our pipeline of writers of music for film and television is under threat if our musicians cannot travel easily to tour in the United States. I am glad the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), expressed concern about this when she answered my recent question, but she said:

“The UK Government cannot interfere in another country’s processes and must respect their systems, just as we expect them to respect the UK’s processes.”

Can the Secretary of State not do a bit better and at least tell the House that the Government are making representations to the US authorities, on behalf of our wonderful musicians and composers, to try to make sure they do not implement these punitive increases in visa costs?

Yes, we are making representations, across Government. Ultimately it is not our decision, but we will be and are making those representations. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about skills and the pipeline, which I am looking carefully at.

York’s XR Stories has opened up new and unique opportunities in the digital creative space and will accelerate the UK’s global digital media offer, which, as the Secretary of State will know, will play a significant role in the future creative economy. So what steps is she taking to invest in the digital creative cluster? Will she meet me to talk about York’s opportunity to accelerate the UK’s place in a global space?

We have a number of creative clusters across the UK and I am absolutely committed to ensuring that they continue to grow, because the creative industries have grown at twice the rate of the wider economy since 2010, generating £116 billion in 2019. The sector is important to me, as I know it is to the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

Topical Questions

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.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter ID: May 2023 Elections

1. Whether the committee has had discussions with the Electoral Commission on whether it plans to make an estimate of the number of voters turned away at polling stations for not having acceptable ID on 4 May 2023. (903956)

4. Whether the committee has had discussions with the Electoral Commission on whether it plans to make an estimate of the number of voters turned away at polling stations for not having acceptable ID on 4 May 2023. (903961)

The Speaker’s Committee has not had discussions with the Electoral Commission on the matter referred to. The commission will publish a full report on how the May elections were delivered. That will cover how voters found taking part and any lessons that can be learned for the future. As part of that process, the commission will examine evidence about how the new voter ID requirement was implemented. It will collect data from every local authority that held elections, including about the number of voters who did not bring an accepted form of ID to the polling station and were therefore unable to vote.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is good news that data will be collected on the number of voters who get turned away for not having ID at a polling station, but as we all know, parties often have tellers outside who will remind people about the voter ID requirements, so how can the Electoral Commission collect data on voters who turn away before they even get into the polling station?

My hon. Friend, who is a seasoned campaigner and is familiar with the scenes outside polling stations, has identified the potential gap in the data. Of course, polling station staff will not be able to collect data from people who do not go into the polling station. However, the commission has identified that as a potential issue and will undertake public opinion research on the reasons why people did or did not vote in the elections.

The new voter ID regulations have removed from millions of people across the country the right to vote unobstructed, and local authorities are already reporting a number of problems in implementing them. If we cannot collect accurate data on how many people are turned away, there is a risk that results may be challenged, undermining trust in our democracy. Does the hon. Lady agree that the plans should be halted for the May elections and scrapped altogether?

It is clear that the issue of elections being challenged in electoral courts would be a matter for the courts, not the commission. The commission is doing everything possible to ensure that the polls are delivered as successfully as possible and to the highest standard. There does remain the established petition process to challenge the result of elections in the circumstances that the hon. Lady identifies.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Best Start for Life Policy Paper

2. What steps the Church of England is taking to help support the roll-out of (a) family hubs and (b) the other policies in the Department of Health and Social Care policy paper entitled “Best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days”, published on 25 March 2021. (903958)

My right hon. Friend is a tireless campaigner for families and young children. The Church strongly supports family hubs and their further expansion. The Church is already supporting many of the “Best start for life” recommendations through our messy church and toddler groups, and the Archbishops’ commission on families and households will report next month.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the 75 local authority areas in England that are taking part in the Government’s family hub and best start for life programme are required to work with not just the public sector, but charities, faith groups and volunteers, to roll out the support services to give every baby the best start for life? Can he tell us what connections there are between the Church and those local authority areas to make that a reality?

I am delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend says. I can tell her that the Church works commission chaired by the Bishop of Durham includes 15 major denominations and is working very closely with the National Centre for Family Hubs. Churches are already involved in delivering 18 out of the 24 areas for delivery, and the key to that is good local authority joint working. I am pleased to say that there is lots of momentum—long may that continue.

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the new Bishop of Huddersfield, announced yesterday? We will give her a very good welcome in Huddersfield. Those family hubs are something that she is very keen on, because she was part of their creation.

I am delighted to welcome the new Bishop of Huddersfield, and I am equally delighted that she is keen on family hubs. She will have a crucial role to play in making sure they succeed in the hon. Gentleman’s area.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Electoral Law: Political Donations and Donors

3. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the strength and transparency of electoral law on political donations and donors. (903959)

The Speaker’s Committee has not held recent discussions on the matters raised. The UK has one of the most transparent political finance regimes in the world. However, the Electoral Commission has highlighted that modernisation and additional safeguards are needed so that voters can have greater confidence in the system. Its recommendations include new duties for parties to conduct risk assessments of donations and “know your donor” checks, and a requirement for companies to have made enough profit in the UK to fund any donations that they make.

I have spoken before about the Tories and unincorporated associations potentially being used as a route for foreign money to influence UK elections, with £1.7 million in registered donations linked to climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests. What is the Electoral Commission doing to bring more transparency to funding that is being channelled through those associations and mitigate the influence of lobbying groups?

The Electoral Commission has highlighted the weaknesses in the transparency requirements for political donations by unincorporated associations. They are not required to ensure that those who donate to them are permissible donors; there are also no transparency requirements in law for unincorporated associations that donate to candidates, rather than political parties or campaigners. The commission will continue to recommend changes to the law to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.

Charities acting as Think-tanks: Political Donations

5. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the transparency, accountability and effective regulation of political donations to charities that act as think-tanks. (903962)

The Speaker’s Committee has not held recent discussions on the matters raised. The Electoral Commission regulates the spending of organisations campaigning during the regulated period ahead of an election or referendum. It also regulates donations to political parties, candidates and campaigners. Unless a think tank is engaged in regulated campaign activity or itself makes donations, it will fall outside of the commission’s remit. The commission does not have a role in regulating spending on political activity more generally.

According to an audit by openDemocracy and Who Funds You?, the least transparently funded think tanks have raised more than £14 million in the past two years from mystery donors, with the likes of the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the TaxPayers Alliance refusing to declare all their funders. That is followed with estimates that $6 million is coming in from America. Is the Electoral Commission not concerned about the public influence that those right-wing think tanks have on our politics?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the commission does not have a role in monitoring the political activity of think tanks unless they are engaged in regulated campaigning ahead of an election or a referendum. The charitable activities of think tanks are regulated by the charity regulator for the relevant part of the UK, but the Electoral Commission would be happy to facilitate a meeting with the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to discuss this matter further with the commission.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners was asked—

Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

6. What steps the Church of England is taking to help support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (903963)

The Church will always support marriages and family relationships that are committed to mutual flourishing —Jesus’s first miracle was, after all, at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. The Archbishops’ commission to strengthen families and households will report next month.

The 2021 census has shown that people living on their own are more likely to be renting, less financially secure, have lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety. Some 60% of people living alone are men. Marriage is a sacred bond between man and woman. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should promote marriage at every opportunity and bring back tax allowances to suit?

My hon. Friend is right to look at all the measures that can support marriage, given that in the UK 23% of households are lone-parent households, compared with, say, 13% in the Netherlands. He is also correct that there is a lower burden of family taxation in France, Germany and the USA. There will be a range of measures to support marriage in the Archbishop’s proposals next month, which I hope my hon. Friend will support when they are published.

Can I say how very pleased I am to hear that answer from the hon. Gentleman? I am one who believes very much in the sanctity and importance of marriage. I have been married for 35 years to a long-suffering wife, Sandra. My mum and dad were married for 60 years, and Sandra’s mum and dad were married for 60 years, so we believe in marriage and its importance, as do others in this Chamber. What is the hon. Gentleman able to do to ensure that those having difficulties in marriage can have Relate discussions to ensure that their marriage can last for all their lives?

I am grateful to my friend the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. It is certainly my hope that churches across the country will be involved in the best possible marriage preparation, but also marriage support, because all of us get into bad habits, including the hon. Gentleman and me, and need little pointers and reminders from time to time.

I am not sure this is the right place to advertise virtue or claim vice.

Can I put it to my hon. Friend that the Church of England Children’s Society 50 years ago supported the social entrepreneur Bob Holman in establishing family centres? Can we praise the Church and all its parishes for the way they help to support the confidence and competence of parents, who often go through difficult situations?

I am grateful to the Father of the House for reminding us of that important fact and of what the Church has done in the past, and I hope he will be equally supportive of what our right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) is doing with her fantastic initiative on family hubs. That is an important continuation of that early work.

Outreach: Lichfield Diocese

I would be delighted to meet Michael Ipgrave, the new Lord Bishop of Lichfield, and I look forward to doing so very much indeed.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. In fact, I was present in the other place when the now Lord Bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave, was introduced. We have many outreach projects in Lichfield. There is the St Michael’s church project, which has set up a film club that meets every month, and it offers a meal and a warm space. There is “Burntwood Be A Friend” and so many others. Is there any manner by which different dioceses can learn from each other?

I thank my hon. Friend for his continuous support for not just the cathedral, but the whole diocese of Lichfield. He makes an excellent point about sharing best practice. Dare I say it, but in public life and in government, we often do not do that as well as we could, and it would be good if the Church could show the way and lead as an example in that area. He is absolutely right.

Same-sex Relationships: General Synod Decisions

8. What steps the Church of England is taking to implement the decisions of the General Synod on same-sex relationships; and if he will make a statement. (903966)

At the General Synod last month, it was agreed that the “Prayers of Love and Faith” would be finalised, that pastoral guidance for clergy would be produced, and that a culture of welcome towards LGBTQI+ people would be embedded throughout the Church.

I would be grateful for an assurance that there will not be any backsliding on the timescale on that, and that the pastoral guidance will deal finally with the issue of priests being able to marry and be freed from the current celibacy rules. On a wider issue, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that a number of provinces in the global Anglican communion have in effect made a unilateral declaration of independence from the Church of England. A small number of parishes here have begun to withhold their money from their dioceses in protest at these very small steps forward. Is it not increasingly clear that a small minority in the Church of England will never be reconciled with treating lesbian and gay people equally, and it would be better to let those people go, so that the Church can focus on the majority of Anglicans in this country who support treating lesbian and gay people equally?

The pastoral guidance is being worked on, and the bishops remain committed to implementing their response to Living in Love and Faith, which the General Synod approved last month. The timing may depend on the July Synod’s response to the pastoral guidance and “Prayers of Love and Faith”. The Synod is a democratic body and, like this Parliament, its decisions cannot be guaranteed in advance.

On the second part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question, he is correct that our proposals do not go far enough for some and go too far for others. There have always been disagreements in the Anglican communion, as there have been in the Church of England, and we need to learn to disagree well.

Nigeria: Killing and Abduction of Christians

9. Whether representatives of the Church of England have had recent discussions with the Church of Nigeria on taking steps to help tackle the killing and abduction of Christians in that country. (903967)

The murder and abduction of Christians in Nigeria is distressingly common, totally abhorrent and has gone on for far too long. The Bishop of Guildford was in Nigeria last November to support the Church of Nigeria, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who knows Nigeria well, stays constantly in touch with the situation there.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, the recent election in Nigeria has led to a complete spike in terms of violence, particularly towards Christians. What attempts are being made by the Church to reach out to Christians in Nigeria to assure them of our support, and to the victors of the election to make sure that they safeguard Christians in that country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that matter before the House. He is right to do so. I know that the Church of England and the Anglican communion will do exactly what he says. It is worth putting on the record that, even before the elections, 21 Christians were killed, and churches, houses and food were destroyed. In November last year, female students at the state university were raped in Bokkos and in January Catholic priest Isaac Achi was burned to death and another priest was shot and injured in Paikoro. Open Doors believes that Nigeria has the highest recorded level of violence against Christians in any country.

Of course, violent Islamist militants are not the only threat to Christians in Nigeria. The so-called motorbike bandits that operate in the border areas are abducting women and causing all kinds of violence. In the middle belt, Christian farmers face mass displacement and murder. It is not just about sending solidarity through the Church of England to Christians in Nigeria. What more can the Church of England do to influence the British Government and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to do more to assist Nigeria in defeating those militants who are persecuting Christians?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this matter, which needs as much attention as we can give it. The Government are actively implementing the Bishop of Truro’s recommendation that the Church of England checks regularly with the Government that all those implementations are being put into place. He is right to mention that. It is ongoing work, incredibly serious, and we need to keep focusing on it.