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Topical Questions

Volume 734: debated on Thursday 15 June 2023

Since our last oral questions, my Department has delivered a gambling White Paper to bring our gambling regulations into the smartphone age, the historic coronation of King Charles III, and an unforgettable Eurovision final in Liverpool. As Members of the House will know, our creative industries are genuinely world class. Yesterday, the Chancellor and I set out a new vision for those industries that will extend their excellence into the future, building a pipeline of talent, adding £50 billion to our economy and creating an extra 1 million jobs by 2030.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating Dudley Town football club, which has recently been promoted to the midlands premier league for the first time in 38 years? Will she also do what she can to support me and Mayor Andy Street in our joint campaign with Dudley Town football club to return it to its rightful grounds within Dudley borough?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Dudley Town football club on its tremendous season, its league title and its promotion. I understand the importance to fans of where football is played, and fans want to watch their teams play in Dudley town. I wish the club well in its aspirations to return there.

On that note, perhaps the Secretary of State will also join me in congratulating my constituents and my club, Manchester City, on its historic treble-winning season. As yet another Premier League AGM passes, and Wigan Athletic faces a winding up order, why has the Secretary of State not personally done more to bring about a fair financial settlement with the English Football League and the Football Association, to address the problems set out in her own White Paper and press the Premier League to do more? Does she share my strong view that the football regulator must be given all the powers it needs to resolve this matter?

Of course I congratulate Manchester City on its tremendous achievement. It is really important that football sorts out the finances within football. That is why we have consistently encouraged the Premier League and the EFL to come to some resolution, and I seriously hope they do. The hon. Lady will know that that is one of the reasons why we brought forward the White Paper, and why we are bringing forward regulation. I hope that football resolves this issue itself.

T2. In 2020, 30,126 complaints were made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation. Only 496 were investigated, and only 79 out of more than 30,000 complaints were upheld. When are we going to stop talking about the freedom of the press, and recognise that with that freedom comes responsibility? We cannot let them keep marking their own homework and giving themselves a clean bill of health. (905439)

The Government remain committed to press freedom, which is a cornerstone of our democracy. For the Government to intervene in the regulation of the press would run counter to that. However, I recognise what my hon. Friend says. There is a duty on newspapers to behave responsibly, and the vast majority are members of an independent regulator, the most recent review of which found it to be both independent and effective.

T3. What recent discussions has the Minister had with the BBC regarding its plan to reduce the high proportion of women being prosecuted for licence fee evasion, which the BBC set out last month? (905441)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have had several studies on decriminalisation, and those looked specifically at the reasons why more women are prosecuted. There are a variety of reasons, but the BBC has made it plain that it intends to try to address that. I agree with him—it is a concerning figure—but there are complicated explanations for it. I hope that the number will fall in due course.

T6. This Saturday, the Wallington music festival will be happening in my constituency. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that these events are fantastic for our local communities. Will he please outline what guidance I can give about Government support that might be available to allow such events to continue to be put on? (905445)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his advocacy for his constituency. I am only sorry that I shall miss the Wallington music festival this weekend; I am sure that it will be a terrific occasion. Festivals play a vital part in the British cultural and music landscape and are key to the talent pipeline. Organisers, including festivals, are eligible to apply for Arts Council England’s national lottery project grants to support projects that help bring live music to the public. I encourage him to draw that to his constituents’ attention.

T4. The issues of high energy prices and swimming pools were raised earlier. I am advised by operators in Cambridge that they face really hard decisions soon. The Minister said that he would make an announcement shortly, but businesses have to plan. How many of them does he think are at risk if he does not make that announcement soon? (905443)

That is precisely why we are working at pace to try to get exactly that information. The evidence that we have been receiving shows a mixed picture, so rather than just giving everybody a bit, I would rather ensure that we target those areas that need it most. I assure the hon. Member that I am as keen as he is to get that money out of the door as quickly as possible.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), 18% of all female criminal prosecutions in 2021 were for the non-possession of a television licence, which seems completely unreasonable. Will my right hon. and learned Friend meet me and my constituent Josiane to discuss that further and receive a 250,000-signature petition asking for decriminalisation?

Like my hon. Friend, I am concerned that criminal sanction for TV licence evasion is increasingly disproportionate and unfair in a modern public service broadcasting system. Our review of the BBC funding model will consider whether a mandatory licence fee with criminal penalties is still appropriate. As the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries mentioned, the BBC has recently published the findings of its gender disparity review and set out a 10-point plan of action, which we will be monitoring.

T5. Clause 1 of the draft Media Bill’s redefinition of public service broadcasting deletes music, comedy and drama. It removes all requirement to have cultural output. Why, oh why? (905444)

I look forward to discussing this matter further with the hon. Lady when I appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in due course. The Media Bill is published in draft, with part of the reason being so that we can have a debate about the precise definitions contained in it. I am happy to look at that, but we remain committed to the prominence obligations that the Bill will put in place.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), does the Secretary of State believe that people should be forced by the criminal law to buy a Sky TV package even if they do not want one? If not, why should they be forced to buy a BBC licence fee if they do not want one? Does she not agree that both positions are equally absurd?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will know that the Department is considering all possible future funding options to ensure the BBC’s long-term sustainability, because the digital world is indeed changing.

The amount of money that companies spend on formula milk advertising seems to increase every year, but every penny they spend on advertising goes on to the price of a tub of formula at the till. What conversations has the Secretary of State had on that advertising spend, which is having an impact on public health?

Omaze is a for- profit fundraising company that raises millions and millions of pounds for charities. It spoke to me recently about its concerns over the potential limits on prize draws in the gambling White Paper. Does the Minister agree that prize draws can be a very useful tool for charity fundraising, which are relatively low risk to consumers? Will he keep that in mind when looking at further regulation of the sector?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that prize draws and competitions provide great opportunities for charities. They do not fall within the definition of gambling in the Gambling Act 2005 and are exempt from regulation, which means it is very difficult for us to get evidence on what the contribution to charity is and on potential harm. That is why we are looking at whether there is a need for research in this area and whether any action is needed.