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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Outdoor Swimming

Outdoor swimming represents one of the many ways to stay active. Through the together fund, Sport England has provided over £80,000 for outdoor swimming projects. Swimming and water safety forms a mandatory part of the primary PE national curriculum.

The Beccles lido does great work in promoting outdoor swimming in the Waveney area, but it and other lidos have been particularly hard hit by high energy costs and long-term fixed-price contracts, often arranged by rogue energy brokers. The swimming pool fund is extremely welcome, but I urge my right hon. Friend to work with lidos to put in place a long-term plan for their future.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of swimming pools and lidos. We announced the swimming pool fund to help those that have been particularly struggling with high energy costs. Sport England also plays a vital role in working with local authorities on managing sustainable facilities, and we will shortly publish our new sports strategy, which will set continued commitments in this area.

Wild swimming conjures up all sorts of things in my mind—probably more emphasis on the wild.

I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for the question and the Minister for his response. Growing up in Ballywalter in the ’60s—also the age I am right now—there were no swimming pools, and we always used the sea. It is important that water has the quality and cleanliness to allow people to swim, so has the Minister spoken to any of the councils or authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure that our waters, including Strangford lough and the sea off Ballywalter, are of a standard that enables people to swim without any fear?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the quality of outdoor waters, and a lot of work is done to educate children in water safety. I have not had the chance to speak to anybody in Northern Ireland yet, but I understand that I may well be going there during the recess, so I will take the opportunity to do just that.

Charity Regulation

The Charity Commission performs an important and effective function as the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales. The commission’s annual report and accounts for 2022-23 provide a detailed analysis of the its performance and effectiveness. Charity law and regulation is of course devolved in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

My question is about Arts Council England, which is of course a registered charity. A senior employee there recently won a tribunal claim for harassment on account of her gender-critical beliefs. In the course of the hearing, it became evident that there was considerable homophobic bias among some staff at Arts Council England, who did not wish the Arts Council to give grants to projects initiated by LGB groups unless those groups accepted gender identity ideology. There was evidence that an LGB charity had been described by Arts Council employees as a “cancer” and “neo-Nazi”. What is the Minister doing to tackle the climate of prejudice and bias that has been exposed at Arts Council England, a charity that dispenses over £950 million of public money per annum?

I hope the hon. and learned Lady knows that I take all forms of discrimination extremely seriously, and there should be no place for that. She raises an individual case. The Arts Council does not come under my portfolio, but I will happily speak to my ministerial colleagues about that and ensure that we write to her with an answer.

My question is about the regulation of charities, following on from the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). Does my right hon. Friend the Minister read Private Eye? If he does, he will have seen the saga of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, where it appears that the people who did right have been put out and the people who did wrong, over and over again, have been supported by the Charity Commission. Could he say to the Charity Commission that people in Parliament are watching this with some surprise?

Of course the Charity Commission is an independent body, but I have regular meetings with it. I am not a regular reader of Private Eye, but I will make sure that I seek out that article ahead of my next meeting with the Charity Commission.

Arts and Culture: Brexit

4. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of the UK’s departure from the EU on the UK arts and culture sector. (906070)

The UK arts and culture sector has many strong existing positive relationships in Europe, and we are taking a number of steps to deepen ties. The Government have developed bilateral agreements with European countries, and the British Council offers further sector-specific support, including the recently announced spotlight on culture between the UK and France.

The UK Trade and Business Commission found that the Scottish arts and film industry has lost €27 million in EU funding as a consequence of Brexit, so will the Minister’s Government make up for that shortfall and the calamity that Brexit has imposed on the sector?

While the UK decided not to participate in Creative Europe, nevertheless the UK shared prosperity fund, which is a UK-wide funding initiative, has match funded what was originally available from the EU and also gives local authorities, and indeed nations, control over how that money is spent.

BBC Board: Complaints Procedure

The Secretary of State and I meet with the BBC’s leadership regularly to discuss a range of issues. The BBC’s processes for handling audience complaints about its editorial content are an area of focus of the mid-term review and, as required by the terms of reference, the DCMS has been consulting the BBC on the review’s findings. We are seeking to conclude the review at pace and to report on its findings by 2024.

I look forward to the conclusions of the review. The Minister will know my views: the complaints process within the BBC is utterly inadequate, and I think he agrees with me on that. There is no genuine independence in that process and therefore there is a lack of confidence in how that process is working. I hope he will factor those views into making sure that the outcome of the review takes on board the need to have a genuinely independent complaints mechanism, so that the public can have confidence in the broadcasts.

We are aware that research from Ofcom bears out what the hon. Gentleman has said, in that there is considerable dissatisfaction with the existing complaints procedure. That is something about which the BBC is also aware, and we are keen to address it in the mid-term review. So far, we are making good progress in reaching agreement with the BBC on how it can be strengthened in the future.

Over the last 10 days, we have seen the BBC embroiled in a lengthy bout of self-analysis over accusations made about Huw Edwards. For days, the story led every bulletin and I refused all requests for comment; I felt I did not know enough detail. I am glad I took that stance. The BBC has announced an investigation, but the police have now said there was no criminality, as originally claimed by The Sun. What does the Secretary of State think the lessons might be? Perhaps politicians should exercise more caution before issuing condemnations about developing stories; maybe we should remember to treat any story in The Sun with extreme caution. Given this further example of intrusive prurience, we could all remind ourselves of why there was once widespread agreement about having an independent press regulator with teeth, something the Conservatives once supported, before getting frightened off by powerful press barons.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that, first, this was a matter for the BBC. Although the Secretary of State and I did ask to be kept informed by the BBC, it was a matter for the organisation itself and, as he has suggested, it has established an internal inquiry to find out whether there are any lessons to be learned. With regard to The Sun, it is of course a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has a code, and if there have been breaches of the code, then that is a matter for IPSO to adjudicate on.

BBC Local Radio Services

We recognise the strength of feeling about the importance of BBC local services and we remain disappointed that the BBC is planning to reduce parts of its local radio output. This is a matter for the BBC, but Ministers have raised our concerns about the BBC’s plans previously, and we will discuss this issue with the interim chair and the director general at the next opportunity.

I think that we all thought that digital technology was meant to expand choice. However, in recent times, we have seen post office, bank and rail ticket office closures, and the BBC is using the same arguments to justify the managed decline of local radio. I saw today that we have been told by the BBC that it wants to reach 50% of the population with its TV, radio and online services after its digital plan is carried out. But I have seen in the annual report that it says that it is already at 50%, so why is it using that as a justification for the vandalism of local radio?

The BBC obviously needs to take account of the fact that more and more people are accessing content online and digitally, and therefore it has decided to invest more in that area. However, it is one that is already well provided for, particularly in the area of local news. It is important that the BBC does not lose sight of the fact that there are still a significant number of people who rely on traditional broadcasting and value local radio. As I have made clear, the Government are disappointed by the BBC’s decision to reduce local radio output.

As you know, Mr Speaker, local radio is such a lifeline to many of the elderly, vulnerable and isolated people in our communities. I wonder whether the Minister has a view on what the words “public service” in the BBC’s public service remit actually mean. Should that not include reaching everyone with local news and information, not just those who are digitally enabled?

As I said earlier, many people still value local radio and will regret and, indeed, be very concerned about the reduction in local radio output that the BBC has proposed, particularly in the evenings and at weekends. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will take advantage of the opportunity that she has through chairing the extremely important Committee overseeing the BBC to raise that matter with the director-general again, as indeed will we.

I would say that the BBC is very good at showing empty chairs, but there will now be empty studios if we are not careful, and we certainly do not want to see the end of Radio Lancashire.

Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket Report

7. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the report of the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket entitled “Holding Up a Mirror To Cricket” published in June 2023. (906073)

Discrimination has no place in sport or wider society. The ICEC report makes for difficult reading. Clearly, the sport needs to reflect carefully on the report’s concerning findings and consider how best to deliver clear and sustained cultural change across cricket. The Government will review the findings of the report, and we welcome the England and Wales Cricket Board’s commitment to bring forward a plan to tackle these serious issues, which must be addressed in full.

After the exposés of whistleblowers such as Azeem Rafiq, the “Holding Up a Mirror to Cricket” report lays bare the extent of racism, sexism and classism in cricket. Over the past couple of years, we have seen scandals in cricket, abuse in gymnastics, a whole plethora of issues unearthed by the fan-led review into football and the sport of rugby union undertaking a review into its governance, and I fear that, sadly, there will be further such examples. Just how confident is the Minister that structures are in place to deal with inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour in sport, and does he now feel that there is a need to look into governance in sport more widely?

I have made that issue a priority in the time that I have been in this role, because it does need addressing. I hold regular meetings with the national governing bodies of all the sports and I have laid down challenges to them. We need to work together, though. That is why this will form an important part of the new sports strategy. I know that it has taken some time, but I have been really clear that I want that issue to be included in it, and to be a central plank of the work that we do when we publish it.

In my constituency we have fantastic grassroots cricket clubs promoting inclusivity in the sport during their cricket weeks. That includes clubs such as Sidcup and national club champions Bexley cricket club. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the clubs for the work that they do to promote cricket in our community, especially to women and girls, and Bexley cricket club for its efforts to raise funds to address cardiac risk in the young?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that not everything is bad. Let us recognise some of the amazing work, particularly of volunteers, who do so much for grassroots sport. He highlights a club in his constituency. It is not just about encouraging more people to take part in sport; clubs also do tremendous work in the community, as he has just highlighted with the fundraising that that club has done.

I wish you a restful recess, Mr Speaker. I put on the record my hopes that the Lionesses do very well in the forthcoming World cup. Congratulations to the women’s English cricket team on a strong performance, and good luck to the men’s cricket team in trying to pull off a great Ashes comeback. I just hope that the Manchester rain holds off.

Despite the teams’ successes on the international stage, the ICEC report showed that there is a lot to do to increase diversity and participation in cricket. It found that English cricket suffers from sexism, elitism and racism. Do the Government understand that they also have a role to play in addressing those serious findings? For example, what discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Education about increasing the take-up of cricket in state schools and ensuring better access to pitches, equipment and coaching? Also, does he agree—I am sure he does—that it is about time that the women’s team had as much access to Lord’s cricket ground as Eton and Harrow?

I join the hon. Lady in wishing the men and women’s England cricket teams all the very best, and thanking them for what they have done so far, as well as the Lionesses. I am very fortunate that I will be off to Australia on Monday to wave the flag in support of them. [Interruption.] It is a very difficult job, but someone has to do it.

On the serious point that the hon. Lady raises, she is absolutely right. On the day of the publication of the report, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met with the England and Wales Cricket Board. We have said that we will be following the development of its plan very carefully. The hon. Lady is right that we need to see more access to facilities for women and girls, not just at Lord’s but right across the country.

Charity Sector: Cost of Living

The Government understand that cost of living pressures are impacting many in the charity sector, which is facing increased demand, reduced income and high running costs. That is why the Government announced a funding package of just over £100 million for community organisations in England.

As the SNP spokesperson, I am more than happy to swallow my principles and join the Minister on that flight to Australia on Monday.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, more than a third of charities have had to make cuts to their services due to the harm that the Tory cost of living crisis has wrought on their finances. Three in five Scottish charities are worried about struggling to survive. Only this Government have the financial powers to intervene, yet they refuse to do so. Are the Government content to let charities, which all too often ameliorate the failures of the state, fail too?

I simply do not recognise that situation. I have just announced that we have given £100 million, and some of it was Barnetted. I have not heard anything from the Scottish Government about what they are going to do for Scottish charities. Maybe they should follow our example.

The plight of so many charities would be significantly improved if the Secretary of State were to raise the cap on postcode lottery sales, would it not?

I know that my hon. Friend has been campaigning hard on this issue, and we had a Westminster Hall debate on it very recently. I have committed to looking at some of the structures, but we need to see more evidence that the limits already there are not being reached at the moment. I will certainly keep the matter under review.

Creative Industries: Skills and Training

The creative industries sector vision sets out how we will support individuals to get the skills they need to work in the industry. From schools to T-levels, and from apprenticeships to returners, our ambition is to support 1 million more jobs in the creative industries by 2030. Yesterday I co-chaired a roundtable with the Education Secretary to improve flexi-job apprenticeships in the sector. Last week the cultural education plan’s expert advisory panel met for the first time, and procurement for creative skills bootcamps are now live.

I commend my right hon. Friend on the recent creative industries sector vision, which will help to build a pipeline of talent that will underpin the creative industries. Does she agree that it is vital that we invest in building the skills throughout the country, recognising that many of the growth sectors within the industry are outside London?

That is right. We know that creative businesses flourish in geographic clusters, from games in Leamington Spa to fashion in Leeds, and we have already announced that we will invest a further £50 million in at least six new clusters, creating new centres of excellence that will act as magnets for inward investment and talent.

Last night was the summer reception of UK Music, and I was there as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music, along with the shadow Secretary of State and the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. If Ministers had been able to come, they would have heard an appeal for more education in the creative sectors in our schools and for more support for our grassroots venues, which are the research and development of the creative industries, particularly the music industry, and which are suffering from a crisis at the moment. What more are the Government going to do to support education at that level so that skills and training in our creative industries can enable them to keep flourishing into the future?

I hope the hon. Gentleman read the sector vision, which included £5 million in additional funding for grassroots music venues—something we discussed at the Select Committee. We, too, think it is important to have those creative subjects in school; that is why art, design and music are already in the national curriculum and remain compulsory in all maintained schools up to the age of 14. But that is not all we are doing. He mentioned music, which is incredibly important. That is why we have our new joint national plan for music education, including £25 million of funding for musical instruments and equipment for schools, and, as I mentioned, we had our first meeting of the cultural education panel, which is looking at how we can ensure we help young people to get more creativity both in and outside school to ensure we have that creative excellence.

The creative industries are a powerhouse of the UK economy, succeeding despite the Government’s best efforts to attack the institutions that underpin them. With the growth of the creative industries, there are now a huge number of job vacancies, yet it remains one of the least diverse sectors in the economy, dominated by white, middle-class people—even more so than banking, law and media. Under this Government, we have seen a huge drop in creative subjects being taken at GCSE. Will the Secretary of State support Labour’s new policy to increase music, drama and the arts in schools and transform our curriculum to meet the needs of the future economy, which desperately needs creative skills, rather than one that is stuck in the past?

The shadow Secretary of State will know that the Prime Minister has identified the creative industries as one of the five sectors of growth that we are supporting as a Government, because they are really important. She mentions GCSEs, but I do not think we should just have music and arts at GCSE. We need them at T-levels, we need apprenticeships and we need them in primary school. She will know, because I have talked about it incessantly, that that is exactly what we are doing and that is what is in our creative sector vision. I will just point out—because I was reminded of it the other day—that a Labour Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, slimmed down the statutory curriculum for creative education and told headteachers to teach fewer creative subjects at school.

Sports Strategy

The Government have committed to delivering a refreshed sports strategy that will set the long-term strategic policy direction for sport. The strategy will outline the Government’s future ambitions and how we will support the sector to achieve them, and we intend to publish it as soon as possible.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. With many more people getting into sport, there is also a temptation to get into image and performance-enhancing drugs. We have seen an explosion in that, with estimates of between half a million and 1 million users—and that is an underestimate—from academics, UK Anti-Doping and organisations such as ukactive, which I have met with. Will the Minister look at putting a policy in the sports strategy to gather more data on image and performance-enhancing drugs in sport?

I praise my hon. Friend for being a doughty campaigner on this important issue and thank him for that. He has rightly raised this with me on a number of occasions. The safety and wellbeing of everyone taking part in sport is hugely important. That includes looking at image and performance-enhancing drugs. Since I last met him, I have raised this with UKAD. We must bring about better collaboration across the Department to ensure that we tackle this issue.

Gambling-related Harms

I know that the hon. Member has campaigned on this issue for a number of years, and I thank her for her ongoing engagement. Our White Paper sets out measures to tackle products and practices that can drive gambling-related harm, and they include financial risk checks, stake limits on online slots and the new statutory levy.

Loot boxes in gaming are unquestionably a slippery path to normalising gambling. This week’s announcement on loot boxes nowhere near fulfils the commitment made in the 2019 Conservative party manifesto. With 55,000 young people aged 11 to 16 already classed as problem gamblers, and tens of thousands more considered at risk, why are the Government neglecting future generations by failing to tackle and prevent gambling disorder at its root?

We have gone a long way in the White Paper to do exactly what the hon. Member says, and we have committed to ensuring that video games can be enjoyed safely by everyone. We convened a technical working group to improve protections on loot boxes, and it has published new guidance this week, which we welcome. If that guidance is implemented, it has the potential to meet our objectives, but I assure her that we will closely monitor what the industry does, to ensure that it implements the guidance in full. We will provide an update in 12 months and keep the option of legislating open.

We would be helped in our fight against gambling-related harm if we had better data on the number of people taking their own lives as a result of gambling debts. There is a Bill that has cleared all its stages in the Lords that would get coroners to record this information. It would not cost the Government a penny. Might my right hon. Friend lend his support across Government to those responsible for that Bill, so that we have the data to know what is happening and bear down on this terrible issue?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the tragic consequences for some people. One of the toughest parts of this role has been meeting the families who have been affected in such a way. I will look at the issue he raised, but the new statutory levy enables us to have the funding to do detailed research, which could contribute to that as well.

Affordability checks and stake limits for online gambling are of course welcome, but given that the Government have already spent three years reviewing and consulting on gambling laws, why do we need further consultation on what levels they should be set at? There should be no more unnecessary delays. I ask the Minister, what exactly have the Government been doing all this time?

I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want me to endanger the implementation of the policies in the White Paper if we did not follow due process, which is what we are doing at the moment. We will be starting the consultation very soon, and we are on course to implement everything by the summer of next year, as we promised.

Topical Questions

The whole House has been enjoying this amazing summer of sport, with the Ashes, Wimbledon and the Grand Prix in recent weeks. The Open starts today, and I am sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing the Lionesses well in their first women’s World cup match on Saturday. We believe every community should have access to sports facilities, and since our last oral questions, we have renovated a third of our target of 3,000 tennis courts across Great Britain. That is also why we have delivered improvements to over 3,300 grass- roots football facilities up and down the UK, to improve and upgrade spaces where people can get active and enjoy sport.

Indeed, the football women’s World cup starts today, so we wish the very best of luck to the European champions, the fantastic Lionesses. Last year there was a staggering 83% drop in the number of European schoolchildren and students visiting the UK, hitting our tourism sector and leading to a loss of 14,500 jobs and £875 million. I am aware of the Prime Minister’s vague commitment to increase the number of schoolchildren coming over from France at the very least, but what exactly is the Government’s plan to deal with that shocking decline?

I am pleased that the hon. Member mentioned the discussions that the Prime Minister has had with France. That bilateral arrangement will improve mobility to the UK. It is really important that those young groups come, and I can assure the hon. Member that I am looking at that issue more broadly.

T2. One of my constituents, Wendy Metcalfe, has represented England as part of the England women’s shore angling team. However, she has recently expressed concerns that a trans woman has been selected to join the squad. Beach fishing requires significant upper body strength, strength in which a male-born competitor would have a distinct advantage over a woman. Will the Minister please confirm that she will speak to the Angling Trust to request that it properly considers the Sports Council Equality Group’s guidance on who is eligible for its women’s team? (906099)

These are clearly sensitive issues, and they need careful consideration and respect for those involved. The Government support the Sports Council’s guidance on transgender participation. When it comes to competitive sport, we believe that safety and fairness have to be the primary considerations. I encourage the Angling Trust to engage with the Sports Council’s guidance as it develops its thinking in this area.

Our creative industries are world leading, but they are rightly concerned about the impact of artificial intelligence on their creative endeavours. The Government’s botched AI and intellectual property plans show that our creative industries play second fiddle when we need genuine partnership between the tech sector and those industries. What is the Secretary of State doing to secure, protect and enhance this British success story in the digital age?

The shadow Minister is right to highlight AI, which presents potential opportunities as well as challenges, particularly in the domain of copyright and the creative industries. I am actively engaged with this issue and have held a number of meetings with the sector, including with the Creative Industries Council earlier this week, and with music, press and publishing stakeholders over recent weeks. This afternoon I will again meet with the Minister for AI and Intellectual Property, together with the Intellectual Property Office, to discuss this very issue.

T6. Many of my constituents think that the BBC licence fee is an outdated, regressive tax, and question why they should have to fund a broadcaster that they do not support and do not want to watch. If a formal review of the BBC’s funding model is indeed to take place in the autumn, surely abolishing the licence fee altogether has to be one of the options considered. (906104)

The Government have made it clear that the licence fee will remain in place for the remainder of this charter period, but my hon. Friend is right that there are challenges going forward. He may be aware that the number of people paying the licence fee has fallen by 1.9 million in the past five years, and it is therefore right that we look at possible alternative sources of funding for the BBC in the longer term. That will be the focus of the funding review.

T3. We all wish our women’s team all the best down under in the World cup that starts today—we are all a bit envious of the Minister—but at the same time, our national team is still doing battle with the Football Association over pay. How soon do the Government expect to implement the recommendations of Karen Carney’s review so that the beautiful game raises up standards for women, including Chloe Kelly from Acton, my favourite Lioness? (906100)

The hon. Lady is right to raise this important area. I am extremely grateful, as we all are in the Department, to Karen Carney for such an in-depth review of women’s football. We are obviously looking at the recommendations she made in that report, and that will be a continuous agenda item in my regular discussions with the FA.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the ongoing crisis at Southend United, where staff have gone unpaid for months and the 117-year- old club’s future is on a knife edge, which is absolutely devastating for the 6,000-plus loyal fan base. Please will my right hon. Friend agree to meet the Shrimpers Trust, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) and me, urgently, to see what more can be done to save this vital community asset for the new city of Southend?

Order. Can I just say that nobody else is now going to get in on topicals, because this is the last question. Minister, we do have to think about other people. It is too short a Question Time, but if it is short, we need to help each other to get through it.

Can I praise my hon. Friend for the tremendous amount of work she has been doing on behalf of her constituents and the fans at Southend? I know how hard she is working. Of course, I would be more than happy to meet the fans group, as I have with those of other clubs, but I think this highlights the need for the independent football regulator.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter ID: National Elections

1. What recent discussions the Committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the adequacy of the implementation of voter ID requirements for national elections. (906085)

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. The Committee discussed the commission’s work to support the implementation of voter ID at its public evidence session in March. A transcript of that session is available on the Committee’s website. The commission has also published an initial analysis of voter ID in the May local elections in England, saying that further work is required to ensure voter ID does not become a barrier to voting and that elections remain accessible to everyone. The commission is undertaking further research and will make recommendations for improvement in its full election report to be published in September, and it will continue to run public awareness activities and provide guidance to electoral administrators ahead of future elections where voter ID is required.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The commission’s interim report indicates that 14,000 people were turned away due to voter ID restrictions in England, and it warned of concerning signs that voters with disabilities, those who were unemployed or those from particular ethnic groups were disproportionately affected. Given that it says that 4% of people who did not vote said it was due to lack of voter ID, what steps are being taken to ensure that hundreds of thousands of voters are not turned away at the next general election?

I again thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is too soon to draw conclusions about the impact of voter ID on specific groups of people, but the commission has said that some of the emerging evidence is concerning, with the example that data suggests that disabled people and those who are unemployed were more likely than others to give ID as a reason for not voting. Elections should be accessible to everyone, so the commission is working to build a better understanding of specific experiences. As I say, the commission is undertaking further research and will make recommendations in its full election report to be published in September, and it will work with the Government and the electoral community to ensure that elections remain accessible to all.

Church Commissioners

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


I am very pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that there are 1,100 clergy in training in 2022-23, and that £10.3 million has been given to 25 dioceses to fund more curacy posts and £4.3 million has been given to 19 dioceses to make sure that clergy leaving training have a post of first responsibility to go to.

In Old Bexley and Sidcup, we are fortunate to have many fantastic churches and faith leaders supporting our community. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking them all and congratulating St Mary the Virgin church and parish in Bexley village, which celebrates an incredible 900th anniversary this year?

I am delighted that St Mary the Virgin in Bexley will be celebrating its 900th anniversary with the Bishop of Rochester in November. I know that it is a church dedicated to serving its local community, with particularly impressive youth work, and I would like to commend the Rev. Renate Tulloh and the Bexley team ministry for all the good work that they do, which is noticed and greatly appreciated.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Election Guidance

3. Whether the Electoral Commission has issued recent guidance on elections to political parties and candidates. (906087)

The commission regularly publishes guidance for political parties, candidates and non-party campaigners to help them comply with their legal obligations. It recently submitted for ministerial and parliamentary approval draft statutory guidance on digital imprints and a draft code of practice for non-party campaigners. These will support parties and campaigners to understand and prepare for challenges introduced by the Elections Act 2022.

Is the commission preparing any guidance about this new trend we have of Members of this House, who may be candidates at the next election, being given their own TV programmes on some of the new news channels and interviewing members of the Government from their own Benches in the lead-up to a general election? What is the Electoral Commission doing about that?

I thank the hon. Member for his excellent question. The Committee has not discussed those matters with the commission as yet. The Electoral Commission does not have a role in the regulation of political or news programmes. Ofcom is responsible for regulating broadcasters and providing guidance on impartiality, but if the Member wants to take up this issue further with the commission, it would be more than happy to meet him.

Will the commission look closely at the fact that Members of this House have television programmes? I was invited on to a television programme by two Members of this House, and I did not accept that invitation. There is surely something wrong with Members in this House asking questions at the same time as they are running very political campaigns on television. What will the hon. Gentleman do about that?

The point is well made. As I have said, the Committee has not discussed this matter with the commission, but I am sure that the comments made by hon. Members will be heard. As I offered to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), I am sure that if the hon. Member for Huddersfield wanted to discuss this matter further with the commission, it would be more than happy to meet him.

Church Commissioners

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

Community Sponsorship Scheme

4. What recent steps the Church of England has taken to participate in the community sponsorship scheme. (906088)

I am able to reassure my right hon. Friend that the Church remains closely involved with the Ukraine community sponsorship scheme. Many bishops and churchgoers and hundreds of clergy have opened their homes to host Ukrainian evacuees.

That is reassuring, given the wind-up that the bishops raised in the House of Lords over the Illegal Migration Bill. What more can the Church do to encourage people to support and take in Ukrainians?

The Church of England is developing a new strategy for community sponsorship, building on the launch of community sponsorship in 2016 by Amber Rudd, when Home Secretary, and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. The Church will continue to use its presence in every community to raise the profile of community sponsorship, as it has been demonstrated to work well for all concerned.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for Midlothian, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Political Donations from Overseas

5. Whether the Committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the transparency of political donations from overseas. (906091)

The Committee has not had a recent discussion with the commission on that issue. The commission publishes information about donations to ensure transparency, and it has powers to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. It has highlighted that the political finance system is vulnerable to unlawful influence from donations overseas and in the UK, and it has recommended that parties should be required to know not just who a donor is but where the money for the donation is coming from. It has also recommended that parties have policies in place to manage the risk of receiving money from unlawful sources. The commission has said that parties should not be permitted to accept donations from companies that exceed their profits made in the UK.

The executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, Susan Hawley, says that the Tory UK Government’s “abject failure” to take decisive action on overseas donations is concerning our allies. She also says that elections are at risk of interference from Russia and other hostile states after the Government opposed the move to require political parties to verify and disclose the source of political donations. What steps is the commission taking to prevent overseas donations from hostile states that undermine electoral law? Has the commission asked the security services to undertake a review of political finance?

Speaking as a representative of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, it would be a matter for the security services to make a full assessment of whether unlawful foreign money has been used to campaign in UK elections. However, political parties must report when they are given an unlawful donation and return it to the donor. In addition, the commission carries out checks on permissibility on a sample of donations and has the power to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. The commission has said that it takes all possible steps within the current regulatory framework to prevent unlawful foreign money from entering UK politics, and it publishes information about donations to ensure transparency. It has the powers to sanction, but it cannot take enforcement actions against organisations based outside the UK. The commission will continue to recommend changes to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.

Church Commissioners

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

Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act

6. What discussions the Church of England has had with churches in Uganda following the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 in that country. (906092)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written directly to Archbishop Kaziimba of Uganda reminding him of the commitment made by the Anglican communion to treat every person with the care and respect they deserve as children of God and that the communion opposes the criminalisation of LGBT+ people. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Act was a fundamental departure from the commitment to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people; it was not in our resolutions, not in our teachings and not in the Gospel of Jesus we share together.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response and for the concern shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury. What more can the Church say to Anglicans across the UK who do not in any way, shape or form believe the death penalty for any crime is compatible with Christian teaching, and to those members of the LGBT community who are rightly horrified by events in Uganda?

I very much understand my hon. Friend’s concern on this issue, which is shared by many others. As I am sure he knows, each province of the Anglican communion is autonomous. In 2016, however, the primates in the Anglican communion reaffirmed the rejection of criminal sanctions against same sex-attracted people and committed to respecting the dignity and value of every person. It is hard to see how the position taken by the Church of Uganda aligns with the 2016 agreement.

Ordination of Clergy

7. If the Church of England will make an assessment of the potential merits of refusing to ordain clergy who do not personally recognise the ordination of women as diocesan bishops. (906093)

The Church of England is fully committed to all orders of ministry being open equally to all without reference to gender. The Church is also committed to ensuring that those who cannot in good conscience receive the ministry of women priests or bishops are able to flourish; the five guiding principles of the House of Bishops are the basis for this mutual flourishing and all candidates for ordination have to assent to them.

It is now 29 years since we had the first woman priest and nine years since the first female bishop was appointed in our established Church of England. It therefore seems to me that there have been many years to adapt to treating women as equals in the sight of God. Given that, is it really appropriate for the Church of England to continue appointing clergy, as happened recently in Blackburn, who have not accepted and who will never personally accept the ordination of women?

I can tell the right hon. Lady that a new body was established last year to review how the five guiding principles are being understood, implemented and received in the Church and that it has a balanced membership of bishops, clergy and laity who reflect all views on these matters.

I speak as a supporter of WATCH, the Women and the Church group. The Church Commissioners should understand that either the Church of England gets rid of what ought to have been temporary exemptions from the Equality Act 2010 or Parliament will do that for it. Does my hon. Friend understand that other MPs who are interested in full equality for women would like to meet the Church Commissioners before we consider what other action we might take?

I have very clearly heard what my hon. Friend the Father of the House and indeed the very respected Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) have just said. The Church will have heard that as well and we are of course available for meetings at any time.

Freedom of Religion and Belief

8. What recent steps the Church of England has taken to help protect freedom of religion and belief in other countries. (906094)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend, who serves with distinction as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, that the United Nations Security Council has recently adopted a resolution to produce an annual report on freedom of religion and belief. It was sponsored by the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and the resolution was based on the Bishop of Truro’s review and incorporates many of his original recommendations.

That is indeed a very positive development. My hon. Friend will have seen another report, produced by former BBC reporter David Campanale and other FORB experts for the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, which I chair, on the ongoing major violence in Manipur, India. It indicates that since early May alone hundreds of churches there have been destroyed, many burnt to the ground; more than 100 people have been killed and over 50,000 displaced; and schools and seminaries have been targeted in what looks like systematic and premeditated attacks with religion a key factor. There has been very little reporting about this. People there are calling out for help; what can the Church do to draw more attention to their cries?

My hon. Friend has done a great service by putting this matter on the record in the House. I am sure that she, like me, would like to see much greater reporting of these issues by the BBC and others. What she has told us is truly shocking, and I know that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited India in 2019 to see the challenges at first hand, remains extremely concerned that such attacks have been worsening and spreading to other minority faith communities, so I will bring my hon. Friend’s report on Manipur directly to the Archbishop’s attention.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who does such fantastic work as the ambassador for not only the Prime Minister but all of us in the House.

In February, I visited Pakistan with the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. Further to what the hon. Gentleman said, will he advise the House on what steps the Church of England is taking to support the Anglican ministry in Pakistan and to defend the rights of Pakistani Christians to practise their faith and express their beliefs without fear of repression?

I talked earlier this week with Dr Sammy Wainaina, the Archbishop’s new adviser on Anglican communion affairs, and he specifically mentioned Pakistan, so I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it. He is right that the situation there is extremely challenging—priests have been murdered—and the Archbishop visited quite recently. I express particular gratitude to the two hon. Members who have put these matters on the record this morning; they are right to do so and I hope they continue to do so.

Family Relationships, Parenting and Marriage

9. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent steps the Church of England has taken to help support family relationships, parenting and marriage. (906095)

The Archbishop’s recent “Love Matters” commission on family issues made 36 recommendations for the Church of England and 29 for the Government. They included supporting family hubs, developing high-quality marriage preparation, and building relational capability at all life stages and not just for couples who are preparing for marriage. I will place a copy of that report and the previous ones in the Library.

A strong and stable family unit undoubtedly provides the best environment in which to raise children. What steps is the Church of England taking to provide relationship support and guidance to those families who need it to help them to stay together?

That is a really important question. The Children’s Commissioner has pointed out that almost a quarter of UK families are headed by a lone parent; that compares with an average of an eighth of families in Europe. The Bishop of Durham, who co-chaired the commission, wants to see every deanery in the Church of England offering the very best marriage preparation to all couples, and for the Church to support their relationships at every life stage.

Sitting suspended.