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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 22 February 2024

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

BBC Mid-term Review

1. Whether she has had recent discussions with the BBC board on the implementation of recommendations in the BBC mid-term review. (901480)

The BBC is a hugely valued institution, and the mid-term review seeks to ensure that it continues to provide an outstanding service by improving its processes in relation to both impartiality and complaints. I regularly meet the BBC’s chair and director-general, and I will continue to use those meetings to raise these important issues.

I started my career as a BBC reporter, and I firmly believe in the importance of our national broadcaster being both independent, particularly at moments and eras such as this, and completely impartial. However, every year, many people complain that the BBC is not as impartial as it should be, even that it is biased, and the BBC then dismisses the vast majority of those complaints. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that the public would perhaps have more confidence in how those complaints are investigated if they were investigated independently from the outset?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The public rightly expect the BBC to be an exemplar of impartiality. Our review highlighted issues in relation to both impartiality and complaints. As a result, the BBC will undertake significant reforms on both impartiality and complaints. At the charter review, as I have already said, we will examine whether the BBC first process remains the right complaints model.

My innate lack of deference has probably not got me far in this place over the past 22 years, but it is good to see you in your rightful place this morning, Mr Speaker.

The BBC is a great British institution, as the Secretary of State says. In considering the mid-term review, will she reflect on the importance, in this era of fake news, biased comment and social media, of having a space in which information and news are presented impartially and in accordance with editorial guidelines? The BBC is criticised from the left and the right, which probably reflects the fact that it generally gets things right.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the BBC plays a critical role. It is extremely trusted not only here but across the world. The BBC is an important institution, which is why it is so important that it remains impartial. I know that the director-general agrees and, like me, thinks there is more to do. That is why, in the mid-term review, we set out things that the BBC continues to need to look at. The BBC agrees with our mid-term review and has accepted all our recommendations.

Short-term Lets: National Registration

2. What progress her Department has made on introducing a national registration system for short-term lets. (901481)

3. What progress her Department has made on introducing a national registration system for short-term lets. (901482)

8. What progress her Department has made on introducing a national registration system for short-term lets. (901487)

The Government have delivered the legal framework for a registration scheme for short-term lets in England under the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 and have consulted on the scheme’s design. On Monday we announced that we will implement a national mandatory registration scheme across all of England. We will set out further detail later this year on how the register will operate.

I thank the Minister for her answer, and I thank the Secretary of State for her engagement on this issue both now and in her previous role as Housing Minister. It is great news that there will be a mandatory short-term lets register, which will hopefully begin to relieve some of the pressure on our local housing market. How can we ensure that North Devon’s tourist economy fully benefits from these changes?

My hon. Friend is a real champion for her local Devon tourist economy, and she is aware of the challenges that tourism can present in local communities, especially when it comes to short-term lets, which can make it too expensive for people working in the tourism industry to live near their job. This is a difficult issue, and we are trying to strike the right balance between people being able to have second homes and ensuring that hotels have a level playing field and that the local community has the right accommodation.

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s campaigning on this issue. The next phase of the project will work with the sector to get the details of the registration scheme right. We will be reaching out to representatives of the visitor economy and likely users of the scheme to make sure it delivers for everybody as simply as possible.

North Norfolk has a significant number of holiday lets, Airbnbs and the like. I am glad that the Minister says the Government will look at this in moderation because, in life, too much of anything is sometimes a bad thing. There is a difference, a nuance, between a person who rents out a room in their home via Airbnb to earn some extra income and whole streets and areas being turned into holiday lets. Can the Minister assure me that we will properly consider the nuances?

I can provide my hon. Friend with that assurance. We are aware that the proliferation of short-term lets has caused real concern in communities such as his. We do not want to clamp down in a way that will make life difficult for people who rent out their rooms on a very irregular basis, but as he said, when whole streets are causing a problem, we think the most important thing is that we get an understanding of the scale of the problem. Our scheme is designed to give us that data and the next steps can be taken after that.

Cambridge has long suffered from the antisocial behaviour problems associated with short-term lets and Cambridge City Council has long asked for action, so I welcome this long overdue announcement. Will the Minister say more about enforcement and the resources that are needed for councils to enforce, so that we can actually deal with the antisocial behaviour problems that, sadly, too often come with short-term lets?

I thank the hon. Member for raising the issues in Cambridge city, and I appreciate that in a city such as that that there will have been significant problems in this area. He may be aware that this was a joint announcement with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We are there to put the mandatory register together, which gives us the data that local authorities can use, but it will be for DLUHC to look at the some of the powers that can be implemented to deal with the antisocial behaviour problems that the hon. Gentleman cites.

I thank the Minister for those answers. Tourism and short-term lets are very important to my constituency, and I understand the issues clearly. There are benefits—it is not all negatives—and it is important that the positives are marked up as well. Let me ask her a simple question: now that we have a reactivated Northern Ireland Assembly on the go and working hard—[Interruption.]—will she share some of her ideas on this issue with it, and in particular, with the council in my Strangford constituency?

I thank the hon. Member for his question, but unfortunately, on the point of substance, somebody coughed and I slightly missed the key point—I apologise. I think he asked about sharing expertise with Northern Ireland. We will be happy to do so, because it is important to learn the lessons of how these issues are being addressed across the country. In Labour-run Wales, there is a real mess over how to deal with the issue of holiday accommodation, and the situation is similar in Scotland. We want to learn those lessons for the English scheme and we will be happy to share the lessons with Northern Ireland.

Gambling: Consultation

4. What progress her Department has made on responding to the consultations on the gambling White Paper. (901483)

The Government launched three consultations following the gambling White Paper. We are considering all the evidence that was received and will publish the Government response soon. Our response to the consultation on the introduction of the online slots limit is due to be published imminently, and we are on track for implementation of the recommendations by the summer.

Will the Minister ensure that the highly regulated land-based industry can better innovate and grow by, for example, ensuring that the right option is chosen on the changes proposed to machine rules for the adult gaming sector, which are out for consultation?

The hon. Lady is right that the rules for the land-based sector have been very out of date for some time. That is why doing these consultations has been really helpful; it has identified further work that needed to be done. We have had a second consultation on some of that but, again, we will still be on course to implement the changes by the summer.

The unregulated black market for gambling causes untold devastation to people’s lives, even when they are trying to quit, so what are the Government doing to protect families from the illegal black market in gambling?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the dangers of the black market. That is why, as part of the White Paper, we said that we would give more powers to the Gambling Commission to be able to close down those black market websites which, frankly, are really quite dangerous.

Gala Bingo Hall: Kettering

5. If she will meet promoters of the bid to the cultural development fund to restore the Gala Bingo hall in Kettering. (901484)

I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in the cultural development fund. As the application process for its fourth round is live, unfortunately Ministers are unable to meet bid promoters at present.

Two remarkably talented and enthusiastic individuals from Kettering, Beccy Hurrell and Lindsey Atkins, have put together a really ambitious £2 million bid to repurpose the former Gala Bingo hall in Kettering High Street, changing it into a community arts, music and family hub, which will be transformative for Kettering town centre. Expressions of interest in the Department’s cultural development fund must be submitted by 15 March. Is there no way that I, Beccy, Lindsey and the council can meet the relevant Minister before 15 March to see whether our bid might be appropriate?

I congratulate the two women who are putting forward such an exciting and interesting bid for that important building on Kettering High Street. In preparing to answer my hon. Friend’s question, I looked at a potted history of Kettering’s bingo hall and I appreciate the important role it has to play in regenerating the town. I spoke to my noble Friend Lord Parkinson, as his ministerial brief covers this topic. He is happy to meet and look into the issue, but there is a question about the appropriate timing for that meeting. I noted the recent debate about levelling up. I hope the bid will be successful, but I am afraid I cannot influence that.

Leisure Centre Closures: North Shropshire

6. What assessment she has made of the impact of the closure of leisure centres on the community in North Shropshire constituency. (901485)

Leisure centres provide important community hubs, connect individuals within areas in which they live and help to deliver important social and mental health outcomes. In recognition of this and of public leisure, we have provided £60 million to swimming pools across England.

Whitchurch swimming pool in my constituency closed in March 2020. Thankfully, there will be spades in the ground to reopen it in the coming years, but the council announced last week that swimming pools and leisure centres are at the top of its list for significant budget cuts in the coming year. Given the lack of public transport, I am concerned that young people will not be able to learn to swim and the wider community will lose access to the healthy lifestyle that leisure centres offer. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we ensure people in such a stretched out, rural area will be able to access leisure centres going forward?

We provided that funding for swimming pools precisely because we recognised the particular challenges they faced given high energy bills. More broadly, we are providing over £300 million of support for facilities up and down the country, including rural areas. That will help us to get more people active, which is a key strand of our Get Active sports strategy.

Would my right hon. Friend the Minister be willing to meet me to discuss the challenges faced by leisure centres in local authority areas facing budgetary pressures, such as Shropshire? He mentioned the swimming pool fund, but there might be other opportunities to sustain these vital resources for local people, including those in Shropshire.

It sounds as if I need to have a cross-Shropshire meeting to discuss facilities in that area. We have been clear about the funding provided for swimming pools. As part of our strategy and determination to get more people active, we will be doing a piece of work to understand the location of black spots where we need to do more to provide more facilities and what those facilities should be to address local needs.

Charities: Cost of Living

7. What steps her Department is taking to help support charities with increases in the cost of living. (901486)

The Government have invested millions of pounds to support charities across England with the cost of living pressures, including the £76 million community organisations cost of living fund, which has now awarded all funding to frontline services helping vulnerable households.

Charities across my constituency in Blaydon do an amazing job in supporting people and communities in what are really difficult times. Today, a triple threat of rising costs, falling income and higher demand has created what the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has called a cost of giving crisis, with half of all charities saying they are at full capacity and some having to turn people away. What further steps can the Government take to ensure charities can continue with their vital work?

Having been a head of fundraising for a charity, I recognise the position charities face when donations fall at the minute they need to help more people. That is why we have provided £100 million in funding and added another £76 million from dormant assets to help charities in that difficult situation.

On Monday it was a privilege to speak at the launch of the “State of the Sector” report, which found that charities are propping up Government services by £2.4 billion a year. Will the Minister tell me why the Government expect the charitable sector to pick up the tab for Government responsibilities in the first place?

Clearly, the hon. Lady does not understand the charity sector if that is the position she is taking. Having worked in it for 16 years, I will not be lectured on this. For example, I found that the hospices I worked in were able to respond to the needs of families in a much better and more holistic way than the state sector could. I am proud of the contribution that charities make to this country, and long may that continue.

AI: Creative Industries

9. What discussions she has had with representatives of the creative industries on the impact of AI on that sector. (901488)

I recognise the enormous potential of AI, but also its risks. I have had extensive engagement with the creative sector on these issues, including a series of roundtable talks on AI with, among others, media, music and film representatives. I am now working closely with the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology on a programme of further engagement with the sector.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but creators across the creative industries are concerned about AI developers, some of whom are worth as much as $100 billion, using their works without consent and without compensation. The inability of the Government’s working group to agree a code of practice on AI and intellectual property fuels concerns that the status quo is working only for the developers. This will be a growing problem. If a voluntary code is not going to be possible, how will the Government and her Department in particular ensure that creators will be paid fairly when their work is exploited?

I understand this issue and the concerns that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I know that, as Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, she understands and appreciates these matters. I want to assure her that the conclusion of the initial public offering working group is absolutely not the end of our work to find an appropriate regulatory solution for AI. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that AI development supports rather than undermines human creativity. For example, we will be focusing on ensuring greater transparency from AI developers and that AI outputs are properly attributed. It is also right, as she highlights, that creators should be compensated for their work.

Good morning, Mr Speaker. AI firms are committing large-scale abuse of copyrighted material, using copyrighted images and pieces of media to train their AI tools without consent or compensation for copyright owners. The United Kingdom Government say that they want to reduce barriers to AI companies, but that can only come at the expense of creators and artists. How does it make sense to sacrifice the 10% of UK GDP that comes from the creative sector in favour of less than a quarter of a per cent of GDP that AI produces?

I recognise the point that the hon. Member makes in relation to the importance of protecting creative rights—the creative ingenuity that is such an important part of both our British culture and economic value. That is why I am hearing from the sector, and why, in the Government’s AI White Paper, we recognise the importance of ensuring greater transparency from AI developers. We are continuing to work on that across Government.

I am sorry, but the Government’s answer to the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee was a load of hot air that could have been written by ChatGPT, except ChatGPT would have done a better job of it. The truth of the matter is that the Government’s flagship on AI as it relates to creative industries, which is meant to be protecting the moral and economic rights of artists, musicians, and authors, while at the same time recognising the important advances that AI can bring, has sunk. Last June, the Secretary of State said that if the code of practice was not achieved, legislation could be considered. So, in the words of Paul Simon, when is she going to make a new plan, Stan?

I would just point out that the Labour party has said absolutely nothing in relation to what it would do, so to stand up here and say that we have no plan is absolutely unacceptable. I can be absolutely clear that we do have a plan. We have worked very hard with the sectors. We have already set out in our White Paper the steps that we are taking on a very important aspect in relation to transparency. I will continue to work with the sector on all these areas to ensure that this extremely complex matter comes to a satisfactory conclusion for the creative industries.

Charity Lotteries: Annual Sales Limits

The limits for society lotteries allow them to raise funding for charities but to remain distinct from other forms of gambling and from the national lottery. The limits were last increased recently, in 2020, but I am aware that some operators want to see the limits raised or removed entirely. It is important that any decisions that are made are based on strong evidence. As such, I have commissioned research in this area, which I hope we will review by the end of the year.

The People’s Postcode Lottery funds some brilliant organisations across Batley and Spen, including the fantastic Rainbow Baby Bank in Heckmondwike and the Game Changerz youth provision in Birstall. However, the current sales limits prevent the People’s Postcode Lottery from giving away even more grants to worthy community organisations across the country, in all our constituencies. Will the Minister therefore explain why casinos and bookies, for example, do not face a sales limit but charity lotteries, which are low risk and fund so many valuable local charities, face that barrier?

As I said at the reception that the People’s Postcode Lottery held the other night, it was my privilege to set up a society lottery when I worked in a hospice. I recognise the value of such lotteries to charities, and I am aware of the issues that the PPL has raised. I have worked with the Gambling Commission to suggest ways that it can grow under the current network, as it is the largest brand in the sector, but as I say, I want to see more research. We need to understand what the potential harms are, and what the potential effects are on the national lottery. There is not enough data at the moment. That is why I am commissioning independent research, so that we can make decisions based on evidence.

Clearly, in my vast and far-flung constituency, it is difficult for charities to raise money, as Members can imagine. To date, some £432,000 in community grants has been awarded to those charities. That is very welcome indeed. The Minister mentioned that consideration will be given to raising limits, or perhaps abolishing them altogether. May I make an impassioned plea that the particular circumstances of remote parts of the UK are considered when the decisions are made?

I recognise the vast contribution that these lotteries make to charities, particularly those that work in rural areas. Of course, we will make sure that we take evidence on all those issues. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that we want to make sure that we are developing policy based on evidence, but that does not detract from our recognition of the enormous work that these lotteries do, and we are incredibly grateful to them.

Multi-sport Grassroots Facilities

11. What recent progress she has made on implementing her Department’s multi-sport grassroots facilities programme. (901491)

The Government have committed over £325 million to multi-sport grassroots sites across the whole of the UK. This is part of our mission to ensure that every community has the pitches and facilities it needs. So far, 2,300 sites have been supported. That includes funding for grass pitch maintenance at Waveney football club in my hon. Friend’s constituency, creating many more opportunities for people of all backgrounds to get active.

The development of multi-sport grassroots facilities is very often led by one sport, which then faces a variety of obstacles in getting other sports authorities to participate in a particular project. What steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to remove those barriers, and to promote collaboration between different sports authorities so that much-needed facilities can be built?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question because it allows me to champion the fact that, as a requirement of the Government’s investment in grassroots facilities, 40% of projects need to clearly benefit a sport other than football, such as cricket, rugby, basketball or netball. In England, the Football Foundation and Sport England work closely with the national governing bodies of other sports to encourage the development of multi-sport projects, to promote collaboration between clubs at a local level.

Over 1 million girls lose interest in sports when they become teenagers, mainly due to lack of confidence and feeling judged, but we know how beneficial sports are for mental health, and there are many other benefits. How has the Department included gender in the implementation of the multi-sport grassroots facilities programme?

I welcome that question. We have a national sports strategy to get 3.5 million people more active. That is focused on trying to get those who are currently inactive into sport. As the hon. Lady rightly mentions, women and girls are less active in sport than boys and men, so we are focusing in particular on that, with a national taskforce that brings together all relevant Departments and national governing bodies to ensure that we get more women and girls involved in sport across the board.

Does the Secretary of State accept that grassroots sports can play a hugely important part in levelling up? As part of Darwen’s £120 million town deal, we have invested in our football club, our cricket club and our skate park, and we are about to open a brand-new five-a-side pitch. Will she talk with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to see what part her Department can play in ensuring that sport plays its proper part in enriching the cultural lives of people in areas with levelling-up bids?

My right hon. Friend is a huge champion for his area and for the north in general. He is absolutely right that sport, drama, creativity—all those things—level up an area. I am very happy to talk to my right hon. Friend in the Levelling Up Department to consider how we can continue, across Government, to support the north.

I have recently visited sports clubs in Honiton, including youth rugby, gymnastics and football. They are all seeking support from the local authority, East Devon District Council, on the basis of its 2017 sports pitch strategy. The Government’s multi-sport grassroots facilities programme is very welcome, but does the Secretary of State consider it generous enough for youth sport, given that the co-benefits of sport for young people include a sense of camaraderie, good health and civic pride?

Our strategy is helping sport across the board, but I recognise in particular the importance of getting young people involved in sport. We have invested around £1 billion in sport for young people, including £300 million for multi-sport pitches and £600 million in schools so that more children get the required two hours of physical education. We are also investing across the board in youth services to get more young children active in constructive activities rather than in less appropriate ones.

Topical Questions

I am proud of our Government’s record in supporting the creative industries. Figures published last week, which I am sure Opposition Members will welcome, show that our powerhouse creative industries grew by 6.8% in 2022, generating an enormous £124 billion for UK plc, putting us ahead of our ambition to grow those sectors by an extra £50 billion by 2030. Of course, much of that depends on the amazing talent of Britain. Many in the creative industries are benefiting from the Government’s targeted tax breaks, which are powering those industries.

Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to support local initiatives to encourage more girls to get into—or back into—and remain in sport? I myself enjoyed a long and prosperous rugby career playing in national league 1. Will she join me in congratulating Somerton rugby football club on its new girls rugby “skills and social” nights?

More girls should have the opportunity to play sports that are traditionally the preserve of the boys. That is why we are encouraging all schools to offer all sports to all their pupils, whatever their gender. In addition, we are backing women’s football, with £30 million for 30 pitches across the country to which girls will have priority access. It is absolutely right that we continue to encourage girls and women to take up more sport.

T6. Gainsborough was once the capital of England under the incomparable Sweyn Forkbeard. It is an historic market town with the Old Hall at its heart. What plans do the Government have to preserve the character of historic market towns such as Gainsborough? (901561)

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising the beauty and heritage of Gainsborough. Heritage, of course, has a vital role to play in levelling up, and can act as a powerful catalyst to increase opportunities and prosperity. We recognise the opportunity that historic high streets give us, and we have a £95 million high streets heritage action zones programme that is driving the regeneration of 67 of our towns and cities. I believe that Gainsborough has previously been a recipient of heritage lottery programmes, and we also have a scheme to help with historic churches.

Coverage of yesterday’s Commons chaos showed how desperately we need good-quality journalism, so I am concerned about BBC Scotland’s request to Ofcom for a reduction in its broadcast news output, especially the loss of “The Nine”. BBC Scotland’s TV news had something of a couthie image until “The Nine” came along, placing Scottish news in the context of UK and international news. It was a compromise offering for those who wanted a “Scottish Six” on BBC 1. Although “The Nine” created a pathway for young talent, I said at the time that its slot—tucked away on a channel that many struggled to find—could be its undoing, and now it has been pulled. In an election year, we need more scrutiny of politicians, not less, and the need for a properly resourced “Scottish Six” remains. I hope Ofcom will say no to the proposals, and I know that the Cabinet Secretary for culture, Angus Robertson, opposes the reduction in news output. Does the Minister?

I am aware that the BBC is looking at changing its programme mix in relation to news in Scotland. My understanding was that those changes were cost-neutral, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and appreciate that he has concerns about them. He will be aware that we do not hold direct power over the BBC’s programming mix. I am sure that the director general has heard his concerns. As I say, I think the BBC is still investing in quality news content in Scotland, but it may be that the mix is changing, and the hon. Gentleman is clearly unhappy about that.

Cheadle Town FC have been a member of the north west counties football league since 1983. However, the oversubscribed division leaves Cheadle Town and other south Manchester clubs at risk of being moved laterally into a midlands division, meaning a significant increase in the club’s travel costs and an impact on gates, breaking their identity as a northern club, and challenging their future viability. I have met the Football Association and raised the club’s concerns. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in urging the FA to review its processes and listen to south Manchester clubs that want to keep their teams northern?

My hon. Friend is a massive champion for her area—she has previously raised this issue with me and with the sport Minister. As she rightly recognised, levels five to 10 of the English football league system are administered by the FA, and decisions regarding which league a team plays in at those levels are for the FA in its role as governing body. I am sure the FA is listening to my hon. Friend’s concerns and will have heard her plea this morning.

This week in the House, I raised with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury the fact that serious delays in His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs issuing A1 forms mean that touring musicians are waiting months to be paid. A1 forms ensure that musicians do not have to pay additional tax when touring in the EU, but some musicians are waiting six to nine months, or even a year, for those forms. One leading singer told me that musicians feel like “hostages” of HMRC incompetence, so what is the Secretary of State doing alongside Treasury Ministers to sort out this mess, which is hitting UK musicians so hard?

I recognise the importance of touring to many of our fantastic industries. We have bilateral agreements with many other countries to ensure that touring can take place, but I will continue to ensure that as a Government, we take every step across the board to make sure that our musicians can tour appropriately.

What assessment has the Minister made of the BBC’s proposals to launch four new national music radio stations and to relaunch an existing station, Radio 5 Sports Extra? To my mind, those proposals are a direct imitation of commercial broadcasters’ innovation, and the time and resource that the BBC is investing could be better spent in reversing the cuts to BBC local radio—a source of distinctive public service content that is not available anywhere else on the same medium.

My hon. Friend is a stalwart of the radio scene. I would like to pay tribute to the 40-year career of Steve Wright, another stalwart of BBC radio. I have spoken to the director general about the launch of new radio services, and he is very aware of the strength of feeling in this House about the proposals for local radio. The mid-term review says that the BBC should engage much more closely with the market ahead of the launch of any new stations, but Ofcom also has powers to make a judgment on these matters before any new station is launched.

T3. Now that the Government have moved to repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, there remains no legislative measure to convince print media to sign up to the state regulator, so how do the Government plan to finally give the state regulator the power to do its job, as called for by the National Union of Journalists? (901557)

I am very proud that we have a free press, and I think it is really important that we repeal section 40 to ensure there is not a chilling effect on our reporting. Of course, since that was first proposed, we have had greater self-regulation, and I am sure the press will continue to ensure that they do their outstanding job in an appropriate fashion.

Can we recognise pickleball as a national sport, and will the sport Minister come to the Dunstable Hunters pickleball club, where he will see men, women, grandparents and grandchildren having a wonderful time?

How can I possibly resist such an invitation? [Laughter.] People are laughing, but this is becoming a more and more popular sport. For me, anything that gets people active and enjoying sport can only be positive, so I am happy to come to see it in action.

T4. On the annual sales limit on the People’s Postcode Lottery, the Minister says that he wants to have some evidence on why an additional increase is necessary. Since the advent of the pandemic, funding and fundraising have come under increasing pressure, and that has led to charities in my constituency closing. Saje Scotland, a domestic violence charity, was unable to access funding, so the evidence of the need is there for everyone to see. Will he at least consider an additional uplift to the annual sales limit in the interim, so that charities can access meaningful funding and are not forced to close down because of a lack thereof? (901558)

I think it is important to put it on record that almost every other society lottery is nowhere near those limits, but I do recognise that it may be getting tight for some of the individual trusts in the People’s Postcode Lottery. We have been speaking to the Gambling Commission to see what else it can do by using some of the other trusts at its disposal to increase that funding, but I take on board the points the hon. Member made.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that individual sports clubs have a role to play in providing youth services? In that respect, can I thank the Government for funding Lichfield sports club and Chasetown football club, which have both received grants for the work they do—grants that reach up to £2.5 million?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a fabulous champion for Lichfield, and I am pleased that young people in Lichfield are getting the benefit of Government funding.

T5. The Government’s promise to protect music creators from the potential negative impacts of artificial intelligence relied on a deal between tech companies and the music industry. However, it emerged earlier this month that those discussions have collapsed. Will the Secretary of State admit that their plan has failed, and say what the Government are going to do about it to support the creative sector? (901560)

I wish Labour Members would actually read our White Paper on AI, because in that paper we recognise the importance of this issue and the importance of protecting the creative industries. The White Paper sets out what we are doing about transparency, which is a key issue. We are of course continuing to work with both sides of the industry—the AI tech giants and the creators—to ensure we come to an appropriate resolution of this issue.

I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Will the Minister please update us on the independent regulator, and can he quite literally get the ball rolling to get this Bill in front of the House?

My hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner when it comes to the issue of football regulation, and it was good for me—

Do you know, I was told that the hon. Gentleman is a difficult man to ignore, but it is always worth trying.

My hon. Friend has done a lot of work in this area. We are absolutely committed to introducing the recommendations of the White Paper, which we have published, and a Bill will be published shortly.

The chair of Girlguiding UK has recently informed me that with Government funding, Girlguiding can at least be sustained in three overseas military bases. Will the Minister update me on his discussions to ensure that girls living on UK overseas military bases can continue to access Girlguiding?

I know the hon. Lady has done a lot of work in this area, and we had a good Westminster Hall debate on this. Girlguiding is an independent organisation, and must make its own organisational and directional decisions. The Department is working closely with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Ministry of Defence, Girlguiding, and representatives from overseas territories to see whether we can come up with a solution.

We work closely with national governing bodies such as the Lawn Tennis Association. It has done amazing work training 17,000 teachers across the country to teach tennis, padel tennis and so on. I went to see it myself recently at the national centre—[Interruption.] I am not doing very well here, I know that, but my hon. Friend raises an important point, and I will continue to raise it with the national governing body in due course.

There have been a number of late postponements of football matches recently, causing massive inconvenience and putting many fans, including Barnsley football club fans, seriously out of pocket. I have suggested to the English Football League that it adopts a postponement promise that would stop that from happening. Will the Minister work with me on that?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I have heard that from fans in my constituency. It is a decision for football, but I will be happy to raise the issue with the various leagues. I recognise the impact that such postponements have on fans up and down the country.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the large number of inquiries that Ofcom has launched against GB News, for conducting itself in exactly the same fashion as other channels routinely do, is in danger of looking biased and political, and that Ofcom is in danger of putting itself in judicial review territory?

The Government and I are in favour of media plurality, and it is important that different channels express different views across our vast political landscape. I am pleased that GB News has chosen to be regulated by Ofcom, and I know that Ofcom carries out its job appropriately.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Protection for Members of Parliament

1. What support and protection is available for Members who have experienced threats and other forms of intimidation. (901563)

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will read quite a long answer into the record.

It is essential that Members and their staff can perform their parliamentary duties safely and securely, both on and off the estate. The Commission considers that to be of the highest importance. Members should report immediate threats to the police on 999. Members can report any other threats, whether online, on the street or in their constituency, to the parliamentary liaison and investigations team of police officers based on the estate.

The House administration recognise that threats and intimidation can impact MPs’ emotional health and wellbeing. The parliamentary health and wellbeing service offers direct psychological support for Members, such as counselling and a confidential helpline, and assistance to family members who live with a Member of Parliament. Occupational health experts in the team are always on hand to support Members who might be subject to threat.

While we do not discuss security measures on the Floor of the House, I confirm that the Parliamentary Security Department supports Members with a range of other processes, which are kept under continuous review. I shall briefly cover those, Mr Speaker, and then come to a close. It provides protection at Members’ homes and constituency offices, and can provide security operatives for constituency surgeries and Members’ other parliamentary duties off the estate. It gives Members tailored advice for their individual circumstances. That includes security and situational awareness training, which is available to all MPs, their families, and staff. Members can access hands-on cyber-security advice for their personal mobile phones. A team monitors social media and other open-source sites for threats to Parliament or Members. As a member of the consultative panel on parliamentary security, this cause is close to my heart and I will continue to champion it as a member of the House of Commons Commission.

Some Members of the House will know that I had a death threat. A gentleman was arrested and went into a mental institution. When he was released, the House authorities and the Met police met me and said, “This gentleman is now out and he knows where you live.” I listened very intently to what the hon. Gentleman said, but that was the last I heard. I am a person who watches where he walks and does not stand by the side of the platform on the tube. I alter my way of coming into the House. It is very stressful. I have to say that in all that has been said by the hon. Gentleman— I know that he believes it and is passionate about it—there does not feel like there is very much for those on the receiving end.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his question. I am so sorry that he has experienced this after giving more than 40 years of service to this Parliament and this country. I will endeavour to meet him next week with security officials to go through his concerns one by one. I hope to see him at a meeting next week if he is free.

Church Commissioners

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

Theft: Security of Church Buildings

2. Whether the commissioners have issued recent guidance to church parishes on securing buildings to prevent theft. (901564)

5. Whether the Commissioners have issued recent guidance to church parishes on securing buildings to help prevent theft. (901568)

Before I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, may I pass on my condolences, and I am sure those of the whole House, to the family and friends of Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, who died suddenly last Saturday?

There is comprehensive advice to all parishes on the Church of England website about how to keep buildings secure, which we regularly update. All buildings used for religious worship are also eligible for the Home Office’s hate crime protection scheme.

I join my hon. Friend in passing on my condolences to the family of the late Bishop of Buckingham.

Vicars tell me that theft from churches is a continuing problem in my constituency and that the insurance sector is now demanding that churches must be locked unless someone from the church is present inside. That clearly creates a big challenge for those wanting a moment of quiet prayer or reflection or to just enjoy the beauty of our historic churches. Can my hon. Friend tell me what the Church Commissioners are doing with the insurance sector to ensure that our churches can remain, while secure, open for quiet prayer and reflection?

I am sorry to learn of the experience in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I can tell him that he is completely right about the importance of keeping churches open for those who want to come. The good news is that keeping churches open increases footfall, and that deters criminals. Locking up churches is a poor deterrent to thieves. I can also tell him that funding for roof alarms was provided by the diocese of Oxford back in 2019, when there was a spate of thefts from church roofs in his area. I encourage churches in his constituency to contact the diocese again to see whether that might be made available.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answers thus far. He will recall that I have previously asked at Church Commissioners questions about thefts from churches in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies, St John’s and St Andrew’s. At St Andrew’s, the theft took place during the mass, which is outrageous, to put it mildly. In my view, the Church Commissioners are not listening to the police’s advice and support. What needs to happen is for churches to get at least the same support and assistance from the police as other places of worship. Will he use his good offices to go back to the Church of England and ensure dialogue between the police and the Church to protect our churches as places of worship?

I am sorry to learn of my hon. Friend’s concerns. I will certainly feed that straight back to the hierarchy of the Church and ensure that those meetings happen. However, I am pleased to tell him that following his question to me on this issue last month, the police have arrested a suspect for a series of church burglaries in Barnet, Brent and Harrow, and he is remanded in custody. I have been told that the Metropolitan police is in close contact with the diocese of London and local churches, but there clearly needs to be more dialogue. I will ensure that that happens.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Holy Trinity church at Dunkeswell, which sits on the site of the Cistercian Dunkeswell abbey in my constituency. Visiting it is a moving, spiritual experience. Given that some sites such as that are in rural, remote areas where there will simply never be the footfall that the hon. Member describes, can he assure us that we can continue to keep them open in spite of any threat of theft?

I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Like him, I am a lover of our rural churches. I suggest that he points the churchwardens and the priest to the comprehensive advice on the Church of England website and perhaps has further conversations with the diocese and local police. If there are still issues, I ask him to come back to me about that.

I thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner for that answer. We live in an age where modern technology is available as a method of addressing these issues but is incredibly expensive. What funds are issued to us in Northern Ireland through Barnett consequentials to ensure that churches can adequately secure buildings with security cameras and CCTV? If there is currently no funding, could that be considered when we take into account the rural and isolated status of so many church buildings?

I am sorry to tell the hon. Gentleman that, as far as I am aware, this area is not covered by Barnett consequentials. Again, I direct him to the advice on the Church of England website, which can be seen by churches in Northern Ireland. If there are particular issues, I am happy to have a quiet conversation with him in the Tea Room to see how we can share best practice to try to help his churches.

Asylum Seekers

3. If the Church will have discussions with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Church’s guidance for clergy on supporting asylum seekers. (901565)

4. Whether the Church provides training for clergy on supporting asylum seekers wishing to convert to Christianity. (901567)

6. What guidance the Church issues for clergy on supporting asylum seekers wishing to convert to Christianity. (901569)

Both archbishops have offered to meet the Home Secretary, and the Church has provided advice and guidance for clergy to consider when dealing with requests for baptism from asylum seekers. The guidance refers to the need for discernment and recognises that there may be mixed motives on the part of asylum seekers requesting baptism.

I welcome that meeting. Those who are genuinely seeking to convert to Christianity should of course be allowed to do so. But is my hon. Friend aware that there is growing concern in this country that the Church of England—naively at best, and deliberately at worst—is being seen to aid and abet asylum seekers in getting around the laws of this country and remaining in the United Kingdom? May I urge the Church of England to update its guidance entitled “Supporting Asylum Seekers—Guidance for Church of England Clergy” as soon as possible to ensure that it is in alignment with new legislation passed in this House?

That guidance is being updated, so I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point. He is right that clergy will always rightly tell everyone they come across about the love of Jesus, but clergy do not determine asylum claims. Of course, priests are expected to uphold the law and make truthful representations of character. I hope that reassures him. I also note that in the recent Times investigation of 28 cases heard by the upper tribunal where a claimant cited conversion to Christianity as a reason to be granted asylum, only seven were approved, 13 were dismissed, and new hearings were ordered in eight other cases.

My hon. Friend will have heard the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) at Prime Minister’s questions. The problem is, this brings the Church of England into disrepute. It implies that some vicars are naive, foolish and innocent. It is important for the credibility of the Church of England that training is more robust and that well-meaning folk do not endanger our society.

I hear very clearly what my hon. Friend says. I know that he, like me, takes seriously the reputation of the Church of England. He cares a great deal about it, and I am grateful to him for that. I repeat the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone): priests are required to use discernment, to recognise that there might be mixed motives, and always to put forward truthful representations of character.

I heard the words of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) as well. When there is plenty wrong and plenty to complain about, it is not always the case that we should blame the established Church, is it?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Any institution run by humans will never be perfect, but he is right that the Church of England was unfairly accused of being involved in some cases, when it had no involvement at all.

Clergy: Same-sex Relationships

7. What recent progress has been made on implementing the decisions taken by the General Synod in February 2023 relating to clergy in same-sex relationships. (901572)

In February 2023, the General Synod passed a motion to welcome the decision by the House of Bishops to replace a document called “Issues in Human Sexuality”. The House of Bishops has published pastoral guidance that partially replaces that document. It is working on further pastoral guidance that would allow the document to be replaced entirely.

Papers going to tomorrow’s General Synod once again recommend backtracking on the agreements made, not just in February but in the autumn General Synod, regarding same-sex blessings and the rules governing priests in same-sex relationships. That is totally unacceptable. Yesterday’s report by Professor Alexis Jay on safeguarding in the Church of England was excoriating. It pointed to serial failures, and recommended setting up a completely independent body, the Church being stripped of its responsibilities, and those being handed to an independent regulator. It pains me to say this, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that dealing with both those very important historical challenges for the Church appears to be beyond the capacity and will of its current leadership, and that perhaps our established Church might benefit from a fresh start at the top?

The right hon. Gentleman takes these issues very seriously and has a long involvement with the Church of England. Starting with the second issue, the Church commissioned Professor Jay’s report. The Church gets the seriousness of these issues, and it will consider very seriously how to respond. The archbishops have described her report as a “vital next step”. We are not in denial, and we will put things right. The right hon. Gentleman also knows very well how the General Synod of the Church of England works; it is a sovereign body. It meets again this weekend. Reconciling different viewpoints so that we can walk together is not easy, but we are committed to that. I know that his words will have been heard and noted by members of the General Synod in advance of its debate.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Members’ Productivity: Digital Tools

8. If the Commission will take steps to increase the use of digital tools in parliamentary services to support the productivity of Members. (901573)

The Parliamentary Digital Service supports the Commission by delivering technology for Members, and tools are under constant development. A range of productivity tools are already available to Members and their staff from Microsoft via the Parliamentary Digital Service. They include Microsoft Forms, which helps with tasks such as collating constituents’ information. Microsoft Planner can track workstreams in an MP’s office and is used by some offices to induct new staff. “Bookings with me” can arrange one-to-one time with external guests, such constituents.

PDS independently investigates and works with Parliament’s suppliers to explore new technologies that could benefit MPs in their work. The team welcomes volunteers from the Member community to pilot such services ahead of full roll-out. As the Chair of the Administration Committee, I would be happy to arrange for the hon. Lady to meet any relevant officials.

Like most Members, I receive hundreds of invitations every week, and much more spam. It takes a member of my team hours—sometimes days—to go through them all. That is time that could be much better spent supporting constituents, particularly in a cost of living crisis. There are digital tools that can help with that; none that the hon. Gentleman mentioned will do so. Microsoft recently demoed its Copilot tool, which uses artificial intelligence. Other tools are available. While there may be issues of privacy, security and bias with such tools, as with much AI, can he confirm that the Commission is looking specifically at AI tools to help us in our work for our constituents?

I can. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: there are security issues that need to be looked at closely, but I have an answer, specially prepared. Copilot is Microsoft’s version of ChatGPT, a generative artificial intelligence service. Now, this is the relevant bit: PDS has arranged a series of internal workshops with Parliament’s Microsoft partner to allow PDS staff to explore how this technology could be used in the parliamentary network. The outcomes of those workshops will feed into Parliament’s overall AI strategy—I am nearly there, Mr Speaker. I speak as the proud owner of a Nokia. The recent and rapid development in artificial intelligence, especially generative AI, presents exciting opportunities.

Church Commissioners

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

World Watch List

9. What steps the Church is taking to support Anglican churches in countries listed in the World Watch List 2024. (901574)

Through the sister Churches of our communion and our linked missionary societies, the Church of England continues to provide both prayerful support and practical assistance to all parts of the Anglican communion where freedom of religion or belief is threatened or impaired. The Church works with our Government, other Governments around the world, and multilateral bodies such as the United Nations to advocate forcefully for freedom of religion or belief.

Following the implementation of much of the groundbreaking Truro review, the UK is now seen as a global leader on religious freedom. However, sadly, persecution is exponentially increasing across the world, so we need to embed that work. Does my hon. Friend agree that, like Governments, religious leaders need to commit to strategic thinking, structural change and the provision of additional resources if together we are to effectively tackle this global scourge?

Indeed I do. On embedding that work, it is good news that my hon. Friend’s International Freedom of Religion or Belief Bill had a successful Second Reading in this House on 26 January, and that it goes to Committee in April. I am glad that the Bill is strongly supported by the Foreign Secretary, and that the Bishop of Winchester has offered to take it forward in the other place; of course, he was the person who wrote the original report. However, my hon. Friend’s challenge is fair. As our Government step up on this global challenge, the Church of England and the Anglican communion need to as well. I will pass her remarks back to Lambeth Palace.

That completes the questions, but I would like to answer Sir Charles. The security of all Members really matters. It is taken very seriously in this House. Work is ongoing, and I am having serious conversations about what we do going forward. I can tell you that we have some of the best people working on it, and I would like to thank them for what they do.