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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 18 April 2024

Culture, Media and Sport

The Secretary of State was asked—

Physical Activity: Lower-income Families

Getting people active is absolutely vital, particularly those who are not active at the moment, which will include those from low-income families. That is why we have a sport strategy to get 3.5 million people more active. It is why we are investing around £400 million in grassroots sports facilities up and down the country, including £4 million in Newcastle upon Tyne Central. We are ensuring that that money is targeted particularly on the most deprived neighbourhoods.

I hope the Secretary of State will join me in congratulating Newcastle United women on their promotion to the championship. This season, they have helped inspire more than 300 young girls to take part in Newcastle United Foundation’s Premier League Kicks sessions, but with a third of young people in Newcastle inactive and our childhood obesity rates the highest in the region and among the highest in the country, we cannot leave it all to the foundation. How frequently does the Secretary of State meet the Department for Education to ensure that disadvantaged young people have access to sporting opportunities in schools? Specifically, what comparison has she made between sporting facilities in the state and private school sectors?

This is a really important area, and I congratulate the Newcastle United women on their success and, indeed, all women taking part in sport. That is why, through the future Lionesses fund, we have invested £30 million for 30 pitches across the country to make sure that women get more activity and more opportunities to take part in sport. The specific question was about engagement with the Department for Education, which I have regularly. In fact, it sits on the taskforce I was talking about to get more people active, as do other Departments. We all need to work together to make sure we get more sport in school, more people active and equal opportunities for young girls in schools across the country.

More than 1 million girls who considered themselves sporty while at primary school drop out of sport as teenagers. I was one of those girls, and I did not do any sport from puberty until my late 40s, when I discovered running. This weekend, I will be running my second London marathon in aid of Bristol Refugee Rights—feel free to donate. On this Government’s watch, inequality between girls and boys on physical activity has got worse, with 22% fewer girls than boys taking part in team sports. I do not want any tepid words about things the Secretary of State says she is committed to. We have 860,000 girls missing out on the joy of physical activity—why?

I hope the shadow Secretary of State does very well on Sunday, and I wish her the best of luck. I am absolutely committed—these are not just warm words—to ensuring that more girls and women get involved in sport. I say that they are not just warm words because we have a plethora of policies already in play on this issue, whether that is: investing in football and working with Karen Carney on her women’s football review; building pitches to ensure that girls and women have priority access to sport; the £400 million for multi-sport facilities, which goes across the country; or the taskforce that I talked about, which will get 1 million children more active. We are particularly prioritising people who are inactive at the moment, which unfortunately does include girls.

I call Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi to ask question 3. [Interruption.] Will the Secretary of State answer the question and allow the shadow Minister to come in?

Music Industry: Ticket Prices

3. What discussions her Department has had with the music industry on taking steps to help reduce ticket prices. (902353)

Our Department speaks regularly to industry stakeholders about how to make sure that live music continues to reach a wide range of audiences. Ultimately, ticket pricing strategies are a matter for event organisers and ticketing platforms, but they have to comply with the relevant laws to ensure price transparency, allowing consumers to make a fair and informed decision.

Whether it is on music or other entertainment, this Government have consistently failed to act in the interest of fans when it comes to ticket touting. Last year, they rejected the recommendations and warnings of the Competition and Markets Authority to strengthen legislation and protect consumers from illegal reselling practices in the secondary ticketing market. Will the Minister concede that the problem has got much worse for fans? When will the Government finally put a stop to that?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government brought in the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which was strengthened by the Digital Economy Act 2017, which brought in anti-bots regulation that dealt with some of those secondary ticketing issues. It is a tricky problem to solve. We are trying to do so through those regulations, but if there is more that we can do, we will look into that.

Order. The hon. Member complained about the other question, but it is not my fault that no Government Members have stood to ask a supplementary question. I keep a political balance, and I am not going to break that for him. I call Thangam Debbonaire.

Ticket touts are a scourge on our live music industry. Secondary ticketing websites inflate prices and pocket the profits, which makes cultural and sporting events unaffordable for many families and damages the relationship between fans, artists and venues. While the Government fail to act, Labour has committed to tackling soaring ticketing prices on the secondary market. Surely the Minister agrees that only Labour will put fans back at the heart of music and cultural events.

Surely the hon. Member would not expect me to agree with such a ludicrous statement. We brought in laws and we have anti-bot regulations, and we have had ticket touts arrested for their activities. I know that Labour has brought forward its own proposal—effectively a price cap on resale—which we do not think is workable. We have seen that in Ireland, and it simply increases fraudulent activity; it does not deliver for fans. We simply do not believe that what she is proposing will make any difference.

Heritage Sector: Net Zero

Earlier this year, we published a review of the barriers faced by owners of historic homes to reducing their energy consumption. It made a number of commitments across planning, skills and finance to assist the heritage sector on its journey to net zero, including consulting on the role of local listed building consent orders to drive change at the local level.

In 2022, North Tyneside’s world heritage site Segedunum was successful in accessing funds through the museums estate and development fund for urgent repairs. That will contribute to reducing the site’s carbon footprint. Currently, other than the Heritage Fund and potential regional government funding, there are no other sources of funding that would help cultural and heritage sites meet climate change targets. What are the Government doing directly to ensure that heritage sites can be resilient against climate change and have sustainable futures?

I thank the hon. Member for raising that issue. She talked about one of the substantial funds that we have to help repair and restore museums, heritage sites and other activities. I am glad that that is making a big difference in her constituency. We have been looking into the important area of how historic buildings can reduce their energy consumption. It is obviously difficult, since 2% of buildings in the UK are listed. We want to help them to reduce their energy consumption, which is a particular challenge for owners of historic homes. Historic England has guidance to help museums, and we will look at what more we can do.

When it comes to valuable heritage assets, I am really concerned about those housed in the grounds of our many military estates which are not bound by any of the obligations to maintain and care for them. In many cases, the Ministry of Defence and others are pursuing a policy of managed decline, which is allowing those valuable heritage assets to rot under our very noses. May I encourage the Minister—in fact, the Secretary of State—to speak with Ministers in the Ministry of Defence to challenge that policy and see what can be done to address it? I give her advance warning that I am keen to look at that as part of a Select Committee inquiry.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. It is something that we support when an asset is in the community rather than on the existing military estate. I recently visited the battle of Britain bunker at RAF Uxbridge, where there has been an amazing partnership with the local council. She raised an issue specifically about MOD sites that are still in use, which we shall be very happy to look into for her.

The Heritage Alliance estimates in its refreshed manifesto that the UK needs to double the number of conservation-skilled retrofit workers if we are to meet our net zero targets by 2050. Our built environment is at risk, yet the Government have stalled on training and have no plan to upskill the next generation. Labour will change the apprenticeship levy, making it more flexible to ensure that workers have the skills they need for the future. What is the Minister doing to meet the workforce challenge of retrofitting our heritage buildings?

Our Department has a huge number of initiatives under way to help people to deal with skills shortages, not just in the heritage sector but in the creative industries. The Secretary of State and I were discussing that with the Creative Industries Council just this week. One of the challenges that we face is the dynamism of the workforce and the need to ensure that it has the specific skills of the kind that the hon. Lady mentioned. We are looking at bootcamps and T-levels, which are much more practical vocational skills. I am happy to look into and discuss with the noble Lord Parkinson what more we can do with the heritage sector.

Torquay United Football Club

5. What recent discussions she has had with the National League on the financial sustainability of Torquay United Football Club. (902356)

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the financial issues facing Torquay United. I urge all parties to find a swift solution to this distressing situation. The Government are seeking to support the professional game through the Football Governance Bill, which will establish an independent football regulator.

As the Minister knows, recent weeks have been difficult for Torquay United fans, with the club entering into administration following years of fans struggling to get answers from the owner, and a completely flawed plan for a new stadium, which made no progress whatsoever. What role will preventing the circumstances that have dragged down Torquay United and other clubs play in future developments in how the game is governed?

I agree that meaningful engagement with fans is crucial. I want to put on record my thanks to the Torquay United Supporters Trust for its action to support the club and the fans. I share the concerns about the financial situation right across the game. That is exactly why the Bill will give powers to the regulator, which will be able to monitor and enforce financial regulation and deal with club ownership, fan engagement and club heritage issues, to ensure that clubs are protected for the very fans who are their bedrock.

Sports Facilities: Funding

6. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the multi-sport grassroots facilities programme in funding new sports facilities. (902358)

8. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the multi-sport grassroots facilities programme in funding new sports facilities. (902360)

Between 2021 and 2025, the Government have committed more than £325 million to grassroots sports sites across the whole of the UK. That is part of our commitment to ensure every community has the facilities it needs. So far, almost 2,400 sites have been supported, creating more opportunities for people of all backgrounds across the country to get active.

Thanks to the UK Government’s multi-sport grassroots facilities programme, almost £100,000 has been invested across Anglesey to improve sports facilities at Holyhead Hotspur, Plas Arthur in Llangefni, Tŷ Croes and Bodedern. Sport helps families across Ynys Môn be more active, healthier and happier. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking Ynys Môn gymnastics club, Barton Dance and Drama Academy, Ynys Môn Celts basketball club and all those working hard to make my summer activities fair at the Canolfan Holyhead on 8 June a success?

It is fantastic to hear about the community events taking place in the hon. Friend’s constituency. I am delighted that she has put together such an active and exciting event, and I wish her all the best on 8 June. Such events bring communities together. I wish her and everybody a wonderful time.

Cromwell Athletic, who play at Mary Ann Meadows in my constituency, have had to cancel almost 70% of their grass pitch games this season because conditions have made the ground simply unplayable. The pitch improvement programme shows that we need around eight 3G pitches in Warrington to cope with demand. Could my right hon. Friend set out what support is available to clubs with significant junior membership? I invite her back to Warrington to see some of the teams who are struggling to access 3G pitches, to talk about how we can help them.

Through our investment via the Football Foundation in England, we are actively supporting teams such as Cromwell Athletic up and down the country to get new artificial grass pitches. We funded the goalposts at Barrow Hall Primary School and put in a new artificial grass pitch at Cardinal Newman Catholic High School. It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss this issue further.

National Symbols: Regulation

7. If she will make an assessment of the potential merits of bringing forward legislative proposals to regulate the use of national symbols by commercial and other entities. (902359)

The correct use of many national symbols, such as royal names, state emblems, the royal arms and the Government coat of arms, is already subject to Government regulation.

I think many people would be quite angered by the way certain national organisations have tried to change our national flags, the cross of St George and the Union Jack. Is it not time that we protected and cherished our national symbols by appointing a Minister of the Crown from the Cabinet Office to oversee that? Will the Minister also look at the Union Flag Bill of 2008, which would enshrine in legislation the protection of our cherished national flag?

The Union Jack should be a unifying symbol for the whole country. It has looked the way it has for the past several hundred years and I see no point in messing around with it. I am not sure that we need legislation; we just need some common sense.

Would Ministers be equally keen to prevent organisations, such as political parties, using images of His Majesty the King in their propaganda?

I do not know how to answer that question, if I am honest! [Laughter.] Our party has always been proud to use the Union Jack, because we are a proud Unionist party, and we will always be proud to support the royal family.

Charities and Voluntary Organisations

10. What steps her Department is taking to support charities and voluntary organisations in the context of increases in the cost of living. (902362)

The Government are investing millions to support charities across England with cost of living pressures, and that includes the Community Organisations Cost of Living Fund, which is awarding critical support to frontline services.

What does it say about the state of the nation when, during the worst cost of living crisis in living memory, charities and voluntary organisations such as Calmer Therapy in the Wansbeck constituency are struggling simply to make ends meet? Like many other charities, Calmer Therapy is having to do more with less. It is facing more pressures and continued pressures, with crumbling buildings and excessive bills. What conversations has the Minister had with the Chancellor about plans to support charities and those who are desperately relying on them to survive?

I want to put on record my thanks to the charities up and down the country that have done some incredible work over some of the most challenging times. I recognise that when costs are rising and donations are falling, demand for their services often increases. That is why I had conversations with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and why we secured a significant package of £100 million to support those charities. It was welcomed by the sector. I am grateful to the National Lottery Community Fund for helping us to get that money out as quickly as possible to so many charities around the country.

Footballers: Risk of Dementia

11. What recent discussions she has had with representatives of football clubs and associations on ensuring the wellbeing of football players, in the context of their increased risk of dementia. (902363)

I have discussed the issue of dementia with the Professional Footballers’ Association, specifically around the Premier League’s promise to allocate funding towards the new brain health fund for football players impacted by dementia. I am pleased that the fund was launched in September last year, and I will be writing to the PFA shortly to seek its assurances on the current workings of the fund and how the PFA is engaging with former players.

My constituent is the former Celtic, Chelsea, Blackburn and, more importantly, Norwich City football legend, Chris Sutton. He has recently brought to my attention the very distressing fact that former professional footballers are four times more likely to die of CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy—dementia than the wider population due to repeated head impacts. Chris is just one of a group of former players who are championing these issues and pushing for better provisions to support the wellbeing of ex-players and their families. Can the Minister reassure me that the football industry will create a properly financed dementia fund to help players, and of course their widows, who are affected by the CTE dementia scandal?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this incredibly important issue, and I want to record my thanks to Chris Sutton and all those involved in this important work. We welcome the practical support that those involved in sports give former players in these circumstances. The PFA and Premier League’s brain health fund has an initial amount of £1 million in financial support for former players and their families, to improve their quality of life. The fund will remain in place until the PFA and the Premier League establish a charity that will involve a great many football stakeholders so we can provide a much longer-term support vehicle. I can reassure him that I take this area of work incredibly seriously and will continue to put pressure on those involved.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and hope we will hear more in that regard.

The number of children who are vaping continues to rise at an alarming rate. Statistics from 2022 show that current use—within the last 30 days—among 15-year-olds was 25%, but the percentage will obviously be significantly higher now. We know about some of the harms to which vaping leads, which should cause us grave concern, but we certainly do not know about all of them. In that context, does the Minister think it is a good thing that the strips of football clubs such as Blackburn Rovers are sponsored by vaping companies? If not, will he join me in seeking to change that?

I know that there have been many discussions about sponsorship within various sporting bodies. It is for the individual clubs and the football authorities themselves to set guidelines of that kind, but the hon. Lady has raised an interesting point and, if she will allow me, I will give it further consideration.

Everyone deserves to feel safe playing the sport that they love. In the context of, sadly, too many former professional players suffering from dementia, what steps is the Department taking to ensure that sports governing bodies have the guidance they need to ensure the safety of professional players?

The hon. Lady has raised an important point, as have other Members. The Government are leading work on concussion in particular. We have worked with stakeholders and developed the first guidelines to be distributed to the grassroots, which have also aided professional sports. The evaluation of this is ongoing and will be invaluable in helping us to improve sport-related education and health. We have also convened a sports concussion research group to identify the questions that still need answering, as well as an innovation and technology panel, whose members are looking at the practical, technical solutions that will aid safety and mitigate concussion. However, as I have said, this is an incredibly important area and one on which we will focus.

Gambling Operators Levy

12. What her planned timetable is for responding to the consultation on the statutory levy on gambling operators. (902364)

The statutory levy represents a generational change in funding arrangements, and we have to consider properly the evidence provided during the consultation. We will publish a response setting out our final decision soon, but we remain on track to introduce the levy via secondary legislation this summer.

It has been months since the consultation closed, with no response, and about 10 other consultations relating to the White Paper are also awaiting a response. Is the Minister trying to kick change into the long grass, and if not, will he please confirm when the responses will be published?

I reject that accusation. There are 62 proposals in the White Paper, half of which will be finalised as a result of the consultation or are complete. A further three consultations have ended, and we are now analysing those. The levy is a priority, because we want the funds to be directed where they are needed most, on the basis of evidence, and we are working at pace to ensure that happens. I also point out that it was this Government who introduced it.

Artistic Spaces

13. If she will take steps with relevant stakeholders to help provide spaces for artists to create and display their work. (902365)

High-quality affordable workspaces are essential to ensuring that we can retain our finest creative talent. The Government are committed to encouraging local authorities and property owners to make spaces available for cultural activities. Arts Council England is already supporting artists’ spaces through funding and brokering partnerships. The national portfolio boasts numerous workspaces that receive revenue funding, such as Spike Island and Yorkshire Artspace, which offer space for artists to create work and gallery space for exhibiting new work.

Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and many other parts of my constituency are blessed with an abundance of artists, painters, sculptors and others, but they have very few places where they can create their work—they need more studio space and more workspaces —and even fewer places in which to exhibit. Providing such spaces should be essential—it aids economic activity, increases footfall and increases wellbeing—so how can we ensure that it is essential, as the Minister said, and not an afterthought? It really does matter.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising his concerns about the creative community in Leighton Buzzard—it sounds like a buzzing creative community. As I say, we support creative industries primarily through Arts Council England, which has initiatives that look at workspaces. I encourage organisations in his constituency and community to make applications for grants, because there are specific funds available.

Arts venues are vital to our local culture and our communities, but they are also hotbeds for new talent to display or perform their latest works, which is critical to the UK’s creative sector. Pubs are increasingly used for showing artworks as much as they are for performing music—think of pubs such as the Crown Inn back in the day, or the Hope and Anchor in Islington. That is why it is so important that we save pubs such as the Punch Bowl in Warwick, which a developer wants to convert into a house. Last year was the worst year for the closure of music venues. What is the Minister doing to stop that rate of closure?

We share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about grassroots music venues, which is why we have a specific fund set aside to help save some of the most treasured community venues. We also have the Localism Act 2011, which allows communities to designate a particular community asset of value, giving communities time to raise funds to save those kinds of assets. It is something that we are talking about a lot with music venue groups, and we are also looking at giving them help to buy the freeholds of properties so that those kinds of assets can stay within communities and remain a talent pipeline, as he suggests, for many years to come.

English Football: Financial Sustainability

14. What recent discussions she has had with the Premier League and English Football League on the financial stability of football clubs. (902366)

As my hon. Friend will know, the Football Governance Bill was introduced to Parliament last month, and it will help with the financial sustainability of football as a whole. I have met the Premier League, the English Football League, many stakeholders and parliamentarians to ensure that the legislation is appropriately drafted. I have met over 90 clubs and senior executives from the leagues many times.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. We do not have to look too far across the east midlands to see that clubs such as Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City and Leicester City have found themselves in some form of difficulty, so I welcome the Government’s plans to introduce a regulator to bring some stability to the football pyramid. However, how do we ensure that we strike a balance so that we do not strangle and over-regulate the best league in the world, the premiership?

As my hon. Friend mentions, the Premier League is world leading. It is worth £7 billion, and we absolutely want to ensure that it stays first and world class. That is why the legislation takes a proportionate approach. It takes on board the fact that the regulator will have to work very closely with the leagues, including the Premier League. We call it an advocacy-first approach, and having worked very carefully with the team, I am very confident that the legislation takes a balanced and proportionate approach.

Football is nothing without the fans, and the Secretary of State may recall that a while ago I mentioned to the Sport Minister the idea of a postponement promise. That was in response to a spate of fixtures that had been cancelled at very short notice. The Minister said that he would raise it with the EFL, and I understand that he did so. I am grateful for that, but I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees that we need to keep the momentum going forward. Will she and the Minister continue to work with the EFL to come up with a solution that works for fans?

The hon. Member is absolutely right about the importance of fans and communities to football, which is why the Government are bringing forward legislation to protect fans across the country. My junior Minister is a valued colleague who supports me and works very hard across his portfolio. I know he has raised this issue with the EFL, and I will talk to him about it.

Topical Questions

This Government recognise just how important the arts are, which is why the Chancellor used the Budget to extend, introduce and make permanent a range of tax reliefs to drive growth and investment in our creative industries. We have provided tax reliefs worth £1 billion over the next five years for museums, galleries, theatres, orchestras, independent film productions, film studios and the visual effects industry. In addition, as Sunday draws near, I want to wish all those running and taking part in the London marathon the best of luck—in particular, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire).

With Monday marking the 35th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, we will always remember the 97 victims who were killed unlawfully. Does the Minister agree that, in their memory, we must take a stand against those who think it is acceptable to ridicule this disaster in order to rile up rival teams? If so, what is she doing to tackle this issue of so-called tragedy chanting?

Tragedy chanting is absolutely abhorrent and has no place in football, or indeed in any sport. The Government fully support the football leagues and the police in their efforts to identify and deal with the culprits. Tragedy chanting can be prosecuted as a public order offence, with guilty individuals being issued with football banning orders preventing them from attending matches in the future.

T3. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the amazing success of Romford football club, which has now got through to the FA vase final at Wembley on 11 May? Given the proud Essex town that Romford is, does she agree that BBC Essex and the regional TV and radio channels really should promote that in their broadcasting, instead of saying that we are not Essex? Does she agree that we should be given that prominence? (902371)

First, I extend my congratulations to Romford football club on reaching the final of the FA vase—it is a wonderful achievement and I wish the team the best of luck at Wembley. On the issue of BBC Essex, as my hon. Friend will know, the BBC is operationally and editorially independent of the Government, but I know that my hon. Friend has raised his concerns directly with the BBC, and I am sure that it will get back to him.

Since we last met, the media regulator Ofcom has again reprimanded GB News for breaching impartiality rules. Ofcom says that news programmes should not be presented by politicians. The Tory Benches host a plethora of Ofcom rule-breaching MPs who leave this place to freelance as pretendy news presenters on a channel that spreads conspiracy theories and disinformation, and that undermines Ofcom. I am on the side of journalism, not disinformation. Does the Minister agree with me that GB News should drop the propaganda and obey the regulator?

I am in favour of media plurality; I think it is important that there are channels for everybody to watch, and GB News is a very popular outlet. I think that the person to regulate GB News is Ofcom, not those on the shadow Benches.

Crewe Amateur Musicals Society opens what I am sure will be a fantastic production of “Kinky Boots” at Crewe Lyceum this evening, but I am concerned that Arts Council funding does not do enough to support existing groups and activities. As well as joining me in wishing the Crewe Amateur Musicals Society good luck this evening, can my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss Arts Council funding?

I wish the Crewe Amateur Musicals Society the very best of luck with their performance. We channel a very large amount of money to Arts Council England. With lottery funding and Government funding, that is about £444 million every year. We also have a number of tax reliefs for the performing arts. I also encourage the groups in my hon. Friend’s constituency to apply for the latest cultural development fund round, which opened in February and supports organisations such as the one he cites.

T2.   Cambridge has a long-established and flourishing local music scene but, as elsewhere, times are hard. The Music Venue Trust recently reported that, nationally, there have been 67 emergency cases for its experts so far in 2024. With soaring maintenance and operating costs, and with inflation meaning that the grassroots music sector is operating on a profit margin of just 0.2%, does the Minister accept that this is unsustainable for any business? (902370)

It has been a particularly difficult period for a number of music venues. Obviously, we went through the pandemic and then an energy crisis, and we tried to support venues through those difficult times. We are now working very closely with the Music Venue Trust, which has access to Arts Council funding that is helping it to buy the freehold of some music venues. We also have a grassroots music fund that is helping with some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman cites, and I am sure it would be happy to look into the particularly treasured venues in his constituency.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the proposal by Universal Studios for a theme park in Bedfordshire—a £10 billion investment in the country. She will also be aware of the strong local support, led by Conservative Mayor Tom Wootton, so can she assure me and other Bedfordshire MPs that she is working hard with the Treasury to get a response to that proposal, and that a Government proposal will be forthcoming before the summer?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this very exciting opportunity for Bedfordshire, which I am pleased to have discussed with him. We are liaising closely with the Treasury, and I am also happy to continue liaising with my hon. Friend.

T4.   What discussions have the Government had, or would be willing to have, with Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government on the prospect of Glasgow stepping in to host the 2026 Commonwealth games? (902372)

This country is proud to have hosted the Commonwealth games twice in the past decade, most recently in Birmingham. I have had conversations with the Commonwealth Games Federation on its plans, and I know it is currently considering a host of options. I will see what it comes out with before I commit to any further engagement.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the magnificent and mighty Portsmouth football club on winning League One and securing promotion to the championship this week? Does she agree with me that Pompey’s fantastic victory demonstrates the magic of football in bringing communities together, inspiring young people and encouraging health and fitness?

I am very pleased to congratulate Portsmouth football club on its success. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of local clubs and what they do in their communities. It is not just the match on a Saturday; it is also about what they do to encourage people to get involved in their community and to get fit and active. Going around the country, I have seen some fabulous examples of what sports clubs—not just football but rugby and cricket—do for their local areas.

T6.   The Carney review revealed that women’s football has a long way to go on minimum professional standards, union representation, mental health support and more. Will Ministers give these recommendations parity with the changes needed in the men’s game? (902375)

I am pleased to have spoken to Karen Carney on a number of occasions about her review and the importance of women’s football, and I am also pleased to take on board all her recommendations. The Government approved all the review’s recommendations, and I am pleased to chair the first implementation group, which is ensuring that the recommendations will be implemented by the Football Association and others.

Since I last raised the closure of small music venues, two a week continue to close. There is now a growing consensus within the live music sector that a £1 levy should be put on large music venues and those who are making massive profits at live events. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee is looking at this, and I have listened very carefully to the evidence. If it is recommended, will the Minister put in place a levy similar to the one in other countries across Europe?

We are very sympathetic to that concept, which has worked well in football. We are closely watching the industry discussions about the idea of a levy that would support grassroots music venues which, as we all know, are the talent pipeline for our world-leading music industry. We do not want to see them wither, so we are watching this matter closely and I have had recent discussions with relevant organisations on it.

Further to that question, and as others have said, brilliant grassroots music venues all over the country are struggling with spiralling costs. The Grayston Unity is one such venue that is crucial in not only ensuring access to music, but developing the skills pipeline for people working in that sector and, we hope, becoming the stars of tomorrow. What is the Minister doing to ensure that she understands, and reassures those venues that she gets, the spiralling costs they face?

As I have said, we have a number of initiatives under way. Arts Council funding is supporting the Music Venue Trust in relation to owning freeholds of properties and we have our supporting grassroots music fund, which has been topped up recently because of some of the issues cited by the hon. Lady. We want to try to help music venues through these difficult times, because we believe they are so valuable, not only to the talent pipeline, but in giving communities access to local music and performing opportunities. We hope that these venues will continue long into the future.

The “Space Investigators” exhibition at the Great North Museum celebrates the amazing history of the north-east in designing and manufacturing telescopes. What support does the Minister offer so that regions such as ours can better understand and promote our great industrial heritage?

I am pleased that work has been going on in the hon. Lady’s constituency on these important matters. Of course, through Arts Council funding and through Department for Culture, Media and Sport funding, we support institutions across the country that support the history of, and what is going on in, their local communities, as well as arts across the country.

This is the 900th anniversary of the founding of Edinburgh city and St Giles’ cathedral. Celebrations are planned to mark it, so will the Minister tell us whether the Department is going to be working with the devolved Administration and supporting the local council in celebrating that anniversary? And would she like to come and join the party?

It sounds like a superb party and I shall certainly send the invitation to Lord Parkinson, who is the ministerial lead on these issues.

At the most recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I asked the Irish Tourism Minister about their ticketing policy and its success, and they said it was very much a success. So may I suggest that rather than dismiss Labour’s proposals, the Government should look at the evidence from the Irish Government, rather than listening to outlaw companies such as Viagogo?

I spoke to officials this week about the Irish example and they were concerned that it had led to an increase in fraudulent activity. However, we will obviously keep this under review.

Omaze has had a big impact on charity fundraising. Although it is raising money for extremely good causes, does the Secretary of State agree that when people buy tickets for fundraising they should have some idea of what proportion of the money they are spending is actually going to those charities? Should we not have more transparency in this area?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will be aware that we have looked at a range of issues in relation to gambling, lotteries and society lotteries. The prize draws are an area of work we are examining at the moment to get a better understanding of what the market is like. He rightly says that it is important that people are aware of how much of the money they are spending is going to charities, and we will continue to work in this area.

Church Commissioners

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

Easter Church Services

1. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what recent assessment the Church has made of trends in the number of families that attend a church service over the Easter period. (902231)

Although we do not yet have confirmed numbers of worshippers for this Easter just gone, our clergy report high attendance, among all ages, at services, which supports the post-pandemic trend of people returning to services on Easter day in person to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

The future of the Church is reliant on younger families attending and receiving the good news of the Holy Gospel. What assessment has the Church made of initiatives like the pupil chaplain scheme and regular “Messy Church” at All Saints Torre in achieving that?

I was delighted to learn about the pupil chaplain scheme that All Saints Torre is running with Torre Church of England Academy; I will bring it to the attention of the Church nationally. The Church of England has committed £40 million since 2022 to increase provision for children and young people across the country. I thank Father Paul Jones for his service at All Saints Babbacombe and his wife, Jackie, who has led a Rainbows group at the church for many years. Their important work, which includes inspiring the next generation, has been noted and appreciated.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Integrity of Elections

2. To ask the hon. Member for Luton South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, what recent discussions the committee has had with the Electoral Commission on the integrity of election processes. (902233)

The committee has regular discussions with the Electoral Commission on issues relating to electoral integrity. The commission is working to ensure upcoming elections, including those in May and the next UK parliamentary general election, are well run and command public confidence. It continues to make recommendations to UK Governments and legislatures to further safeguard the UK’s electoral system, where appropriate.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her newly acquired responsibilities in this area. I am sure she brings the same diligence and independence of mind that her father brought to matters in this House for many years. We will be well served by her.

Spotlight on Corruption wrote to the National Crime Agency in December last year highlighting the dangers of UK elections being exposed to dirty money and foreign influence. The commission no longer has powers to raise prosecutions, but it can investigate. Will the hon. Lady use her offices to bring the Electoral Commission’s attention to the Spotlight on Corruption report and see what assessment it makes of it?

I will bring the report to the attention of the Electoral Commission. 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 can sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. It works with the police, who can investigate unlawful foreign money entering UK politics through permissible donors. However, it cannot take enforcement action against organisations based outside the UK. The commission will continue to recommend changes to ensure voters can have greater confidence in political finance in the UK.

House of Commons Commission

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

Food Waste: Parliamentary Estate

3. To ask the hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, what steps the Commission is taking to reduce food waste on the parliamentary estate. (902234)

The House of Commons Commission takes food waste extremely seriously. We work with organisations, such as FareShare, to use unused food and distribute it, but we also take food that is not eaten on one day and safely use it in other recipes on another day.

We have probably all been to events and occasions here where the hosts have perhaps enthusiastically over-ordered. It would be useful to be assured that none of that food goes to landfill and that ways are found to reuse it. These days there are a number of initiatives and apps where venues and stores can make food available at discounted prices at the end of the day. Could that be something that could be extended to staff—obviously not to Members—particularly those who work late on the estate, so that absolutely no food in this place goes to waste?

We will always look at suggestions. I can reassure the hon. Member that our catering team recently achieved the highest mark in the Sustainable Restaurant Association “Food Made Good” rating. One of the areas that we were assessed on was our commitment to reducing food waste, but clearly we will look at the hon. Member’s suggestions and we will act on them if they have merit.

Church Commissioners

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

Families and Households

5. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church has taken to support family relationships, parenting and marriage since the establishment of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households. (902236)

The report of the joint Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households was enthusiastically received by the General Synod at its meeting in February. The Archbishops’ Council is now incorporating the report’s recommendations into the work programme.

The key messages from the Archbishops’ Commission are unambiguous: families, relationships and love matter. The No. 1 action point from the commission is

“to maximise the protective effect of families”.

What steps is the Church of England taking to achieve that in Kettering and across the whole country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in this important area. I can tell him that the commissioners have had meetings with Departments and with the children’s commissioner to work alongside Government to strengthen family relationships, parenting and marriage. The Church itself wants to play a more active role in this crucial area and is producing new resources to help parishes do so. I am sure he will know that, in his own constituency, St Andrew’s Church is already exemplifying much of this good work under the excellent leadership of the Reverend Tom Houston, who trained as a youth worker prior to ordination.

Same-sex couples are able to show love and be a good family as well, so why will the Church of England not recognise same-sex marriage?

The hon. Member will know that this is an issue with which the General Synod continues to be involved through the living in love and faith process. We are working through these issues and the Church will have heard very clearly what he has said, and I can assure him that that work is being taken forward.

Abortion Legislation

6. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, if the Church will publish a statement on its position on amendments tabled to the Criminal Justice Bill relating to the decriminalisation of abortion before Report stage of that Bill. (902237)

The Church of England believes that the foetus is a human life with the potential to develop, while recognising that there can be strictly limited conditions under which abortion may be morally preferable to any available alternative. The Church also believes that every possible support, especially by Church members, should be given to those who are pregnant and in difficult circumstances. The Church would support new clauses 15 and 34 and believes that, while women should not face criminalisation, anyone coercing a woman to have an abortion, or providing one beyond the legal limit, or supplying an abortion kit for a late-term use should be prosecuted.

I welcome the support for new clauses 15 and 34. I think the Second Church Estates Commissioner has given implicit opposition to the new clause in the name of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), but I am gobsmacked not to have had a clear statement on the criminality of terminating a pregnancy up to the moment of birth by whomsoever. Is the intention to drive us into the arms of Rome? Is he as gobsmacked as I am?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his interest in these serious issues, which, given their importance, I am sure the House will want to treat sensitively. I will convey his comments to the leadership of the Church, but just to repeat: the Church is supporting the two-week reduction in the age of viability from 24 to 22 weeks, based on the latest available evidence that foetuses do survive from 22 weeks onwards. It is also supporting protection for Down’s syndrome children to make the case that abortion beyond the legal limit should not be acceptable for such children. The Church supports the continued prosecution of medical practitioners who assist with abortions beyond the legal limit.

Electoral Commission Committee

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

Disinformation in Elections

7. To ask the hon. Member for Luton South, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the potential impact of disinformation on the integrity of elections. (902238)

The committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the matters raised. The commission recognises the risks posed to the integrity of elections by disinformation and misinformation. It runs campaigns raising awareness of the voting process, so voters have accurate information on which to rely. The legal regime that the commission regulates is focused on ensuring that political finance is transparent and that campaigner materials include an imprint showing voters who have produced the material. It does not have a role in regulating the content of election campaign material, but encourages all campaigners to undertake their role responsibly and transparently.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s answer. Recently, we have seen a decrease in the effectiveness of search engines such as Google, with material generated by AI, which is designed to produce only things that sound like information, poisoning the well, so to speak, with a marked impact on search results. With this automation of fake news and fake oracles, what plans does the Electoral Commission have to put out guidance on AI-produced materials?

The commission encourages all campaigners to undertake their role of influencing voters responsibly and transparently, and indeed encourages voters to think critically about the campaign materials that they see. It expects anyone using AI-generated campaign material to use it in a way that benefits open and transparent political debate, and to label it clearly so that voters know how it has been created. Campaign material must also carry an imprint telling voters who has published and paid for it. The commission’s role is to ensure that the financing of campaigns is transparent. It does not have a role in regulating the content of election campaign material, such as preventing the use of deepfakes.

Church Commissioners

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

Armenian Church: Jerusalem

8. Whether the Church has taken recent steps to support the Armenian church in the old city of Jerusalem. (902239)

The Bishop of Southwark has raised this issue repeatedly in the other place over the past six months, and it remains an ongoing and very concerning issue. Only 15 days ago, an unlawful eviction was led by the Israeli police within the premises of the Armenian Patriarchate, with no court orders or permits presented.

Those of us who are good friends of Israel need to call out the violent activities of the settler movement. The Armenian Christians have enjoyed the best part of 2,000 years in their part of the old city in tranquillity. The appalling incident on 3 April was led not just by thugs but by an Israeli officer called Assaf Harel. Frankly, there was downright intimidation and an attempt to force out Armenian Christians. The Christian population in the old city has declined from 25% a century ago to just 1%. Will the Church of England stand up for Christians in the old city?

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for his sustained interest in this really important issue. It would be an absolute tragedy if there were to be no Christians left in the Holy Land. The House will have heard the figures that he has just presented. The pressures facing the Armenian church exemplify those faced by other churches in Jerusalem and the west bank. The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem is one of the custodians of the Holy Land and overseers of the four quarters of the city. The Church of England is absolutely clear that the historic settlement and the status quo of Jerusalem need to be maintained. The lack of any call for restraint from the Israeli Government is escalating tensions in Jerusalem, and that remains a great concern.

Sale of Land

9. Whether the Church provides guidance to parishes on the sale of land where there is local opposition to that sale. (902241)

When the Church Commissioners sell land, they seek to engage all those who are affected by a sale or development. The commissioners are not aware of any land that they own being for sale in North East Bedfordshire.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response. The word “engage” is interesting in this context. It is the case that there is a church in my constituency where there was local opposition to the sale of allotment land. Discussions were held initially with the diocese, and then at Church House in Westminster. My hon. Friend will be aware that in such discussions there is an imbalance of power, so can he assure me that there is adequate guidance to enable parishioners and local communities to combat effectively pressures to sell land where there is clearly local opposition?

I particularly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of allotments, for which there is often a very long waiting list. The land at Henlow is owned by the diocese of St Albans, and I will ask the diocesan secretary to contact him. Of course, he can also speak to the Bishop of Bedford and the Bishop of St Albans, whom we both know well. Charity law places a fiduciary duty on organisations to gain best value from the sale of their assets. That may be an issue that my hon. Friend would want to raise with the relevant Government Minister, in the context of what is happening in his constituency.

Church Schools

10. What recent assessment the commissioners have made of the contribution of church schools to education in (a) Harrow East constituency and (b) England. (902242)

The Church of England educates more than 1 million children in its 4,700 schools, which includes 40% of all primary schools in England. Church schools in Harrow East do incredible work, and among them is St John’s School in Stanmore, which has many children for whom English is not their first language and who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. That school achieves a reading progress score of 4.5 compared with the average score in the rest of the local authority of 1.1. That excellent achievement is to be warmly commended.

I am very proud of the fact that parents in Harrow East have the option of a Church education or the religious-ethos education of their choice. However, as we all know, the birth rate is dropping, as is the number of children who need primary places in Harrow. There is therefore a direct threat to the rolls at St John’s and other religious-based schools, which may become unviable. What action is the Church taking to enable young people, particularly those who have recently come to this country, who may be of a Christian faith but not necessarily of the Church of England faith, to identify with a Church school and get that sort of education?

It may surprise my hon. Friend and the House that there are some Church of England schools in which all the children are from other faiths. That is because Church schools are community schools and welcome all. I will draw his concerns about falling roll numbers both to the diocese of London and to the national education department of the Church of England. However, in my experience, parents have a pretty good nose for finding their way to a good school. The results at St John’s, about which I have just told the House, should help in this case.