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Topical Questions

Volume 658: debated on Thursday 11 April 2019

I wish to draw the House’s attention to a written ministerial statement that I am making this morning. As the House will be aware, on 10 January News UK submitted an application to vary certain conditions that were put in place in 1981 by the then Secretary of State for Trade. The proposed changes will allow The Times and The Sunday Times to share journalistic resources, subject to the agreement of each newspaper’s editor. I have reviewed the case, and I am minded to accept News UK’s application. However, in considering the proposed new undertakings as a whole, I noted that the existing governance arrangements agreed in 1981 could be clearer and more certain regarding some roles and responsibilities. I have therefore asked my officials to consider those questions further with News UK before agreeing the application, and the full detail will be set out in the written ministerial statement.

Harrow Council has raised the rents of uniformed youth groups from £300 a year to a massive £3,000 a year, which will undoubtedly lead to youth organisations closing down. At a time of rising knife crime and real concerns in the community about what young people do, does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a desperate attack on youth organisations?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely important that youth organisations, particularly the uniformed youth organisations that he describes, have the opportunity to do their important work, which includes helping young people to stay away from knife crime. How they choose to approach that is, of course, a matter for local authorities, but my hon. Friend will know that the Government have ensured additional funding for uniformed youth organisations which, in our view, is the right thing to do.

Mr Speaker, it is great to see you looking so jolly this morning.

Yesterday, I met a young woman who racked up a crippling debt of over £100,000 using nine different credit cards in just two days while gambling online. The operators that took her bets, LeoVegas and Casumo, should be held responsible for their disgraceful conduct. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the young gambler? Does he agree with me that it is time to ban credit card gambling? No one should go into debt to place a bet.

I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says and huge sympathy with those who find themselves in the position of the individual he describes. I will of course meet her. Indeed, I will try to meet others who have been affected by this kind of gambling. It is important that not just gambling companies but all of us take an interest in the way in which this kind of problem gambling is developing. It is very clear that those who are gambling with money they do not have find themselves very quickly in very serious trouble. He will know that the Gambling Commission is at the moment looking at the specific question of gambling on credit. That is a process we have encouraged. I look forward very much to its conclusions. The Government intend to take action on the back of what it says.

T2. I recall, in bygone years, the fun my father had completing his pools coupon. That stands in stark contrast with the sinister attempts of corporatist, globalist gambling firms to bypass the new restrictions on fixed odds betting terminals. Will the Minister meet me and others to discuss how we can revitalise the football pools, perhaps by cutting duty on this family fun? (910376)

My mum was a big fan of doing the pools, an opportunity many people took. We have rightly taken decisive action. From the start of this month, the FOBT stake has been cut. We have been absolutely clear that harm around gambling is not confined to one product. We will always look at where there is harm and act where we see it. We want responsible business. I will of course meet my right hon. Friend to discuss his concerns.

T3. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Foreign Secretary when he said last week: “Democracy and freedom of expression means nothing unless journalists are able to expose the truth”? How does that square with the arrest of two members of the National Union of Journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, for their role in making the award-winning documentary “No Stone Unturned” which exposes the truth about the police’s protection of the killers involved in the Loughinisland massacre towards the end of the troubles in Northern Ireland? (910377)

I agree with what the hon. Lady says. It cannot be more important that journalists in this country and abroad have the opportunity to report what is happening. We have discussed already this morning the question of disinformation, of which there is too much. A large part of the answer to disinformation is good quality, well researched journalism produced by those who are free to do it. We must defend their rights at every opportunity.

T8. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we must protect our children and young people from the wicked and dark side of social media? The Online Harms White Paper must, without fail, lead to legislation that is wide-ranging, robust and effective. (910382)

Yes, I do agree with my hon. Friend. He will have recognised from the White Paper that what we believe will be necessary to provide for a duty of care for online companies, and for an online regulator to enforce it, is primary legislation. I look forward to his support and, I hope, support right across the House for that legislation.

T4. The Minister will, I am sure, be aware of the work done by the Industrial Communities Alliance and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) to demonstrate the disproportionate nature of areas that play the national lottery and areas that subsequently receive lottery funding for community projects. What work is he doing with Camelot to ensure that small towns, small cities and industrial communities feel the benefit of the lottery that they play? (910378)

The national lottery has raised over £39 billion for good causes since 1994, funding projects in every constituency throughout the UK. It is my job, as we move into the fourth licence, to ensure that it thrives for the next 25 years. The opportunity to re-engage with communities and the public is there for us. If there is a particular concern relating to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I will be happy to take it forward to the national lottery.

What steps is the Department taking to encourage consortiums of arts organisations to work together with local authorities on applications to the cultural development fund to help local culture’s potential and the visitor economy?

My hon. Friend will know that in relation to the cultural development fund, five local areas will receive a share of £20 million. We believe that that is hugely important for the reasons that she gives. We expect it to create more than 1,300 new jobs across the country and, as she rightly says, to boost tourism and inward investment.

T5. The roll-out of broadband has been patchy to say the least, with some people getting duplication and some getting no coverage at all. What steps will the Government take to ensure that the roll-out of superfast fibre optic broadband does not have the same problems? (910379)

We published our future telecoms infrastructure review last year and we are now implementing it. We are about to launch the £200 million rural gigabit programme at the end of the month, which will help rural areas. Companies are now vying with one another in competition to secure cities and towns to connect full fibre to premises.

I warmly welcome today’s announcement of a youth charter, and the Minister knows that it will get my wholehearted support. Will she confirm the remit of the charter? Will it, for example, have a cross-departmental focus?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done to push this forward while in our Department. It is absolutely vital that this works across Government, and this is what we have seen through the Prime Minister’s knife crime and serious youth violence summit. It is absolutely right that we make sure that the help for our young people is set out very clearly in the charter and that we listen to people who know what our young people want; that means young people and people working cross-Government in the sector. I will be delighted to work with my hon. Friend on this issue.

T6. Over recent weeks, we have seen a number of shocking incidents of racism at football matches at both elite and grassroots levels. What action are the Government taking to ensure that we stamp out racist abuse at every level of the game? (910380)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue in the Chamber. There will be a further Government statement this morning on this issue. Football cannot be used as a cloak for racism and intolerance. This is a sign that players, fans, and this Government have had enough—so stop it. It is absolutely right that players can take the right action. We should stand with them, and I look forward to saying more on this later this morning.

West Oxfordshire District Council does a fantastic job telling the world about the natural wonders of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. What are Ministers doing to ensure that more tourism investment comes to rural areas such as mine?

My hon. Friend’s constituency and many others are rich in tourism offer. The economy benefits enormously from tourism. Tourism saw its best year ever in the 2017 period and it continues to do extremely well. He and others in similar constituencies promote the rural offer of the beauty of the natural environment across the world and we will continue to do that.

T7. On the very day that the stake reduction on fixed odds betting terminals was introduced, we discovered that the bookmakers had found a way to bypass that reduction. What promises can the Secretary of State make that the industry will not be allowed to do that in pursuit of further exploitation? (910381)

I agree with the hon. Lady. The actions of those who tried to find a way around the procedures banning the things that we across this House have decided should be banned were disgraceful. What happened thereafter, as she knows, is that the regulator took immediate action and those particular products were withdrawn. I hope that that lesson will be learned by all those across the industry who are tempted to try it again.

I was one of 80 parliamentarians who wrote to the Secretary of State recently to press the case for requiring mobile phone operators to allow roaming across their networks in rural areas. Will he support those calls?

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and, indeed, to other colleagues who wrote to me. As he knows, my view is very simple: we must get to a place where rural coverage is better than it is. All of us and the mobile network operators have an obligation to achieve that. If it cannot be done any other way, I am perfectly prepared to entertain rural roaming as a way in which it might be done.

Will the Secretary of State look favourably at the opportunities presented by 5G connectivity on the train line in Devon and Cornwall? If our train journeys are to be long, can he at least help us to make them productive?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, mobile coverage on train lines at the moment is based substantially on wi-fi coverage—about 85% of trains now have wi-fi coverage, including, I think, the GWR service from London to Penzance. However, 5G gives us the opportunity to do better. He will be aware of the technical challenges in providing the lineside equipment that we need to make the system work properly. We are investing time and effort with Network Rail to develop that technology in a test-track facility. I hope it will bear fruit.

Tourism and hospitality are vital sectors for Stirling’s economy. When can we expect to see a tourism and hospitality sector deal?

The tourism sector deal is being closely worked on; it is something we have been working on for some time. It is extremely productive, and the tourism sector itself has been working to make it as productive as possible. It is a reflection of the value of tourism to our economy that it has been given priority in Government over many other sectors, and we are continuing to work on it to produce a result as soon as possible.

As you will know, Mr Speaker, Scotland has made a hugely disproportionate contribution to British tennis, be it the Murrays, Leon Smith or Gordon Reid—I could go on. However, Tennis Scotland has struggled to capitalise on a membership that has doubled in recent years, because Scotland, despite all the success I have just listed, and despite having 8.4% of the UK population, only receives less than 1% of the Lawn Tennis Association’s revenue funding. Does the Minister think that that is fair and equitable?

I had the pleasure recently of sharing a platform with Judy Murray and staff from the new women’s sport section of The Daily Telegraph. She spoke about the “lady in the van” tennis club that she ran around Scotland to support grassroots tennis. It is absolutely right that the governing body continues to work from the top to support those doing so much from the bottom. I am happy to speak more about that at some point and to support tennis to grow and create more Andy Murrays and, indeed, all Murrays.

And, of course, Judy Murray, to her huge credit is promoting the Park of Keir project, which I, for one, and many others, enthusiastically support.

I support anything to do with tennis, Mr Speaker, as you know.

I was heartened to hear the Secretary of State’s comments just now about mobile roaming. A recent survey highlighted that a third of all rural buildings have either no mobile coverage or poor coverage. At a time when we are trying to get more small and medium-sized enterprises in rural areas, when we have an increasingly elderly population and when tourism is so important, is it not a disgrace that we should have such a divide between urban and rural? I am sure the Secretary of State understands that we must address that.

Food banks are like the fourth emergency service, especially in rural areas such as mine. High Peak Foodbank has helped over 1,000 people this year, but it is no longer funded by the lottery. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the lottery’s decision on food banks and the vulnerable people who need them?

As the lotteries Minister, that is not something I am aware of. I am happy to hear more from the hon. Lady and to engage with the national lottery on this issue. We need to make sure there is appropriate funding, and it is great that the national lottery reaches into many communities, helping people broadly. I am happy to take away this issue and the challenge to look across Government and work with colleagues.