Oral Answers to Questions

Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
The Secretary of State was asked—
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

1. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of requiring venues to introduce a surcharge on large event tickets to support grassroots music venues.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green (Ashford) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

11. If she will take steps to require arenas, stadiums and major festivals to charge a ticket levy to help fund grassroots live music.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale) for supporting my maternity leave. The chance to raise a tiny child is fleeting and precious, and his superb stewardship of my portfolio granted me that gift. One of my big worries on standing for election and then becoming a Minister was that it might prove incompatible with starting and now expanding my family. I simply say to other women who want to get involved in public life, “Do not be afraid. There is a lot of talk of barriers, but service and motherhood are compatible privileges.” As my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) said so encouragingly to me, you can do it.

Grassroots live music venues are the talent pipeline of our music industry. We are supporting them with funds and rate relief. We have no plans for a Government-mandated ticket levy, but we encourage industry discussion.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister back to her place. In Edinburgh, we benefit from a plethora of small venues that depend on the Edinburgh Festival to survive. We also have big events every year. At the moment all the excitement, even in my household, is about Taylor Swift coming to the city in June, but we recognise that small venues—the Music Venue Trust says 10% currently struggle to survive and depend on grants from it—do not get any benefit from big gigs. Will the Government consider a levy to support smaller venues, because without them we will never have the Elton Johns, the Queens and the Taylor Swifts who use them to learn their craft, develop and benefit our economy and culture.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that grassroots venues are the talent incubators of the music industry. She will be aware that the Chancellor gave a substantial amount of money at last year’s Budget—up to £7 million for a new hub for the Edinburgh Fringe because of that talent pipeline—for the Edinburgh Fringe and the Edinburgh Festival. We are doing what we can with various different pots of money, but we also think there is room for the industry to find a solution on ticket levies. We think it is probably best for the industry to do that, rather than mandate it as a Government.

Damian Green Portrait Damian Green
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome my hon. Friend back to her place. In 2023, across the country, not just in Edinburgh, live music boomed, with some 22 million people attending gigs, yet 76 small venues closed—more than one a week. I draw the Minister’s attention to an analogy with another hugely successful leisure industry, football, where a small amount of the enormous riches gained by the Premier League is allowed to trickle down to the grassroots so that the future of the sport is preserved. Just as with football, we have hugely profitable large arenas where the superstars of today perform and create huge revenues. A levy on the tickets from those sorts of shows—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Speaker; I am very passionate about this—would help small venues to produce the superstars of tomorrow, so will the Minister take a positive attitude towards a levy?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend has made his point well, if not briefly. We agree about the importance of grassroots music, which is why we have given another £5 million to the supporting grassroots music fund, but we are also in close touch with the Music Venue Trust, which has a great initiative called “Own Our Venues”. Arts Council England is helping with the purchase of some of the freeholds of these venues. We support that as well, but we think there is more scope for the industry to lead a solution, and we are backing talks between different parts of the industry.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let us hear from the industry. I call Pete Wishart.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The music industry is just about the most unequal sector in the whole of society. Those at the bottom—the vast majority—earn an absolute pittance, while those at the very top have unimaginable earnings. Surely we should be doing everything possible to try to change that. It is the sensible option: they do it in France, and the Scottish National party Government are considering doing it in Scotland. Will the Minister support that effort and initiative in Scotland, and if it shows that it can help redistribute some of this money, will she follow that example?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for telling us what the Scottish National party is doing. I had understood that it was cutting a substantial amount from the arts budget. We have been supporting, for instance, the Edinburgh grassroots hub. I think there is a great deal of appetite in this place for a solution; I also think that the best option is for those in the industry to get together, and we are backing discussions of that kind. Indeed, before I went on leave I talked to Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust about the issue.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, warmly welcome the Minister back to her place. She mentioned the £5 million for the supporting grassroots music fund, and that is greatly welcomed, but let us be clear: festivals, rehearsal spaces and independent promoters are also eligible for the fund. That is a lot of mouths to feed. They are all important parts of the ecosystem, and they all need funds. In real terms, this is a tiny amount of money for grassroots music venues. Is my hon. Friend pushing the Treasury to expand that funding to ensure that it can go further?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for drawing on her expertise in this regard, and for the work that the Select Committee is doing. I am going to provide that dreadful answer: ahead of the Budget, we will be discussing all these matters with the Treasury.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. Whether her Department has made an assessment of the potential impact of tax relief on the growth of the creative industries.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Let me begin by welcoming the Minister back to her place. Since 2012, the Conservative Government have introduced tax reliefs for the creative industries year on year. That is one of the reasons why the creative industries are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy, and why they are world leading. The Labour party opposed every single one of those tax reliefs, and despite its warm words it offers no substantive action.

Stephen Metcalfe Portrait Stephen Metcalfe
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my right hon. and learned Friend says, since we came to office we have introduced a number of tax reliefs that have supported children's television, video games, production, galleries, orchestras, theatres and museums. It is for the Chancellor to decide on tax policy, but can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us what more she can do to make this go further, to ensure that we remain one of the world’s leading production venues?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have indeed introduced many tax reliefs, and since we came to office I have instigated and backed the introduction of tax reliefs and other support for the sector. Independent film making has been supported with more than £60 million of Government and national lottery funding, and I have recently spoken to representatives of the independent sector to establish how we can provide further support. However, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, matters of tax are ultimately matters for the Chancellor.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a suggestion for the Minister. When I met several film, television and advertising companies in my constituency recently, they pointed out that Malta and Mauritius have a 40% rebate which also covers commercials, and that Ireland will be following suit with a 40% rebate on reality TV and game shows. These are the bread-and-butter products of the industry, and they have a huge impact on local areas where filming takes place. The UK is falling behind in this respect. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Treasury and other colleagues about the matter?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I assure the hon. Lady that I have regular discussions with the Treasury and the industry about how we can continue to support this vital sector. We are not falling behind. We are world leading, and we need to maintain that competitive edge. Our screen sector tax reliefs are estimated to have delivered over 200,000 new jobs and more than £13 billion in economic output.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson (Twickenham) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. What steps she is taking to help increase community access to playing fields.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are committed to ensuring that every community has the facilities it needs to make sport and physical activity accessible to all, with over £320 million being invested by 2025 to develop thousands of state-of-the-art community football pitches and multi-use sports facilities across the UK.

Munira Wilson Portrait Munira Wilson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Udney Park playing fields in Teddington, in my constituency, have gone to rack and ruin over the past decade as successive developers have bought the site and, quite rightly, failed to build on it. The Udney Park Community Fields Foundation, led by Jonathan Dunn, has campaigned tirelessly to bring those fields into community use, because we desperately need more sports fields in my constituency. Now the site is back on the market, will the Minister join me, local sports groups and the local authority in backing the community’s bid for the site? Will he also put in a friendly word with relevant Ministers on the bid to the community ownership fund?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the hon. Lady for her commitment to improving sports facilities in her local area, and I commend all the volunteers, like Jonathan Dunn, who do a tremendous amount of work. Frankly, without them we would not have so many people being physically active. The Football Foundation and Sport England are always ready to discuss potential investments, and I would be happy to provide the hon. Lady with those contacts. Of course, I will raise this issue with my colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The community sports area on Tithe Farm Road in Houghton Regis is about to get an amazing new all-weather facility funded by developer money, town council money, Central Bedfordshire Council money and Government money. Will the Minister come to open the facility? It is much needed and should be celebrated.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

How could I possibly resist such an invitation? It is always a great honour to open facilities in this role, and I am delighted that we are so busy that we are opening thousands of them.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. What steps her Department is taking to support local journalism.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We recognise that local media face serious challenges to their sustainability. Our digital markets legislation will help to rebalance the relationship between publishers and platforms, and the Government have been exploring the role of the BBC in local news through the mid-term charter review. We continue to consider all possible options in the interest of promoting and sustaining local newspapers, because we think they are vital pillars of the community and of a thriving democracy.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Low pay and job insecurity are rife in local journalism. There have recently been big redundancies at my local paper, the Evening Chronicle, which has lost a third of its news reporters and half its sports reporters over a two-year period, meaning that my constituents get less local news, less coverage of emergency incidents and less coverage of their beloved sports teams. What further steps will the Minister take to address the issue of retaining careers in local journalism?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for raising these issues. I know that sustaining a good, financially beneficial career is a concern for many people working in journalism. Before I went on leave, I met Reach and other local newspaper groups to talk about some of the challenges they face. The Government are doing what we can through our ad spend, and we have looked at various things over the years, including zero rating of VAT, rates relief and so on, to try to help the sustainability of the local newspaper model. Ultimately, sustainability is at the heart of the challenge of giving local journalists places to have good careers. We are encouraging the BBC’s local democracy reporting service, which gives journalists opportunities beyond local newspapers.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister back to her place. The Government are one of the biggest advertisers in the UK yet, when it comes to placing adverts and campaigns, local papers such as the Barnsley Chronicle can be overlooked in favour of buying ad space online. Many people in this country do not have digital access or still rely on print media as their primary source of news and information, and our local papers are struggling. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the Government’s policy on placing adverts supports the interests of both our press and the public?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting this issue, which the Cabinet Office leads on. The DCMS has been in talks with the Cabinet Office about that spend. As I say, I have spoken to groups such as Reach about this previously. I was in the Cabinet Office during the pandemic, when some large adverts were used and some of the issues faced were about regularity; the Government spent a large amount of money with local newspapers because of that audience reach, because of older readership and so on. So the Government do a lot in this area, but I appreciate that there is always more we can look to do and I understand the point she is making about online advertising.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on developing new sports facilities in Devon and Cornwall.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I mentioned a moment ago, the Government are investing in facilities up and down the country. I am pleased to say that the multi-sport grassroots facilities programme has invested, through the Football Foundation, more than £766,000 since 2022 across Devon and Cornwall, supporting 79 projects so far with equipment.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Groups such as the Torquay athletics club do great work in coaching and encouraging young people across Torbay to participate in sport, yet there are no synthetic 400-metre track and field athletics facilities suitable for high-level training in our bay. What opportunities does the Minister see for getting such a facility in Torbay to address that need?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. It is vital that communities have access to the right facilities, in order to help us meet our target of having more than 3 million more people being active by 2030. Sport England has provided more than £20 million to support grassroots projects in the region. I would be happy to share a full list of the available funds that are open for him to have a look at. Let me also add my thanks to his constituents for the work they are doing in getting people more active.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. What steps her Department is taking to tackle loneliness.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Since the tackling loneliness strategy launched in 2018, the Government and their partners have invested more than £80 million in tackling loneliness. The 2023 annual report included 60 new cross-government commitments, and updates on progress on things included in that report are due to be published in March.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Severe cuts have left a £600 million gap in adult social care funding. More than 1 million lonely and isolated elderly people now rely on charities such as Re-engage, which I volunteer with, to plug that gap. I know that the Minister does care about this, but surely he must recognise that those cuts and their leading to that rise in desperate loneliness are because of this Government.

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she does with those charities. The partnership between Government and charities has made the UK one of the world’s leading countries on tackling loneliness. That is why in the Budget in 2023 we announced £100 million of support for charities and community organisations, recognising the challenges they face and paying tribute to them for the work they are doing in tackling this important issue.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Minister.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

When the Government released their national strategy in 2018, we had a far more limited understanding of loneliness, its consequences and the effectiveness of interventions than we do now. However, despite six years of hard work and good initiatives, the problem has got worse; the level of loneliness has risen by half a million since 2020. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) said, the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis have created new pressures, and with charities and local authorities facing higher demand and rising costs, it is increasingly difficult for them to respond. Given all those challenges, what has the Minister done to prepare for a refreshed national strategy to tackle loneliness?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is a complex area and a lot of the research done since the strategy was launched in 2018 has helped us to understand the issue in a lot more detail. Chronic loneliness has remained at about the same level, but there is still more work to be done. That is why we are now taking very targeted approaches to specific demographics within our society. I am also convening a cross-government meeting of Ministers from across Departments to see what more we can do to make sure we are meeting our strategy ambition.

Steve Tuckwell Portrait Steve Tuckwell (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. What steps her Department is taking to support local communities and special interest groups in protecting heritage assets.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

DCMS welcomes applications through Historic England for local heritage assets to be considered for designation. We are also committed to supporting communities to care for their local heritage assets, including through Historic England’s repair grants for heritage at risk and the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s grants for heritage.

Steve Tuckwell Portrait Steve Tuckwell
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

With both RAF Northolt and the Battle of Britain Bunker in the heart of my constituency, the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip share incredibly deep ties with the second world war, especially in the context of the Royal Air Force. As the 84th anniversary of the battle of Britain approaches, would my hon. Friend meet me and other local groups dedicated to preserving the important fabric of both of these valuable heritage sites, to ensure all is done for them to continue to stand as testaments to the bravery of the few who preserved our freedoms?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituency shares deep ties with my hon. Friend’s, as RAF Hornchurch is in my constituency. Some RAF fighters based there joined in the battle of Britain, protecting London and our nation at a time of deep terror. We have a fantastic local museum at RAF Hornchurch, if I may just give it a plug, that is run by volunteers and is an absolute treasure trove; I recommend it. I understand that my hon. Friend has met with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, who is responsible for arts and heritage, but I understand that we will also have an opportunity to debate the subject in greater detail next week, and I look forward to that.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Hadrian’s Wall runs through the heart of Newcastle’s west end, but it is little celebrated or signposted, and the Hadrian’s Wall national trail does not actually follow the wall’s path through my constituency. What help can the Minister offer to local communities keen to celebrate this history, which is literally in their backyard?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was not aware of this outrageous oversight on paths and signage, so I will raise it with Lord Parkinson at the next opportunity.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister help the heritage of Victoria Tower Gardens and the voluntary organisations London Parks & Gardens Trust and the Thorney Island Society by getting the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to unredact the minutes of December 2018, so that I can quote them when I appear at the hybrid Bill Committee on Wednesday?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I confess I am not sure about the issue my hon. Friend refers to, so I will do some investigation and we will see what the Department can do to facilitate his request.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her positive answers; it is good to see her back in her place.

We have some incredible heritage in Strangford, which goes back long before Ards and North Down Borough Council was brought together. The council has some ideas for promoting first and second world war heritage at the Somme Museum at Conlig. Have any discussions taken place with Ards and North Down Borough Council to ensure that our heritage is retained for everyone, culturally, historically and visually?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have just been informed that my ministerial colleague had a very positive visit to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—I am sure he always offers a good time in Northern Ireland. I will ask if there have been any discussions with his local authority on that basis.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8. What steps she is taking to support UK musicians seeking to tour in Europe.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am still feeling slightly embarrassed by my answer to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)!

We have engaged with EU member states to clarify guidance and, where possible, improve arrangements when for EU touring. The vast majority of EU member states—23 of the 27—offer visa and permit-free routes to touring. We are always looking at what more we can do, including through the music export growth scheme, which is being tripled to £3.2 million over the next two years.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Glasgow North is home to many talented musicians, some of whom play in Scotland’s world-class orchestras, but the Association of British Orchestras has warned that the removal of tax credits for performances in the European economic area is a direct result of Brexit and could make touring in Europe unviable for orchestras. What is the Minister’s message to my constituents, whose ability to tour in Europe is being sacrificed on the altar of Brexit fundamentalism?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unlike the SNP, we actually listen to what people say in referenda, so I am afraid we will not be rejoining the EU and therefore we cannot have special tax privileges on that basis. DCMS is aware of the concerns of touring orchestras. We are facilitating discussions with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so the orchestras know precisely where they stand on some of the issues they have raised.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. What steps her Department is taking to support the growth of the film and television industry.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have seen significant growth in the film and TV industries. The support that we have taken includes reforms to audiovisual tax reliefs, uplifts for animation and children’s TV, and £28 million of investment in the UK global screen fund. As I have said, the Labour party voted against all our tax reliefs and, as far as I am aware, has offered no funding to those industries.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer. She will know that there is now more studio space for feature film production in the home counties than there is in Hollywood. However, there is a vulnerability. We found that out at the time of the American writers and actors’ strikes, when a number of my friends, and many other people who are not my friends, were made redundant temporarily because film production halted. How can we make the British film industry more independent of the American production machine?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that my hon. Friend is himself a veteran of the silver screen, appearing in the brilliant British “House of Cards”. Our film industry is world leading. He is right that the strikes caused disruption. We work very closely with our partners in other jurisdictions. One example is the international hit film “Barbie”, which was filmed in the UK, supported 750 jobs, added £80 million to our economy and earned more than £1.1 billion at the global box office. We needed to ensure that the film industry could continue to thrive after the strikes, which is why we are continuing to support the industry with tax incentives, funding pots and, importantly, the development of a skills pipeline to ensure success long into the future.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10. Whether she has had recent discussions with the BBC Board on the impartiality of the BBC’s current affairs coverage.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The BBC has a duty to deliver its impartial and accurate news and current affairs coverage under its royal charter. It is editorially independent, which means that editorial policies are a matter for the BBC, but both the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the BBC’s leadership team. We have discussed the important issue of impartiality on multiple occasions. It is also a key focus of the Government’s mid-term review of the BBC’s governance and regulation.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As a former BBC journalist myself, I completely believe in its editorial independence from the Government, but, just as strongly, I consider it essential that the BBC, across all its programming and from all presenters, should be absolutely and unequivocally impartial. Given the concerns that we have heard about the current coverage of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the reporting of the resignation of the president of Harvard and examples of where Ofcom has found significant editorial failings, does my hon. Friend agree that the BBC needs to work consistently, constantly and visibly to enforce that requirement on impartiality?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right: trust is the BBC’s currency. That is especially important in relation to its international coverage, particularly during conflicts, so it must use its words with care. With regard to the events in Israel and Gaza, the Government have been clear that the BBC should reflect on its coverage and learn lessons for the future, but, of course, we again emphasise impartiality and the highest editorial standards. That is a strategic priority of the BBC’s leadership, and we are talking to them about this in relation to the mid-term review and licensing renewal.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the SNP spokesperson.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As an ex-BBC reporter, I am in awe of my former colleagues’ bravery and impartiality when they cover world affairs. We have all followed with horror the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Reporters Without Borders says that it appears that Israel is now directly targeting journalists. The Al-Jazeera bureau chief has had three children killed, including his journalist son—what unimaginable pain. Another Palestinian journalist, Ayat Khaddoura, said:

“When will this war end? Who will tell the world what we went through and what we saw?”

I bring her question to the House as she is no longer alive to do so. Can the Minister share with journalists across the world how the Government’s refusal to call for a ceasefire is advancing the cause of journalistic freedom or peace in the region, and can she tell us who the Government’s position has persuaded apart from those on the Labour Front Bench who remain limpet close to the Tory position on Gaza, as on so many other issues?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

That question was a long way from the impartiality of the BBC. We must ensure that we stick to the subject of the question. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that topicals would have been a much better place for his question. Minister, can you pick out the part that you need to?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I simply wish to pay tribute to every journalist who puts their life on the line to bring truth to the public’s attention. They play an incredibly important role. We are proud of what the BBC journalists do in particular. They have also done some awesome things in Ukraine. As a Government, we just want to say that we support their work and pay tribute to them.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

12. What progress she has made on increasing women and girls’ access to sport.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Women and girls should have exactly the same access to sport as boys and men. That is why we supported the recommendations in Karen Carney’s excellent report. It is why we are investing £600 million to boost equal access to sport, and why we recently announced £30 million for the Lionesses Futures Fund to deliver 30 pitches across the country with priority access for women and girls, with further opportunities for 8,000 women and girls.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have had fantastic success with women’s football, particularly the Lionesses, including Harrogate’s Rachel Daly, who has been a great inspiration locally, but what steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to ensure that sports with a smaller following can sustain a competitive grassroots environment for girls?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise Rachel’s success as the top scorer in the women’s super league last year. We support sport at every level. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, funded by the Government, inspires millions of women and girls to get involved in all sports. The School Games programme, also funded by the Government, encourages children to take up sport and get active.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Unfortunately, in recent weeks there has been a spate of disgusting sexist, misogynistic abuse directed towards sportswomen just for being at the top of their game. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), has been on the receiving end just for standing up to it, which I commend him for. I agree with him that vile, misogynistic comments are dangerous. The reality is that they are putting women and girls off sport. Does the Secretary of State agree that every sporting organisation should have a strategy to eliminate all forms of sexual harassment and abuse?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with the hon. Member: we should not have misogynistic, bullying behaviour in sport, and all governing bodies should be looking at what their sports are doing. We set out in our sports strategy how we should have fair competition and integrity in sport.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Secretary of State mentioned the Carney review, but I am afraid that the Government seem to be failing women’s football on that, with a complete lack of detail about how the implementation group to put into practice the Carney review recommendations will work. Without senior leadership, that group will not have the teeth that it needs, and all the hard work will be put at risk. Fans, players and clubs deserve urgent action and leadership from the top. If the Secretary of State does not reform the women’s game and give it the same prominence as the men’s, I will. Will she commit to chairing the implementation group, and reporting back to Parliament so that MPs can hold her to account?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely dispute what the hon. Member says about our support for women in sport, and women in football. I have had the pleasure of meeting Karen Carney on a number of occasions. Her report is excellent. We endorse all its recommendations, many of which are for the FA, which I have also spoken to on this subject. I will ensure that the recommendations are fulfilled. The implementation board will have all the governing bodies on it. Its first meeting is in March. I will keep a very close eye on the board, and will work very closely with my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on that and every other issue.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Lucy Frazer)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As 2023 drew to a close, official statistics highlighted that under this Government the creative industries continued to thrive. They now employ almost 2.5 million workers, a growth of 4.4%, so we are well on our way to meeting our objectives to grow the creative industries by £50 billion and increase employment by 1 million by 2030.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Local commercial radio, whether in Lancashire or Suffolk, can fill the gap left by the reduction in BBC local radio coverage, but in the Lowestoft and Waveney area it is constrained in doing so, as the local digital audio broadcasting network has not been extended to cover the area. Please can my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for that important infrastructure, which is available throughout most of the UK, to be extended to north-east Suffolk as soon as possible?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of local radio to listeners across the UK, and I know that he is an effective campaigner for his local area. The BBC and commercial radio are responsible for the operation of their respective radio networks, including the DAB radio networks, but I have asked my officials to engage with local DAB multiplex operators and broadcasters to look at whether there is a desire to increase local DAB coverage further.

John Spellar Portrait John  Spellar  (Warley)  (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T2. Does the Secretary of State agree that, in the media world, content is king, and that that is why we must support our world-leading creative talent? Will she take steps to require artificial intelligence developers to provide songwriters and composers with detailed information as to how their works are being used, including when authorisation has been granted for use of those works as training data?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Member is absolutely right about the importance of protecting the original work of the creative industries. I have held a number of roundtables to ensure that we protect that originality. The Intellectual Property Office is working on that very issue, and I have been liaising with it and with the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T3. The Secretary of State will be aware that the Premier League and the English Football League have held meetings, and yet have failed to come up with a solution for a fairer redistribution of funding. Given their inability to come to an agreement, will she get the two sides together round the table—she is probably already doing it—to encourage them to come up with a solution? Failing that, if legislation is necessary, will she consider it, because we do not want to see any clubs going under?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is absolutely right that a deal should be done. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I have been encouraging all the authorities to come to an arrangement. We have been clear that if no arrangement is reached, there will obviously be a backstop in the legislation for the football regulator that we will bring forward to the House shortly.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T5. As the Secretary of State will be aware, charities are facing an extremely challenging fundraising environment and, at the same time, are trying to respond to increased demands due to the cost of living crisis. Will she explain why the Government continue to impose sales restrictions on charity lottery fundraising, the removal of which would not cost the Treasury a single penny, but would ensure much-needed additional funds for charitable causes? That would hugely benefit communities in my constituency and across the whole UK.

Stuart Andrew Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Stuart Andrew)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As probably one of the few Members of this House who have actually set up a charities lottery, I understand the importance of them. It is right to say that we did a significant review of them not so long ago. I know the hon. Member is probably referring to one particular lottery, and I have written to that lottery with suggestions, having consulted with the Gambling Commission, of ways it may be able to expand within the current remit. But, as a Department, we are extremely busy at the moment dealing with the gambling White Paper—that has to take priority. Once we have done that, we will consider what further work may need to be done on society lotteries.

Steve Tuckwell Portrait Steve Tuckwell (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T4. With both Wealdstone and Uxbridge football clubs embedded in my constituency, grassroots football is incredibly important to the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Clubs like those offer more than just football; they act as vital community hubs and support a significant increase in girls’ football through to special educational provision and much more. For the benefit of the clubs and fans across my constituency, will the Minister give the House an update on the progress being made to protect grassroots football, including how television revenues will be distributed, to ensure that those important community assets do not just survive but flourish?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of football clubs like Wealdstone and Uxbridge. They are incredibly important in providing opportunities for people to become physically active, but are also integral parts of our communities. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just mentioned, we have been urging the football authorities to come up with a deal, so that that money can flow down and we can ensure that our great football sport that we have in this country continues to flourish.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

T6. This year, in Scotland, we will have the chance to see the Scottish football team on terrestrial television. That is a rare opportunity—not just because we have qualified, but because Scottish football, like other sports, is becoming increasingly difficult to view, because it is increasingly behind a paywall. That is damaging its attraction to young people who want to see it. Will the Minister tell us what discussions are taking place to try to alleviate that problem?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am glad that people in Scotland will be able to watch their national team. I believe that our current list works well. It is important that we strike the right balance, because we have to ensure that the sport rights holders use the income they get to benefit the whole of that sporting environment. That is something we look at constantly, but I think that at the moment we have the right balance.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given Ofcom’s comments that it is considering whether its proposals for regulation of local radio are still appropriate in the light of the BBC’s changes to local radio provision, does the Minister agree that the BBC’s mid-term review is a good opportunity to look at how the BBC delivers for older audiences, particularly in its local radio provision?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The mid-term review is a very important point where we can look further, and indeed have looked further, at a number of issues, including competition, complaints and impartiality. We will be publishing the results of the mid-term review very shortly.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will know that Warwick and Leamington—Leamington being also known as Silicon Spa—enjoys the greatest concentration of games companies in the world. I appreciate what was said in the autumn statement, but there is a skills shortage. Can the Minister update us on what is being done to address that?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The gaming industry in this country is world leading, and I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of gaming companies to see how they are thriving. We have a creative industries skills package, which we committed to in the creative industries sector vision, to ensure a pipeline of talent all the way from primary school right up until someone’s second or third job, and there are measures at every single one of those steps.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Wallington FC is an amazing local football club in Roundshaw, in Carshalton and Wallington, but it is having trouble maintaining its lease with the new owners and its very old sports pavilion needs an overhaul. Can the Minister set out what support is available from the Department or other organisations to help with that?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The volunteers that my hon. Friend mentions are absolutely the lifeblood of community sport and it is vital that they have those facilities, as I mentioned earlier. Again, we are investing more than £320 million, and any team can have discussions with the local authority and the Football Foundation. I am happy to meet him privately to discuss that and perhaps give him some pointers.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Performers in the UK are having their images, voices or likenesses reproduced by others using AI technology, without their consent. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which regulates performers’ intellectual property, does not account for AI. When will this Government act to protect the rights of artists, performers and other creatives in the UK, or are they content to see this continued exploitation and violation of people’s intellectual property rights?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Member will know that in the UK we have world-leading protections for copyright and intellectual property. We want to make sure that, as we move into a new technological age with generative AI, we continue to protect creative work. I assure her that we are working closely with the industry and the Intellectual Property Office to ensure that we get the best protections we can, and I know that an update on the IPO’s work will be published shortly.

James Morris Portrait James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of the key recommendations of the Carney review into women’s football was the need for an improvement in mental health provision in elite women’s sport. I think the Government have accepted most of the recommendations of the Carney review, so can the Secretary of State give us an update on how she thinks mental health provision needs to be improved in women’s elite sport?

Stuart Andrew Portrait Stuart Andrew
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that important piece of work in Karen Carney’s review. I know that football authorities such as the FA, for example, are starting work in this area, but that is precisely why we will be introducing the implementation group, because we want to ensure that pressure is put on to do the work that is needed, and to do it quickly.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Labour has a programme for a new generation of youth hubs, because we know that our young people are struggling with mental health challenges, school, themselves and others, and some are being picked off by criminal gangs. In contrast with our programme, the YMCA has identified a 70% cut in funding since 2010 and a loss of 4,500 frontline youth workers. When will the Government invest in our young people and in a comprehensive youth service?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, because this is something I feel very passionately about. I am very proud that we are investing £500 million in our national youth guarantee, and that we already have in place a programme to build youth clubs—we have already built 87 throughout the country, spending £300 million. We want constructive things for people to do, which is why we are spending £300 million on our sports pitches. I have strengthened the statutory guidance in relation to what local authorities are required to do, and we are working across Departments to ensure that our young people have something to do, somewhere to go and someone to talk to.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

1. Whether the Commissioners are taking steps to support choral music in cathedrals.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Church Commissioners provided £1 million to support music in cathedrals during the pandemic. That sum was match funded by the Cathedral Music Trust. The commissioners are extremely grateful to the trust for doing what it did to help ensure that worship in our cathedrals remains of the highest calibre.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend will know that cathedral schools, such as Lichfield Cathedral School, play an important part in providing young choristers for cathedrals, but they are very concerned that if they have to charge 20% on their fees, and possibly lose their charitable status, they may no longer be viable and will go bust. What assessment have the commissioners made of the effects of such a change?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can tell my hon. Friend that there is a concern that cathedral schools may not be able to afford to pay business rates. If the payment of business rates and the addition of VAT on fees cause choir schools to close, that would be an issue for a number of cathedrals.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

2. What steps the Church is taking to support work by local authorities and the Government on reducing rough sleeping.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Many parish churches provide shelters and support for rough sleepers. The Church of England is working to provide long-term secure housing for those who need it, and piloting projects to build housing on Church land to enable that to happen.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Church buildings and congregations can work well with local councils to reduce rough sleeping by providing not only a bed and a meal, but the opportunity for lasting spiritual and emotional support through membership of the Church family. What further support can the Church of England offer parishes in Torbay that are undertaking such work?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I warmly congratulate all the churches in Torbay on the provision of the night shelter, and I single out in particular Mark Gridley and Gary Mitchell, who I know have been instrumental in leading that work—I am sure that the whole House is grateful for what they are doing. It is also typical of my hon. Friend that, as I understand it, he provides a Sunday evening surgery at the shelter. I am sure that churches across England could learn from that excellent initiative. If any churches would welcome conversation with the Church of England about housing on Church land, I ask them to get in touch with me directly and I will enable that to happen.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In my constituency, unfortunately, at this time of year we are witnessing a number of people who are homeless—we have not seen that for some time. The story of Christmas tells of Mary’s journey before the birth of baby Jesus, when they too were homeless. I am very keen to hear from the Church Commissioners what can be done not just here on the mainland, which I understand is the responsibility of the Church of England, but in Northern Ireland, where the Church of Ireland and other churches also wish to participate.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. In the first instance, I suggest that he and churches in Northern Ireland might want to look at the joint archbishops’ commission on housing, which came out last year. The commission was widely praised for its work, and we are taking that work forward in the Church of England, but I am sure that churches in Northern Ireland could learn from it as well.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

3. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the adequacy of the transparency of election finance from overseas.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The committee has not had any recent discussions with the commission on the matters raised. The commission publishes information about donations to ensure transparency, and has powers to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. However, it has also highlighted that the political finance system is vulnerable to unlawful influence from donations both overseas and in the UK. It has recommended that parties should be required to know where donations come from, and to have policies in place to manage the risk of receiving money from unlawful sources.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last year, the parliamentary National Security Strategy Committee revealed that the Russian state attempted to interfere with the 2019 general election. This Government have made it easier for overseas donors, including those living in Russia, to donate to UK political parties. Does the Electoral Commission share my party’s concern that this Government are opening up UK democracy to even greater influence by hostile nations?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It would be a matter for the security services, rather than the Electoral Commission, to make a full assessment of whether unlawful foreign money has been used to campaign at UK general elections—in 2019, for example, as the hon. Member has pointed out. However, political parties must report when they are given an unlawful donation and return it to the donor. In addition, the commission carries out permissibility checks on a sample of donations, and has the power to sanction political parties that accept impermissible foreign donations. The commission will continue to recommend changes to ensure that voters can have greater confidence in the political finance system.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4. Whether the commissioners are taking steps to improve the use of multimedia platforms to communicate the Church’s mission and ministry.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very pleased to be able to tell the hon. Lady that the Church of England has transformed its use of digital and social media in recent years, including through Instagram and TikTok, and our digital team has won over 30 prestigious awards for its work. That has led to hugely increased online engagement—as the hon. Lady and I were learning about earlier this morning—not least among those who have difficulty attending church.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

In a multimedia age, there are 2 million people in the UK who are housebound, and globally many Christians across the persecuted church are unable to gather with others. With good Christian online content such as services and podcasts, and popular series such as “The Chosen” through to the Alpha course, how is the Church equipping people to navigate that content safely and easily, in order to extend its mission with the equipment and skills needed to access it?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the hon. Lady for such an important question, which takes in the housebound in England and people persecuted across the world who cannot attend church safely; she is absolutely right to raise those issues. For those who are not online at all, the Church of England offers DailyHope, which is a free telephone line providing 24/7 worship, prayer and talks. Of course, our digital content can be followed not just around England but across the world, to help make Jesus known.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5. What recent discussions the committee has had with the Electoral Commission on tackling online misinformation ahead of the next general election.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The committee has not had any recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the matters raised. The commission’s regulatory remit is focused on ensuring that political finance is transparent and that campaigning materials include an imprint showing voters who has produced the material. The commission does not have a role in regulating the content of election material, but it does encourage all campaigners to undertake their role responsibly and transparently. It has called for changes in the law to improve transparency and safeguard the UK’s electoral system.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her answer. The imprints are going to be important, but we have already seen an attack on our system through cyber-attacks at the last general election. At this general election, we face the increased, insidious threat to our democracy from artificial intelligence and fake news circulating false audio from politicians during conference season, so is there anything else that the commission is considering, or that it could do, to attack that sort of insidious approach?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The commission shares the hon. Lady’s concerns about some of the threats that new technologies, deepfakes and AI-generated content could pose, ultimately taking away voter confidence in the electoral system. While the commission does not have a role in the regulation of the content of campaign material, it is working with other organisations to try to support responsible and transparent campaigning. If the hon. Lady would be interested, I would be very happy to arrange an opportunity for her to meet with the Electoral Commission, perhaps to discuss this matter further.

The hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6. If the Commission will take steps to increase purchases of Australian wine for sale in the House of Commons.

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker (Broxbourne)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The wine sold in the House of Commons is reviewed annually, with the next review due in the spring of 2024. The right hon. Gentleman’s question specifically relates to Australian wine; I understand that a Chardonnay and a Shiraz are available, compared with three English wines, so Australian wine is represented on the wine list in the Palace of Westminster.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As part of a dispute over covid, China imposed particularly punishing tariffs on Australian wine, damaging that industry. May I urge the House of Commons Commission to stand with our Australian friends and allies, and prioritise buying Australian wine and encouraging its use in our venues to make it clear that bullying does not pay?

Charles Walker Portrait Sir Charles Walker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, if colleagues here wish to prioritise the purchase of Australian wine from the wine list, I encourage them to do so, but I also remind them that we have very good English wines on the wine list as well. More generally, I am sure the nation has heard the right hon. Gentleman’s call to arms, so when we are out in the supermarkets stocking our own shelves, perhaps we should all be mindful of buying two or three bottles of Australian wine as well—seriously—to show solidarity with our Australian friends and their growers.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

7. Whether the Commissioners have issued recent guidance to church parishes on securing their buildings against theft.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Back from wine to God, Mr Speaker. Sadly, vandalism and theft are persistent issues for parish churches, and I was sorry to learn about thefts at churches in Stanmore, Hendon, Edgware and Bushey in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I can tell him that advice from the diocese has been circulated to all parishes in the area. Of course, the best way to deter thieves is to have a high footfall in and around churches, keeping the building open to welcome people. I also know that the police will be providing crime prevention advice to the churches concerned.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He is right that St John’s church in Stanmore was the subject of a burglary just before Christmas, Christ Church in Hendon was the subject of another burglary, and St Andrew’s church in Kingsbury was robbed during the mass itself. Will my hon. Friend use his powers to encourage the police to take extra action, particularly around Christian festivals when it seems that there is more action by burglars and a pattern of behaviour?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the whole House is very sorry to learn what has happened to my hon. Friend’s local churches. A theft during the mass is really quite extraordinary. I will make sure that the Church of England nationally gets in touch with the Metropolitan police to pass on his concerns about that case. On general security advice, alarm sensors and attaching safes securely to the building will help, as will making sure that there is an accurate record, and pictures of valuables can help to secure their return. We certainly do not want a repeat of what my hon. Friend has experienced.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8. What steps the Church is taking to support Christians in Cuba.

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I commend the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief for yet again bringing this issue before the House. It is extremely concerning that the Cuban Government continue to control religious activity so tightly by using surveillance, harassment, forced exile, fines and ill-treatment of prisoners. The Church of England works multilaterally through the United Nations, the World Council of Churches and other bodies to advocate vigorously for freedom of religion or belief for everyone in Cuba.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The Open Doors 2024 world watchlist will be launched in the Palace of Westminster on 17 January, and I urge all colleagues to attend. I anticipate that once again it will, sadly, indicate a deteriorating picture of freedom for Christians around the world as autocratic regimes seek to suppress dissenting voices.

On Cuba, I thank the Church Commissioner for sharing my concerns about reports on the worsening situation, particularly for religious leaders there. As he mentioned, many are subject to harassment, fines, forced exile, detention and ill-treatment in prison. Will he join me in calling for the release of religious prisoner of conscience Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the case of Pastor Lorenzo is all too indicative of a worsening climate of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. The Church of England calls on the Cuban Government to release Pastor Lorenzo immediately, along with all those others detained in relation to the 11 July protests. The international community must continue to follow this case closely and hold Cuba to account bilaterally and multilaterally. My hon. Friend has put Pastor Lorenzo’s name on the record in this House. I also endorse everything she said about the Open Doors event in the House next Wednesday.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, representing the Speakers Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9. Whether the committee has had recent discussions with the Electoral Commission on the potential impact of increased electoral party spending limits on the democratic process.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The committee discussed the matters raised at a private meeting with the Electoral Commission in November. The commission has said that the UK Government’s recent increases to spending limits and donation reporting thresholds represent significant changes to the UK’s political finance controls. The commission has published updated guidance to support parties to understand and comply with the new limits; however, it is concerned that increased spending limits risk significantly more scope for higher-spending parties to campaign.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Daily Mirror reported at the weekend that the Conservative party is already spending more on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page and adverts than Donald Trump is spending on his, so the motivation for doubling the party spending limits is pretty clear already. If this cannot be stopped, can the commission at least do more to increase transparency, so that people can see this shoddy attempt to buy democracy for what it is?

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The commission has said that any changes to spending reporting thresholds should be supported by rigorous analysis—which of course is for the Government to publish—including of the likely impact on public confidence and transparency. The commission continues to make the case for changes to the political finance system to further improve public trust and confidence.

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10. What support the Church is providing to the Anglican Hospital in Gaza.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The House may not be aware that the Anglican Church is one of the largest providers of healthcare and education globally. The al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza is an example of this. Before Christmas, the hospital was severely damaged again and a tank demolished its front wall. Most of the hospital staff were taken away by the Israeli Defence Force and the Church of England has asked the Government here to inquire about their wellbeing and whereabouts and to request that they be released.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Intimidation by hard-line settlers has prompted the Patriarch to say that clergy are fighting for their lives, and that the Armenian quarter faces a violent demise. Is a Christian presence in Jerusalem still viable?

Andrew Selous Portrait Andrew Selous
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing this issue before the House. He is right: a century ago, a quarter of Jerusalem was Christian; now, just 1% of the population is, and in the Armenian quarter of the old city, the Christian presence has come under intensified threat from intimidation and aggressive property acquisition by settlers. The Church of England is very concerned that the rule of law should prevail in Israel and the status quo be maintained. It is unconscionable that Christians should be driven from the holy land.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That completes that set of questions—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

That would normally come after business questions.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is about DCMS questions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Very well.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful. When I referred to December 2018, I should have made it clear that that was the date of the freedom of information request by Dorian Gerhold. I shall write to the Minister explaining what information I want.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Excellent. That clarifies that.