All 4 Christopher Chope debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Fri 12th Mar 2021
British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill
Commons Chamber

3rd reading & Report stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Thu 6th Feb 2020
BBC Licence Fee
Commons Chamber
(Urgent Question)

Oral Answers to Questions

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 6th January 2022

(1 week, 5 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Of course the scheme is really important. We do want to make sure that it works as intended, but it is part of an overall support package for the arts sector, which includes the theatre tax reliefs that were announced prior to Christmas and the all-important culture recovery fund. Again, more money has been released from that. I am confident that the overall package will be of great support to this vital sector.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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4. On what date she last held discussions with the BBC on the enforcement of TV licence fee payments for people aged over 75.

Nadine Dorries Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Ms Nadine Dorries)
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I meet the BBC regularly to discuss a range of issues, including enforcement, and I will meet the chair and director-general next week. The BBC confirmed recently that no enforcement action has been taken against anyone over 75 years of age at this stage. I am clear that the BBC must support those affected by the decision to end free TV licences for over-75s, and I expect it to do so with the utmost sensitivity.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response, but do we trust the BBC? Would it not be much better to remove the power of the BBC to enforce sanctions through the criminal law against those who are over 75 and who are supporting a policy that the Government say they also support?

Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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I reassure my hon. Friend that the entire issue of over-75s and decriminalisation remains very much under review and on my desk. The BBC has confirmed that no enforcement action has been taken. It recently began customer care visits to people aged over 75 who may need additional support in paying the TV licence. Those visits are to assist the over-75s to get appropriately licenced, with the fee paid. I expect the BBC to handle those visits with the utmost sensitivity. I reassure him that this issue is under review.

British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Brought up, and read the First time.
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 1, page 1, line 3, clause 1, leave out from “powers” to end of the section and insert

‘at the end, insert “in excess of £1 million in any calendar year”.’

This amendment would limit the British Library Board’s power to borrow money to £1 million per year.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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New clause 1 provides that the Act expires at the end of a period of five years beginning from the day on which it is passed, otherwise known as a sunset clause. I have tabled this new clause because I think it is particularly apposite in relation to this subject.

When the Government, or the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, first contemplated the idea that the British Library might be given the power to borrow, which it does not have at the moment, the report said that there would be an opportunity to have a full debate about the pros and cons of so doing, and I am not sure that that debate has ever really taken place. I am also not sure that the British Library board is that keen to exercise these powers. The reason for that may well be associated with the fact that borrowing incurs future costs, and those costs then have to be budgeted for from a grant in aid. It is well established that many of what are described as “arm’s length authorities”, which are the subject of grant in aid from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, believe that it is better to rely on grant in aid, where they know where they stand, than to go down the route of borrowing.

My concern is that the Bill could be used as a means whereby the Government cut their grant in aid to the British Library board and, if the board whinges, tell it to borrow the money instead. Given that our national debts are at record levels, it seems to me that such an attitude would be completely out of place. If the Bill becomes law, however, there is no guarantee that that will not happen—that it will not be used as an excuse to ramp up costs for future generations: “Spend now, pay later”. The grant in aid process is designed to ensure that the British Library board can receive funding sufficient to enable it to do its work during the course of the year.

My background interest in this comes from the fact that I was the Minister responsible for the Property Services Agency. One of the biggest projects on its books was the construction of the new British Library. That whole process and the way in which it was funded should be the subject of a treatise.

The grant in aid process was used to fund the construction project each year; there would be an agreement between the Government, the Department and the British Library about how much money could be spent on it in any given year. But no limit was put on the overall costs. It was only when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher got to hear about that that she decided that we could not carry on just funding the capital project of the British Library on a year-by-year, hand-to-mouth basis. We needed to say that that could not go on indefinitely and that there should be a finite sum of money for the project—and that would be that.

I do not know whether you have been round the British Library, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is almost in two halves: part of it is adorned with fantastic panelling and money-no-object interiors, but I can only describe the second part as rather more utilitarian. That is a direct consequence of the then Prime Minister’s having said that there had been an abuse of the grant in aid process. I still have the trowel used in the British Library topping-out ceremony—as we would expect for such an extravagant project, it is made of finest silver and came from Garrard, I think. But that is by the by.

Just as the grant in aid was abused before Margaret Thatcher got a grip on it, I fear that the power to borrow could also be abused if we do not keep a tight rein on it. A five-year sunset clause would enable that assessment to be made, so that at the end of five years, if it had been a great success, it could be renewed, and if not, there would not be any need to renew it. Effectively, it would give this House the opportunity of policing what had actually happened under the powers being granted in this primary legislation. I go back to the point that we are not even sure that the British Library really wants these powers, and certainly it does not want these powers if the consequence is a reduction in its grant in aid.

Amendment 1 is designed to limit the amount of borrowing in any calendar year to £1 million. That is an off-the-cuff, arbitrary sum of money, but it seemed to be a reasonable sum for starters, in the absence of any other evidence as to what the British Library needs to borrow and for what purpose it needs to carry out those borrowings. I have tabled this more as a probing amendment, rather than one that I expect to be accepted just like that by the Government. This is quite a short point—and, indeed, it is a short Bill—but in the context of the national situation of public borrowing, it takes on a totemic significance greater than it might have had when the Bill was introduced last year.

I hope that those introductory remarks in support of my new clause will engender not only a debate but an opportunity for the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), who I am pleased to see in his place, to respond and to share with the House his vision for the British Library and how much he thinks that vision is dependent upon the British Library Board having the borrowing powers set out in the Bill.

I would be interested to know whether the Minister has any idea of how much the British Library Board is thinking of borrowing. The explanatory notes make it clear that the board would not just be able to borrow willy-nilly; it would have to get approval for so doing from the Department. My understanding is that, at the moment, there is a sum of £60 million available for borrowing for all the arm’s length bodies that the Department sponsors. Would the British Library Board’s borrowings be subject to that limit, or would they be in addition to it? In the spirit of the need to ensure that we scrutinise these proposed pieces of legislation, I would be grateful if we could get some response on those issues.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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I shall speak only briefly on my private Member’s Bill. I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) said. In relation to the point about whether the British Library Board or the executive committee want these powers, I can assure him that they do. It is also worth pointing out that what is proposed here is simply to align the British Library with all the other similar arm’s length museums, galleries and others that currently sit under the auspices of the Department. The Bill does not propose anything different from what various other similar institutions have. That is a very important point.

The third thing to say is, simply, that this is not about the Government reducing the grant in aid. In fact, in the Budget of March 2020, the Government gave £13 million to the British Library to help it expand. This money is not just for books or for the British Library in London; it is to help the levelling-up agenda all over the country. It is to help the business and intellectual property centres, which help thousands of individuals and successful start-up businesses. The success rate of those businesses—the proportion that are in existence three years after being started—is about 90%, double the national average, showing the value of those business and IP centres.

That is the sort of thing that this money is for. This is simply about aligning the British Library with all sorts of other institutions that sit under the auspices of the Department. I really believe that this is a sensible, practical measure that will help not just the British Library but communities up and down the country.

Matt Warman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Matt Warman)
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I am pleased that we are at this point with the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami). As he said, it is absolutely the case that the Bill seeks solely to put the British Library on the level playing field that it deserves to be on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) raises two points. Putting an expiry date on the powers proposed in the Bill would risk taking up further parliamentary time, which we all know is valuable, but it would also entrench the inequality that we are trying to resolve. The idea that the British Library’s power to borrow would be subject to review when none of the other arm’s length bodies are subject to the same review does not seem to me to be in that spirit of fairness. Of course my hon. Friend raises entirely reasonable points about the burden on the public purse of any borrowing, but it seems to me only fair that we take that as a whole rather than trying to impose separate conditions on the British Library.

The British Library is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said, absolutely enthusiastic about the powers that the Bill would give it, it is enthusiastic about the opportunity to use them, and it is enthusiastic about the practical developments that that might bring, be it broader access digitally to its own artefacts or broader engagement with the community. That is currently constrained by the inequality that we see today. That is not fair on the British Library, but more to the point, it is not fair on the British public. It is important that we try to address the legislative barrier that currently and inexplicably prevents the British Library from having the same freedom to borrow that its fellow national museums and galleries enjoy.

Operational freedoms introduced in 2013 have given our national cultural institutions, including the British Library, greater autonomy to make decisions independently and greater flexibility over their income, helping them to innovate and continue their expert work. Flexibility and innovation will be more important than ever as we recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The British Library is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch accepted, subject to a host of scrutiny already. The Bill does not propose to subject it to any greater scrutiny than exists already for other arm’s length bodies. While I agree with him that we should pay close attention to those conditions, I hope that he will agree that imposing further specific conditions on the British Library when we would like, I think, to have the efficiency of dealing with all arm’s length bodies as one is not a sensible approach. While I understand the sentiments behind his amendments, I hope—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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My hon. Friend talks about the other arm’s length bodies. My understanding is that they have the power to carry over surpluses from one year to the next. Is that power now being made available to the British Library? Will the borrowing that it will be able to make under this power be out of the same capped fund that is available for the other departmental arm’s length bodies? Or will this be in addition? If so, how much will the addition be each year?

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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That sounds a perfectly reasonable proposition that my hon. Friend has put forward. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Third Reading

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I would like to put on the record my appreciation of the great efforts that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) has made and his phenomenal success in bringing this Bill to a successful conclusion in this House. I hope that that will be duly recognised by his constituents—I am sure it will be appreciated by the British Library. May I put on the record the fact that I think that the British Library is one of the greatest of our British institutions and that I am an immense supporter of it? Although there was a lot of scepticism about the cost and design of the new library, I think it has been able to prove its worth in practice, and we much appreciate it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

BBC Licence Fee

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 6th February 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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Ministers do talk to the public through a wide range of programmes every day, including on the BBC. That has always been the case and will continue to be so, and the lobby meetings happen twice a day, as the hon. Gentleman is aware. I remind him that the media landscape is changing. For example, five years ago a TV licence was not required to watch or download content on the BBC iPlayer. I hope that he raises his concerns about the BBC in Scotland as part of the consultation.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I thank the Government for their wisdom in bringing forward a consultation to remove an anachronistic privilege. Does not the hysterical reaction of defenders of the BBC speak for itself?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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The BBC is an incredibly respected brand around the world. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Prime Minister recently said the BBC is, in fact, a “cherished British institution”.

Leaving the EU: UK Orchestras

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 19th December 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Did the right hon. Gentleman indicate that he wanted to be called in this very short debate?

Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Mr Vaizey
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I certainly did.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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In that case—if it has been agreed with the promoter, and the Minister has received notice—I call Ed Vaizey.

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Margot James Portrait The Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries (Margot James)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) on securing a debate on this very important matter. I thank him for advance sight of his speech and questions.

The Government take extremely seriously our responsibility to champion and support our world-leading orchestras, which connect us to more than 400 years of creativity from across the world—particularly within Europe. I agree profoundly with the right hon. Gentleman about the value, success and soft power that our orchestras represent. They help to educate young people and contribute significantly to our cultural life and economy. We take none of that for granted, and we have a range of policies that support our orchestras.

In England, the Arts Council invests more than £25 million a year in orchestras, and related classical music organisations and activities, through the national portfolio. In 2017-18, Arts Council England awarded more than £2.8 million to a range of classical music projects across England through its lottery-funded Grants for the Arts programme, and more than £10 million through strategic funding programmes.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about new tax reliefs. Although that is a matter for the Treasury, I will comment on it as much as I can. The Government keep all tax reliefs under review. Any proposal for a new tax relief must be assessed for its effectiveness, wider economic impact, ability to stand up against abuse, and cost to the Exchequer. I am pleased to note that the orchestra tax relief, available across the UK, was introduced in April 2016. The most recent statistics for the relief show that, since its introduction, 205 productions have benefited and have received £6.6 million-worth of support from the Government.

On other future funding, the spending review will set the first funding envelope after the UK has left the EU, and will look at all Government spending. It gives us the opportunity to look at UK priorities and argue significantly for the hugely important area of culture, including, of course, performing orchestras. The Government have made clear our intention to undertake that spending review in 2019. Leading up to the review, we will continue to listen to the concerns of the sector, and of course we will consider any spending in the light of implications following our exit from the European Union.

The UK Government value the UK’s thriving cultural landscape and have listened to the sector’s concerns about the European market. We will continue to be in close dialogue with the sector, and we will seek a far-reaching relationship on culture and education with the European Union that is mutual beneficial for the UK, the EU, our cultural communities, including orchestras, and our citizens.

Some leading classical musicians have expressed concerns about the future as we leave the European Union, and those concerns have been represented in this debate. I assure them that their voices are being heard. My Department is working hard to ensure that Departments across Whitehall understand what our orchestras need from our future relationship with the EU, and what they need in terms of contingency planning in the unlikely case that we leave the EU without a deal. In either case, we are confident that the creativity and resilience of our orchestras will continue and thrive.

Right hon. and hon. Members have touched on a range of challenges for orchestras, and I will address them in turn. It is tragic that some orchestras have lost bookings on account of Brexit, as we heard from the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). The movement of people is important. A key challenge for our orchestras is how the rules about the movement of people might change. Those concerns have been raised, and I want to address some of them, particularly in the light of the White Paper, which was published this afternoon.

The White Paper is an invitation to interested parties to express their views. I trust that the right hon. Member for East Ham will make his views on the issues pertaining to orchestras apparent during the consultation inspired by the White Paper. In the future, it will be for the UK Government and Parliament to determine the domestic immigration rules that will apply. The Immigration Bill will bring migration from the EU under UK law, enabling us to set out future immigration system in domestic legislation. The movement of people is clearly important to the orchestras of our country. We will continue to work with the Arts Council, and we will look at the proposals it is making for visa waivers in this sector.

In the immigration White Paper, we set out further detail on the system, taking into account the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee’s report on European Economic Area migration in the UK. The future system will focus on high skills and welcoming talented and hard-working individuals who will support the UK’s economy, enabling employers to compete on the world stage. The Home Office is launching a year-long engagement to enable business and other stakeholders, such as orchestras, to shape the final details of policy and process.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, would meet with the Association of British Orchestras. Following the publication of the White Paper, he will certainly be able to meet the right hon. Gentleman and the Association of British Orchestras to discuss this matter in greater detail.

Orchestras have expressed concern about the salary threshold. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Migration Advisory Committee threshold of £30,000. We will discuss with businesses what a suitable salary threshold should be. If a skilled job is considered to be in shortage in the UK, a lower salary threshold is likely to apply. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that skills do not necessarily relate to salary, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is well aware of that.

Sir Christopher, should I allow a little time for the right hon. Gentleman to sum up?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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If you allow any time, it will be wasted. Under the rules, there is no right of reply for a Member introducing a short debate.

Margot James Portrait Margot James
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I apologise. I am never clear on that point.

As hon. Members pointed out, it is not only the movement of people, but the movement of objects, that is important to orchestras. They move a huge amount of equipment around with them, much of it valuable, historic or both. They work on tight timeframes and are under pressure not to separate musicians from their instruments for long periods. I am aware that some musicians are worried that new customs processes will lead to increased cost, delay and inconvenience, which could disrupt touring schedules.

Hon. Members will know that the Government’s plan for EU exit aims to preserve frictionless trade for the majority of UK goods. Furthermore, in the political declaration, the UK and the EU recognise the importance of the temporary movement of objects and equipment in enabling co-operation in the cultural and education sectors. That, of course, includes musical instruments.

Orchestras are also concerned about customs processes in the unlikely case that the UK leaves the European Union without a deal. I hope hon. Members will understand that the issue of customs processes in the event of no deal is a broader, but no less important, issue than the one before us today. My Department has been working closely with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to understand the pressures on our orchestras to ensure that we are prepared and that communications reach the right people and contain the information they need to allow orchestras are prepare.

Another challenge that was raised is the importance and value of EU funding programmes to the UK’s cultural sector, including orchestras. Creative Europe provides support for international cultural relations and creative projects. Collaboration is vital for culture to thrive. Creative Europe has demonstrated that international partnership enables the cultural sectors to share expertise, build relationships and produce exemplary creative works.

As the Prime Minister made clear in the White Paper on our future relationship with the EU, the UK wants to build on our long history of working together to continue to produce and promote excellent culture.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).