Oral Answers to Questions

Julia Lopez Excerpts
Thursday 22nd February 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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8. What progress her Department has made on introducing a national registration system for short-term lets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Bob Blackman—not here.

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

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

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

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

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Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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5. If she will meet promoters of the bid to the cultural development fund to restore the Gala Bingo hall in Kettering.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
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I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in the cultural development fund. As the application process for its fourth round is live, unfortunately Ministers are unable to meet bid promoters at present.

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

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

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

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

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