There have been 55 exchanges involving Nigel Huddleston and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
|Mon 22nd March 2021||Spring 2021 Covid-19 Road Map (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (2,008 words)|
|Thu 18th March 2021||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (284 words)|
|Tue 16th March 2021||Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust order 2021 (General Committees)||5 interactions (1,716 words)|
|Thu 11th March 2021||Concussion in Sport||4 interactions (1,477 words)|
|Wed 10th March 2021||Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport||3 interactions (2,040 words)|
|Thu 4th February 2021||Oral Answers to Questions||26 interactions (1,113 words)|
|Mon 1st February 2021||Cultural Centres and Sporting Facilities: North West Durham||2 interactions (1,247 words)|
|Wed 27th January 2021||Golf Tourism||4 interactions (1,638 words)|
|Tue 12th January 2021||Domestic Tourism (Westminster Hall)||4 interactions (1,768 words)|
|Tue 12th January 2021||Squash: The Olympics (Westminster Hall)||2 interactions (1,264 words)|
|Thu 17th December 2020||Fairs and Showgrounds (Westminster Hall)||15 interactions (2,507 words)|
|Tue 15th December 2020||National Trust: 125th Anniversary||15 interactions (1,873 words)|
|Tue 8th December 2020||Gambling and Lotteries||83 interactions (4,733 words)|
|Wed 25th November 2020||Football Governance (Westminster Hall)||17 interactions (2,895 words)|
|Mon 23rd November 2020||Covid-19: Restrictions on Gyms and Sport (Westminster Hall)||11 interactions (1,816 words)|
|Thu 19th November 2020||Sport Sector: Financial Support||59 interactions (3,535 words)|
|Tue 17th November 2020||Disabled Access: Leisure Facilities (Westminster Hall)||4 interactions (1,302 words)|
|Thu 12th November 2020||Peterborough United: Covid-19||2 interactions (1,088 words)|
|Wed 11th November 2020||Future of the National Trust (Westminster Hall)||4 interactions (1,384 words)|
|Mon 9th November 2020||Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19 (Westminster Hall)||11 interactions (2,464 words)|
|Thu 5th November 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||15 interactions (711 words)|
|Mon 2nd November 2020||Covid-19: Support for Rugby League||4 interactions (1,494 words)|
|Tue 20th October 2020||Historical Discrimination in Boxing (Westminster Hall)||4 interactions (1,239 words)|
|Tue 13th October 2020||Women’s Rugby: Government Support||2 interactions (1,219 words)|
|Wed 30th September 2020||Professional and Amateur Sport: Government Support||103 interactions (4,909 words)|
|Thu 24th September 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||21 interactions (970 words)|
|Wed 16th September 2020||Misogyny in Sport||4 interactions (1,673 words)|
|Thu 10th September 2020||Tourism: Covid-19||16 interactions (1,274 words)|
|Thu 16th July 2020||Historic Churches: Covid-19||5 interactions (1,263 words)|
|Thu 9th July 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||9 interactions (396 words)|
|Thu 25th June 2020||Covid-19: Support for UK Industries||10 interactions (916 words)|
|Thu 11th June 2020||Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords]||24 interactions (2,929 words)|
|Tue 9th June 2020||Kidsgrove Sports Centre||2 interactions (1,085 words)|
|Thu 4th June 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (243 words)|
|Mon 27th April 2020||Oral Answers to Questions||28 interactions (1,042 words)|
|Thu 19th March 2020||Gambling Advertising in Sport||10 interactions (1,153 words)|
|Thu 19th March 2020||Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Ministerial Corrections)||2 interactions (203 words)|
|Tue 17th March 2020||Football Attendances: VAR (Westminster Hall)||5 interactions (1,044 words)|
|Tue 17th March 2020||Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [ Lords ] (Public Bill Committees)||24 interactions (2,376 words)|
|Mon 9th March 2020||Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords]||38 interactions (4,830 words)|
|Tue 16th July 2019||Lotteries Regulation||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Thu 4th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||11 interactions (105 words)|
|Tue 2nd July 2019||Problem Gambling||3 interactions (81 words)|
|Thu 20th June 2019||Online Pornography: Age Verification||3 interactions (86 words)|
|Tue 11th June 2019||Free TV Licences: Over-75s||3 interactions (78 words)|
|Thu 23rd May 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (56 words)|
|Wed 8th May 2019||TV Licences for Over-75s||3 interactions (86 words)|
|Thu 25th April 2019||UK Telecoms: Huawei||3 interactions (83 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (36 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||Discrimination in Football||3 interactions (54 words)|
|Mon 8th April 2019||Online Harms White Paper||3 interactions (108 words)|
|Thu 7th March 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (59 words)|
|Thu 8th February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (15 words)|
|Thu 21st December 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||7 interactions (50 words)|
|Thu 16th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||5 interactions (74 words)|
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship virtually, Mr Mundell. I also thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who introduced the debate so well on behalf of all of those who signed the five petitions. It is a tribute to the parliamentary petitions system that triggered the debate that people do participate. They want to sign petitions and draw issues to our attention, and he captured the importance of that well. It is a good thing that we in the House of Commons develop the system so that, even under these extremely challenging and different circumstances, the public can be heard and have their say. As was just said, even if people’s instincts are different, everyone can be heard and everyone can participate, and that is a good thing.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) gave good descriptions of one of the petitions and the frustration that many of us have felt about being unable to be physically active during the lockdowns in the past year. It has been the most frustrating time and we all want that to change. Though many of these measures have been necessary, there is no doubt that they have been deeply frustrating for many people, as the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) also explained well.
I will take a few moments to talk through the Opposition’s priorities and to acknowledge the frustration that people have felt, whether that is about gyms or going for a round of golf, with their normal lives having been massively interrupted. We all understand that it has been necessary because it is a matter of life and death, but we should not underplay the cost that has been borne. I have a few questions for the Minister as to how we will help the country recover.
No one understands this more than me. The football team that I play with here in the Wirral, the Wirral Valkyries, are regularly counting down the days until we can get back out on the pitch again. All of us know that being physically active in our lives is extraordinarily important.
With regard to the restrictions, the Opposition have set out the approach that we felt the Government ought to take. First, we should follow the science. This has been a challenging period in which all of us have had to get our heads around reading the epidemiology and what that might lead us to need to do. We were slow to act twice in our response to the epidemiology, and that should be a lesson learnt. No doubt when we get to the eventual inquiry, I am sure the science will be pored over, and at what point decisions could have been taken for better impact.
I pay tribute to all gym owners and those operating leisure facilities up and down the country who have been right on top of the need to keep their facilities safe, when they have been able to open. To help them open quickly, they have left no issue unturned when it comes to making sure that gyms and other leisure services are safe—as much as they can be—even in spite of complications with things like the way in which gyms are ventilated. I know that they have all worked really hard.
For that reason, the second priority is that we should all be honest with people. As politicians, we all know that there are hard choices to make. In previous debates in Westminster Hall, we have discussed such issues and where some of the choices lie. Whatever a person’s political feelings, we want everyone in the country to understand that none of this is easy. I do not think that anyone thinks that the choices are simple or straightforward. In order to help people understand why the decisions are being or have been taken, we need a level of transparency.
This is where I want to talk about the future. One thing that we have learnt from the covid crisis is that some of our public health data is not as good as it could be. I do not think that we understand the state of physical and mental wellbeing in the country as well as we might. We have lots of survey information, but understanding the health picture of the country and how people want to help themselves be fitter will help us make a plan for the future, to deal with the consequences of some of the lockdowns, which people have mentioned, such as the knock-on impact on physical and mental health.
Our fourth priority is families. In earlier debates, again, we have spoken about the importance of participation in sport and physical activity, particularly for our children. Over the past year there has been a level of frustration as we have tried to ensure that children have been able to participate in sport as soon as possible. That is an important priority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South spoke of gyms as wellbeing hubs, and this is where we need to move the discussion on. Some of the people who signed the petitions want to see our country have a better state of health and wellbeing. Members have mentioned “lifestyle choices.” I do not know about others, but I would question that language. We are learning more and more about the connection between mental and physical health, and about some of the facilities around us being able to help us have a better level of physical health, which gives us better mental health, as well as having good mental health in a way to support our physical health. We are learning more and more about the interconnection of the two.
In order to improve the health of the nation, we need a national plan as we come out of the lockdown, to address many of the concerns that have been expressed. I therefore want to finish with a few questions for the Minister, to start that conversation. First, what steps are the Government taking, particularly in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to properly understand the underlying state of public health, particularly around the connection between physical and mental health? Obesity strategy after obesity strategy do not seem to have got us very far. How are we really going to understand the underlying issues?
Secondly, in doing that, will we be able to join up our fractured mental health system? Too many people get into a crisis because they do not get the early support to make sure that their mental health is as good as it can be. We previously experimented with physical fitness by prescription, but that seems to have dropped off the agenda. Will the Minister say where he thinks we are headed, in policy terms, on that front?
Thirdly, what steps are the Government taking to boost participation? The Sport England strategy released at the beginning of this year prioritises participation and dealing with some of the issues that lockdown has created, but will the Minister say what the Government want to prioritise now, particularly around social and economic disadvantage, which we know has a significant impact on people’s health? We still find challenges in women’s participation, particularly black women and those from other diverse backgrounds, and also for people with disabilities, who face significant challenges in making sure that they are able to be physically fit and healthy in the way that other people are.
Finally, Members mentioned people’s housing having an impact on their physical fitness. As some petitioners mentioned, that ability to be outside and enjoy open green space is highly important. Whether it involves understanding what the data tells us about public health and the role of physical activity in that, or whether it involves exercise by prescription or some of those planning issues, we need that joined-up plan for public wellbeing. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken the time to speak in this important debate, and I thank the Minister for taking the time to address the concerns of the petitioners and signatories. It has been a pleasure to lead my first Westminster Hall debate.
I particularly thank the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), who rightly pointed out that, as healthier people take fewer days off sick, a national strategy that promotes exercise will benefit businesses and individuals as we come out of the economic downturn. Furthermore, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith), who spoke of the positive impact of exercise on mental health. I am delighted that he agrees that the Government should strive to set up a work out to help out scheme.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was right to commend the Prime Minister. We have now vaccinated over half the adult population of the UK and continue to make great strides in the fight against coronavirus. I know that the Government’s road map will come as welcome news to all who started and signed the petitions; it confirms that the Government are committed to removing restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so. I thank all the petitioners and signatories once again for all their hard work in keeping themselves and others as healthy as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petitions 313310, 557167, 563904, 566718 and 567492, relating to the Government’s Spring 2021 Covid-19 roadmap.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that in Burnley our local economies rely on the football club that fills hotels, restaurants and bars. While we know that getting all that back will need to be done cautiously and in line with the Prime Minister’s road map, may I urge him to look at whether Burnley football club can be included in the trials taking place to get more fans back using things like testing, so that more and more fans from Burnley can get back to the turf?
I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2021.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, for my first contribution from the Front Bench.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Christopher, and see the Minister on the Front Bench. The last time we debated heritage matters was the fairs and fairgrounds debate in Westminster Hall, which was quite a while ago. Hopefully, it will not be so long before we get another opportunity to debate heritage matters.
Churches are so important for a number of reasons: as places of worship, of course, but also as community spaces, foodbanks, homeless or refugee support centres, creches and very often beautiful buildings of great historical significance. I am lucky enough to have a number of historically significant churches in my constituency, which bring great benefit to all members of our community, whether Christian or not. Adel St John has served the community of north Leeds for 850 years. The building is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Britain. Picture an elaborately carved doorway, a chancel arch with sharp carvings, still clearly visible despite being 850 years old, and a corbel table of 78 grotesque heads. Carvings on the capitals of the supporting pillars include a centaur with bow and arrow, a favoured device of King Stephen, who visited Leeds and whose mother, Adela, was William the Conqueror’s daughter.
Just a few minutes away sits the grade I listed Bramhope Puritan Chapel built in 1649. The chapel’s four walls, doorways and windows stand as they were originally placed. In Otley, we have All Saints’ Church, consecrated as early as the 2nd century, with the present-day chancel dating back to the 11th century. In the centre of Leeds is St John the Evangelist, the oldest church in the city. Unfortunately, despite its great historical significance, it became redundant in 1975. Thankfully, however, the Church Conservation Trust stepped in and saved it from alteration or demolition. Thanks to the trust, it is beautifully maintained and now attracts many visitors with its magnificent Jacobean fittings and architecture.
Such buildings are defining parts of the communities in which they stand. They are places of rejoice, reflection and remembrance, and they are also places of great history and heritage. They are often architectural masterpieces—each one unique, yet part of an integrated whole. Churches encourage tourism to remote or neglected areas, and they tell our shared history. They can also bring great economic benefit.
Like the Minister, I congratulate the Churches Conservation Trust—perhaps we are both now considering a holiday this summer involving some champing. We are reflecting on the good work the trust does in the round. The CCT looks after more than 350 buildings, which would usually attract more than 2 million visitors each year. Its work is vital in protecting some of Britain’s listed buildings and scheduled ancient monuments, which is why the Opposition will support the statutory instrument. The CCT’s commitment to accessibility is something to celebrate, as is its unwavering support for small, knowledgeable and specialist building contractors. Through its vesting programme—the initial repair contracts for newly acquired churches—the CCT is preserving not just buildings, but skills and knowledge. It is also creating jobs in heritage construction, which is really struggling during this period of covid.
Unfortunately, like so many other institutions and organisations, the CCT has lost out to the pandemic, suffering a loss of visitor numbers and income. The usual community events and fundraising activities have been unable to take place in person, although, as the Minister said, the CCT has moved to online fundraising and made up a significant proportion of that income. For churches, the pandemic has compounded issues caused by an intense programme of funding cuts to local authorities, which has been presided over by successive Conservative Governments. Local authorities have been forced to make savings wherever possible while still protecting the most vulnerable people in their communities. That has often come at the expense of our heritage sites, which too often face neglect and decline. The Government must recognise the need to properly conserve all our listed buildings and other historical sites, not just the ones that fall under the CCT’s remit. Can the Minister outline how he is working to protect other sites, especially those under local authority stewardship?
I want to touch briefly on the impact that climate change is having on our historic churches. Higher rainfall is causing damage to timber and stonework, and stronger winds are causing more frequent damage to roofs, towers and spires. One of the greatest threats to church buildings is termites, which are likely to become a real problem in the coming years as Britain’s climate becomes ever more accommodating for them, as we have already seen in France. We have seen northward migration of animals that usually live in the UK. The Government must consider these new threats to our heritage and act accordingly.
All the churches managed by the CCT help tell the story of our heritage. They have stood strong through war, revolution and deadly pandemics, but we must not take them for granted. For them to stand strong for generations to come, we need a proper programme of funding and investment—not just for charities such as the CCT, but for local authorities and heritage organisations. Having said all that, and with room for improvement on the Government’s part, we will not be contesting the SI, because we know how important such funds are for protecting church heritage. However, if the Minister could clarify how the CCT ensures that the funding reaches the sites that most need it, I would be very grateful.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I do not intend to detain the Committee for long, but I have been asked on behalf of the Church to say a few words. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I have known since before we were elected to this House, for his very sympathetic remarks. I was particularly pleased that he mentioned the public response following the rave in the church in Essex. That just shows exactly what we are talking about: the public really care about such buildings. I was very touched that both the shadow Minister and the Minister were clearly aware of the churches looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust in their constituencies, and it was really wonderful to hear them both talking about how important those buildings are.
As the Second Church Estates Commissioner, I want to put on record the thanks of the Church Commissioners to the Treasury and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for their continued joint support for the Churches Conservation Trust. This is a brilliant example of partnership between the Church and state, and it was founded back in 1969—it is well over 50 years old—to ensure our nation’s architecturally significant and historic churches remain open to the public when they are unable to sustain a regular worshipping congregation.
As a reminder to the members of the Committee, the Church of England is currently responsible for the upkeep and management of 45% of the country’s grade I and II* listed buildings, including over 4,000 churches and cathedrals up and down the country. Today, the Churches Conservation Trust has the care of 356 churches right across the country, from rural Somerset to inner-city Bolton. They are used by diverse communities and are visited each year by more than 1.6 million people, along with the 4,000 volunteers who work to maintain these architectural treasures. The Committee may not be aware that the churches remain consecrated and, when allowed, they are open for private worship and often have significant community support as well.
They are often located in highly rural communities—although not always—or areas of low economic activity. The trust’s work brings jobs, maintains craft skills such as masonry, glazing and leadwork and helps levelling up, giving opportunities for young people to receive apprenticeships and preserve other heritage crafts for the next generation. The Church Commissioners look forward to developing this vital Church-state partnership in the coming years and are pleased to see the Churches Conservation Trust already revitalising its communications and public engagement strategy.
On the Church of England side, the General Synod will be asked at its meeting next month to give approval for its side of the funding order. I hope the Committee will recommend passing this financial support order and recognising the important partnership between Church and state to care for our national heritage.
I am good at clearing the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me start with a couple of quotations:
“I felt like there was a rage inside me boiling up and I just needed to get it out. On one occasion, I lit the grill and forgot about it, even though my young child was in the kitchen. When the burning started, it was only when my wife turned up that I realised. When I went out on my bike, I got completely lost, even though it was a journey I have done many times.”
Somebody else said about her father:
“He started to ask: ‘When am I going to get this sorted? When is someone going to fix my head?’”.
The truth is that brain injury is a hidden epidemic in this country. We are used to talking about a pandemic at the moment, but there is a hidden epidemic. It is hidden because lots of people have a brain injury and we would never know. In some cases, yes, there is an evident scar from an operation or road traffic accident, but in many cases the damage is inside the brain and is not visible to anybody. Sometimes, the person in front of us in the queue who is slurring is not actually drunk at all, but has had a brain injury. Our judgmentalism may make that moment even worse for them.
Attitudes have changed considerably in recent years. I remember watching rugby matches in which the commentators used to sort of celebrate the big clashes, when head hit head or boot hit head. I was so proud when in the Six Nations rugby matches this year every single commentator was saying, “I’m sorry, but that tackle is too high”, or, “That’s a really dangerous injury. I hope somebody is looking at that. Isn’t it great that the player’s being taken off the field?”
In the past, there used to be so much: “Play up, play up, play on—play the game!” Or it was: “You’ve got to stay on the pitch whatever, because you’ve been selected and you want to show that you’re a man”—I will talk about the issues facing women in a few moments. There was almost a celebration of that concept of being punch-drunk in rugby, and people would laugh at players who were clearly groggy and unsteady on their feet on the rugby pitch or the football pitch. Thank goodness that a lot of that has changed. The honest truth is that it has changed in very recent years—it is only three or four years ago that commentators were sort of relishing these big fights.
I am really proud that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee started an inquiry into concussion in sport. It feels like some of us have been making these arguments in the House for a long time. This week, Dr Willie Stewart laid bare some of the problems. He said of rugby that one player in every match suffers a brain injury. In every single match that we watch, somebody suffers a brain injury, and the effects of that may last for many years of their life.
“Chronic traumatic encephalopathy” is one of the ways they describe it. This is a horrible image, but it was given to me by Willie Stewart originally: basically, we can imagine the brain as being like a wet sponge in a hard bucket, and when it is smashed against something else, the sponge moves with it, of course, and all the parts of the sponge get stretched, and sometimes they get stretched out so much that they never get back to normal.
Willie Stewart also said that
“the only thing that connects football to American football to boxing to rugby to wrestling…is head impact and head-injury exposure.”
He said that neurodegenerative disease and dementia
“was recorded on the death certificate in about 20% of our former footballers”,
compared with 6% of the population control: 20% versus 6%. I am not sure how much more evidence we need that concussion in sport is doing immense damage to players. In other words, the beautiful game is damaging brains and killing players. Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Sir Bobby Charlton—I think five members of the 1966 team have now been diagnosed with early onset dementia of one kind or another.
This is not just about dementia. Post-concussion syndrome comes in many different forms. Some individuals have diminutive cognitive functioning. They have difficulty remembering things and do not understand why. Others have diminished inhibition, and a sense of rage—I referred to that earlier—or sexual inappropriateness. Those different elements of diminished inhibition also come with diminished executive function, such as an inability to turn up on time, or sometimes chronic fatigue. I do not mean just feeling tired or lazy. Some people call it brain-drain, when every ounce of energy that should be in someone’s Duracell battery has gone. There is nothing left; they are completely running on empty and cannot get themselves out of bed.
Others suffer from depression, anxiety, or horrific mood swings that have a terrible effect on their relationships with loved ones, family members and children. People start to fear what they might do to their children, and there is the horrible effect that that has on someone’s relationship with a wife, husband or partner. It causes terrible family distress.
I have spoken to players and their partners who are desperate to support the person through this, but they do not know how. They do not have the skills. Indeed, they never thought they would need them, as the person involved was so fit—the epitome of health—and to see them in that condition is terribly depressing. Dementia and many of these conditions affect many families, regardless of sports, but they are strongly felt in the sporting community. There is also second impact syndrome, perhaps the most notable instance of which was Ben Robinson in 2013. A young Irish lad, 14 years of age, had a second concussion having gone back on to play. He died later that day.
This is not just about men, although a lot of the research done so far is about elite players who are men. That needs to change. We need to do far more research into the effects of concussion on women, not least because in the United States of America more work has been done because of legal cases. If we consider the incidence of these problems per 1,000 athlete exposures—stick with me—as they call it, for women in soccer the rate is 0.54, whereas for men it is 0.26. In other words, it is 100% higher for women. Similarly, for lacrosse the figure is 0.3 per 1,000 athlete exposures for men, and 0.45 for women, which is 50% greater.
I suspect we would find all those figures writ large across football in the UK and for women’s sports, and we need to do that work. For instance, lots of work has been done on men’s boxing, and one reason why people changed the rules on wearing headguards is that they discovered that there tended to be more concussions with headguards than without, which was counterintuitive. That research was done on men, but there is still no data for women at all. It is shameful.
It is not just about adults, either. Figures I saw today show that 40,000 children go to hospital every year with a brain injury. That is significantly more children than present in hospital with autism, yet we know far more about autism in children than about brain injury in children.
The sporting bodies have repeatedly failed the people they should be there, as employers, to protect. Jeff Astle died in 2002 and the coroner decided that he had died of an industrial disease. He was 59—my age. On 15 October 2020, the coroner decided exactly the same in the case of Alan Jarvis; another footballer and the same verdict—death by industrial disease. What has happened in between? To be honest, from the football authorities, next to nothing: a lot of hand wringing, moaning and saying, “Yes, we’ll do more research; we’re committed to funding more research”, but there has been precious little action.
In UEFA matches, there is still only three minutes for an assessment. A proper brain injury assessment cannot be done in three minutes; 10 minutes would be far more sensible. A team doctor still does the assessment. It should not be the team doctor but an independent medic who does it. Of course, the team doctor wants the player to go back on. The Minister will rightly say that the UK is trialling substitution, but only five countries out of 211 have decided to trial it—five out of 211. Not even all the sports organisations in Europe are doing it. That is a disgrace. By now, substitution should not be a trial, but fully in place.
There is no independent medic sitting on the side of the pitch, watching the match and deciding, “Sorry, that person’s had a brain injury. Ref, you probably didn’t spot it, Coach, you probably didn’t spot it, but I did. That person’s coming off because we’ve got to do an assessment.” It is just basic if we really want to protect the players.
How many times must I hear, “Oh, but the ball is much lighter these days”? Actually, the ball is exactly the same weight as a leather ball. The leather balls gathered more water, so they got a bit heavier, but if we do the physics, the real issue is the speed of the ball. The ball probably travels faster than it did in the past, which means that we probably have more of a problem with heading the ball than we had in the past. We should listen to the research that has been done and implement its recommendations.
Far too much has been left to charities such as Headway and Head for Change, which has just started up and has as ambassadors James Haskell, Geraint Thomas, Inoke Afeaki, Lewis Moody and me; I do not look quite as good in the pictures on the website. There comes a point when if people constantly obfuscate, delay, refuse to act and demand more evidence before acting, they are complicit in the harm that is being done. I have come to the conclusion that football is simply a disgrace.
It is great to see the Minister here today, not least because I know he has been taking some action recently. He has covered several roundtables online. I think I know everybody who has been on his calls. It is great to see that work happening. I was a bit irritated with Leader of the House when I asked him about the matter a few weeks ago because he said that action was for the sporting bodies to take. I know that the Government, through the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, have co-ordinated work between different Departments, which is good. I had a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) earlier today, which was really positive.
As I have argued for many years, I want the Government to deal with the matter not in little silos, but through one whole co-ordinated effort because it affects the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—indeed, there is hardly a Department it does not affect. We must therefore tackle it in a co-ordinated way. I am grateful that the Government are doing that. I hope the Minister will be able to say that they will be reporting back to the House at some point on those joint ministerial meetings, because I think they would receive a very strong welcome across the House.
However, I think the Government will still have to go further. If we really want shared protocols on concussion in sport that are shared across all sports at elite, junior and grassroots level for both men and women, that will only really happen with real pushing from the Government —and that means the Minister himself and his Secretary of State. We have to have shared protocols. I know sports are different, with elements that might play out differently, but rugby, football, cycling, hockey, ice hockey, boxing and wrestling all need shared protocols. Quite often, a child in particular will play several sports. They will not understand why there is one set of rules when they play netball and a completely different set of rules when they play baseball, basketball, soccer or whatever. There has to be a shared set of protocols with the same language used in all sports, and that will only happen if it comes from the Government.
I am a Welsh MP. The Minister sent me a text—I hope I am not breaking a confidence—to say that I have to remember that some of this is devolved. I am fully aware of that, but because Wales plays England at rugby in particular—the Minister may not want to remember that fact—it is important that we share the protocols across the whole of the UK. I want a UK-wide approach if we can possibly achieve that. If the Minister were to knock on that door in Wales, I believe he would receive a socially distanced welcome.
Physical education staff in schools and coaches really need a full understanding of concussion. There are still far too many people who simply do not understand it. They think it is only a concussion if you have been knocked out. Actually, being knocked out is a particular form of concussion where a particular part of the brain is affected. However, you might have several concussions without being out at all. That is why it is really important that a better understanding is shared across all PE teachers and coaches.
On legislation, I am always very reluctant to suggest that we need to legislate, but I just note that in the United States of America between 2009 and 2015, all 50 States and the District of Columbia introduced legislation on concussion in sport primarily, but on brain injury in general. The United States of America has a traumatic brain injury Act—we still do not—which lays down all sorts of different elements. It may be that if sporting bodies are not prepared to act, we will have to consider legislation in this field.
There are arguments for legislation in other aspects. There is a Bill going through the House of Lords at the moment to which Lord Ramsbotham, I think, has been tabling amendments this week that insist women who have been subject to a brain injury as part of domestic abuse will be guaranteed a proper test and be screened for brain injury. Women who go to prison will, when they first arrive in prison, all be screened for brain injury as well. I suspect we also need legislation on the treatment of veterans to provide for proper research programmes and for the protection of prisoners.
I warmly welcome the fact that the Select Committee is doing its work and the Government are doing their work, but I suspect that it is still woefully under-resourced. I do not know whether the Select Committee will produce a report or whether it is having another day of evidence, but I think the time is long past when we need a royal commission on brain injury as a whole and concussion in sport in particular, so that all the evidence can be presented, analysed and considered in a quasi-judicial way and we end up protecting people.
I end with this. Sport is good for us. I have no desire to stop people taking part in sport. I want more people to take part in sport. I would like myself to take part in more sport. Sport often involves risks, of course it does, but one player said this to me—I apologise for the language, which is not my language:
“I knew it would bugger up my body. I had no idea it would bugger up my brain.”
That is the bit here that matters and that we have to change. I am not interested in cotton wool—I do not want to mollycoddle anybody—but this is what Hayley McQueen, the sports presenter, said about her dad, Gordon McQueen, the ex-Man United player:
“I can’t believe football, the thing that gave him so much love, has cruelly taken a lot away from us.”
We do not have to lose the good. We can do the good.
I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in the debate so far, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), and my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe). Let me praise the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight)—he is a Chester lad, of course—for his introduction, which I thought touched on so many of the issues.
We have heard from Members across the House that the creative, culture and tourist industries have been some of the worst hit by the pandemic. Tourism and the rich cultural scene that Britain has to offer will be a crucial part not only of our economic recovery, but of the recovery of our mental health and wellbeing, yet the Government have still failed to meet their promise to do “whatever it takes” to support these sectors fully. Throughout the pandemic, this Government have been the masters of self-promotion, with grand announcements that in reality fall short of the supply needed or of what was initially promised. Too often the funds allocated have not reached the businesses or people that need them the most. The Chair of the Select Committee hinted that his Committee might be looking at that in future.
There are some aspects of the Government’s support schemes that we welcomed. For example, we welcomed efforts to support the print media through Government advertising, even if the adverts themselves were too party political, often featuring pictures of the Chancellor —no surprise there—and even if not enough effort was made to get the financial support through to smaller, local and independent news outlets. Similarly, we welcomed support for the commercial radio stations during the pandemic, which also saw advertising revenues collapse. Again, more of that money might have gone to the genuine independent local stations, but we will not be too critical.
We know, for example, that the Government’s insurance support scheme has assisted film and TV production to get back under way, and we welcome that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West talked about insurance for live music, and he was echoed by the hon. Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), who talked about festivals. Again, I pay tribute to the Minister for Media and Data, who is not in his place today, for his work, both when he was out of government and now back in office, on journalistic freedom and the protection of journalists. It is just a shame that the Prime Minister and other Ministers have spoken so disparagingly of journalists in recent weeks.
Of course, we welcome the culture recovery fund as far as it goes, with the usual criticism that by and large it supports buildings, not people. Did you notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, how last week’s CRF announcement, preceding the Budget of course—let us face it, most of the Budget preceded the actual Budget announcement—included a whole host of endorsements from leading institutions in the cultural sector? Surely each one was entirely spontaneous! Surely they were not all co-ordinated by Tory Ministers! It was almost as if these institutions had been lined up and told to sign off and provide a supportive quote in order to get the CRF money from the Government and the Chancellor, because for him it is all in the presentation.
Talking of presentation, last week my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) remarked on the Chancellor’s commitments to the creative sector in a notable contribution reflecting on his talents for self-promotion, and who could blame the Chancellor for wanting to hide reality behind flash presentation when that reality is a miserable, below-inflation, 1% pay rise for NHS nurses? Today, we can add another artistic string to the Chancellor’s bow—acting. His Oscar-winning performance clapping for the NHS outside 11 Downing Street may have hoodwinked many at the time, but the reality is now out in the open. It was all for show, and no BAFTA-winning acting performance will cover up such a level of misdirection and misappropriation. People are seeing through it.
Of course, the extension to the culture recovery fund is welcome. However, we must remember that these sectors are not just heritage buildings and historic theatres; behind each building, there are hundreds of jobs that need saving, and some of these individuals have not seen any income since the beginning of the pandemic. I spoke recently to one BAFTA-winning filmmaker who, in her own words, was ready to “throw in the towel” and leave the sector because of a lack of income.
Almost a year on from the beginning of the first national lockdown, and even with the Government’s slight adjustment from the Budget last week, millions of self-employed people across the country remain excluded from any Government support schemes. A big number of them work within the creative sectors. That is a whole year without the work that they love; a year of uncertainty and struggles with mental health; a year of not knowing what, or when, their next job is going to be; and a year of being ignored by the Government. Hon. Members across the House have referred to this in today’s debate, including the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Solihull, and the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill).
I commend the freelancers’ charter and the news recovery plan, both produced by the National Union of Journalists, and ask that Ministers take on board what the NUJ has proposed; my hon. Friend the Member for Easington made reference to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West talked about the importance of supporting freelance musicians, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) referred to the work that Equity has done on supporting actors in getting back to work.
Britain has some of the best culture and tourism that the world has to offer. We need the creative and cultural sector to recover and grow our economy. As a whole, DCMS businesses, excluding tourism, contributed £224 billion to the UK in 2018. A s the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) said, we would not have an NHS without our cultural funds, which make up 12% of the economy. Creative businesses’ exports are worth £36 billion worldwide, up 7.5% on the previous year, meaning that growth is five times that of the British economy as a whole. More importantly, after we have been starved of so much of what the creative industries have to offer for over a year, the creative sector will be a big part of the recovery of the nation’s wellbeing.
There is nothing in these estimates to make up for the terrible Brexit deal that the Government have imposed on the cultural sectors. I am going to have to contradict my good friend, the spokesman for the SNP, the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson): I am quite happy to talk about the Government’s failures on their own Brexit deal. With that disastrous deal, the Government have all but curtailed touring in the EU by UK performers and artists and their support crews, and likewise for EU artists and performers who want to come here, as the Chair of the Select Committee referred to. It reduces our artists’ opportunity to work and earn abroad, and it also reduces the chance to promote British artistic values and achievement abroad, but it seems this Government care nothing for promoting Britain and British culture abroad. As is always the case with the Government, it is hard-line, crackpot Brexit ideology first, everything else second, regardless of the human and economic cost—mislead the British public and try, as usual, to blame the EU for everything. The British public are starting to see through their failings and half-truths as the reality of the hard Brexit—or, as some hon. Members suggested, no-deal Brexit—in the creative sectors starts to bite. As the pandemic eases, that awful reality will become only more evident.
The Minister has been personally supportive when he has engaged with me on sporting matters relating to my constituency. Other hon. Members have also said that they have been able to engage with him, and I pay tribute to him for that. Of course, we are still waiting for the much-promised fan-led review of football, and we want to see the national plan for wellbeing, including participation in sport. As we come out of the pandemic, we need to fast-track measures to get people involved in grassroots sport for their physical and mental health, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) has referred to.
On digital, we know that the Government are lagging behind in their efforts to roll out fibre broadband. Ofcom has reported that adults are spending an average of four hours a day online, the highest number on record, and the number of adults using video calling software has doubled—don’t we all know it, Madam Deputy Speaker? Hon. Members from across the House have talked about the lack of decent broadband in their areas: the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), whose constituency is in a rural area, the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), and my next-door neighbour the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), who knows rural Cheshire very well, have all mentioned this issue.
The shift online has emphasised the digital divide that exists in our country, which is not just geographic. There are 1.9 million households with no access to the internet, and tens of millions more reliant on pay-as-you-go services to make calls and access healthcare, education and benefits online. This divide has led to children having to do their homework in fast food restaurants in order to access wi-fi, and parents having to choose between buying data or food. Meanwhile, we await the Government’s online safety Bill, which still will not tackle the dominance of big tech companies. We have seen the Secretary of State being pushed around by Sir Nick Clegg and Facebook, refusing to include a firm commitment to director-level responsibility in the online safety Bill and then, like a playground weakling, only piling in against big tech when most of the hard work to challenge the power of online media had already been done by Australia. There is still no commitment to work with Governments across the world to rein in this antidemocratic transnational force, which also damages our domestic media, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington suggested.
Charities have suffered greatly during the pandemic. The charity deficit for this financial year is expected to exceed £10 billion, with the sector predicting 60,000 job losses. Despite a funding package announced last April, many in the sector are still struggling, with the second lockdown likely to hit fundraising opportunities. Charities deliver so many of our public services and they must be supported while restrictions continue, but it seems that the only interest that the Government have in our charitable sector is as a mechanism for the Prime Minister getting somebody else to pay for his new kitchen and wallpaper.
Talking of charities, let us not forget Age Concern’s advice about loneliness being exacerbated by the Government’s decision to remove the free TV licence for the over-75s. The Government are still hiding behind the BBC, too craven and dishonest to stand up and justify their own policy. But they are responsible for removing the TV licences, not the BBC. I had hoped that there would be something in the Budget and in these estimates to make good this Tory betrayal of pensioners, but sadly not.
Throughout the pandemic, there seems to be a clear pattern emerging of big announcements and promises of funding that for one reason or another does not reach the businesses or the people that need it. Making announcements is not enough to save the cultural and creative businesses, especially the many self-employed and freelance people who work in our cultural economy, as hon. Members across the House have mentioned in the debate.
Although the extensions and promises of funding are welcome, the Government must look at this again to ensure that DCMS businesses and people in those sectors are properly supported. Without them, our recovery from the pandemic will be very bleak. People want life after the pandemic, and that life is provided by the creative and cultural sector. Let us hope that it is still there to breathe life back into our society when we put the pandemic behind us.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. We have seen, writ large, the vital role that DCMS sectors play in all our constituencies the length and breadth of the country. I thank the Minister for his warm words, and for his ongoing commitment and that of his fellow Ministers and their advisers. I wish, however, that there was Treasury representation right now on the Treasury Bench, because, as we all know, and as has been highlighted by my Committee, DCMS is the most beholden of all Departments to the Treasury.
Obviously, the cultural recovery fund is very welcome, but the time for backslapping has now stopped—we need to refocus. Insurance will allow our live events to trade, not aid. The Minister made reference to the film and TV recovery plan and the insurance there, which, for me, is an example of why this is needed. We need pilots up and running for live events in double-quick time, and we need a root-and-branch review of tourism, as outlined, but with proper investment to follow. We need to get on and negotiate with our partners across the EU on EU visa arrangements and access for our creative industries. There is really no time to lose.
Above all else today, we need to understand a very simple thing: the DCMS sectors, and those who work within them, are not mendicants, forever holding out their hands; they are entrepreneurial and they are actually what we do best.
Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. It is great that the Government are taking the theatre sector seriously, as demonstrated by this fund, but there is so much more that we can do to help our cultural offer that is not just cash injection. I implore him to push the Government to re-engage with the European Union on visa and carnet-free travel for performers, their kit and their support teams. I know that the EU walked away from our offer, but it must be brought back to the table. Touring performers will be left with a double whammy of an industry devastated by covid and the loss of an entire continent as a venue. Will he please bang the table and get the EU back to talk on this?
The £1.5 billion culture recovery fund has provided a lifeline to the culture and heritage sector during the pandemic. Does the Minister agree, though, that public money should not be spent on ideologically motivated projects by people who hate our history and seek to rewrite it, and will he review funding allocations accordingly?
Because of the nature of the industry, many performers organise their business in such a way that they sometimes fall through the cracks of Government support. What support is the Minister making available to performers who are not in an eligible organisation for the purposes of the culture recovery fund, such as ballet dancers, actors, musicians and many more?
Aerospace Bristol in my constituency is very grateful to the Government for the support it received from its successful bid during the first round of the culture recovery fund, which was in excess of £500,000. Like many other museums, it will continue to need revenue support until it can reopen. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the current bid by Aerospace Bristol under round 2 of the fund will be given a sympathetic hearing?
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) just now—happy birthday to her—I think I heard the Minister say that a third of self-employed people in the creative sector were not able to access the self-employment scheme, minus those supported by extra schemes made available by Arts Council England, which I think he said was about £47 million of support. Can he calculate for us how many people in the creative sector have been forgotten by the support schemes so far? Will he say what representations he has made to the Treasury to aid that remaining number of people?
The culture recovery fund was a great advent, but it will only go so far. It was never intended to cover three lockdowns and potentially 18 months of disruption. The news that the Lowry in Manchester has relaunched its emergency public appeal is a warning beacon blazing in our cultural landscape. Does the Minister recognise that more targeted help will be needed for our world-leading arts and cultural sectors? What plans are in train to deliver that help? Is a culture recovery fund 2 necessary?
I know many people, including me, are looking forward to the Commonwealth games next year. I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but does he also agree that the games will give a much-needed boost to the tourism and hospitality sectors, as well as providing excellent opportunities and a lasting legacy for people and businesses in Staffordshire and across the west midlands?
What recent steps his Department has taken towards establishing cultural visas for (a) performing artists, (b) musicians and (c) support staff with the EU. (911817)
Break in Debate
Dalton community leisure centre in my constituency is badly in need of support. It is a fantastic organisation—a community-run charity with a devoted team led by Bernard McPeake—but covid has hit it very hard, with losses running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. It supports 17 schools and the national leisure centre recovery fund offers a ray of hope. What comfort can my hon. Friend offer organisations like Dalton that they will be supported by this scheme?
It is a pleasure to be here with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
In January 2020, after 18 months of work, Durham County Council—Labour-led for 102 years—produced its plan “Leisure Transformation”. Well, they say, hide it in the title if you can. All North West Durham gets from that £63 million is “refreshing the existing offer” at two leisure centres—no new services or facilities, but perhaps a bit of corporate signage.
Ninety-five per cent. of my constituents who responded to my survey on the issue say that the situation is totally unacceptable. It is a particular slap in the face for the people of Crook, who in 2011 had their swimming pool closed and demolished within weeks. Their town is not even mentioned in the 38-page executive summary that was presented to the Labour council cabinet. It is also a slap in the face for Consett. Five years ago, it had a new leisure centre built, but it is now closed, due not to covid but to terrible contracting and oversight by Durham County Council.
I would like to read a couple of the comments that people made on my survey. One said:
“If Crook Leisure Centre ever gets a pool, do whatever you can stop DCC from taking it over—I work at another DCC leisure centre, and their management is absolutely appalling.”
“what is unacceptable is that 5 years after”
the leisure centre in Consett opened
“it should need to be closed for structural repair, this highlights a lack of due diligence”
in the entire process.
As the Secretary of State said in the House last week, Labour-run Durham County Council is in the process of building a £50 million new county hall on a floodplain. Even during the pandemic, Councillor Tinsley of Willington led a committee that approved a 3,500 square feet roof terrace to be added to it.
My constituents are fed up of being ignored by a Labour council and some faux-independent hangers on. They just want a reasonable cut of the cake when it comes to local leisure facilities. Often in spite of the council, my communities really come together when it comes to local leisure and sport. Aside from the pandemic, which has been a huge issue locally and has really knocked the sector for six, in general it has been thriving. We have four great football clubs: Willington, Tow Law, Crook and Consett. The juniors at Consett and Crook are going from strength to strength.
I have a fantastic local rugby union club, which I have visited on a couple of occasions, including one of its rather boozy social events. Up in the dale, we have some superb facilities and teams, including Durham Dales Hockey, which is desperately in search of a pitch. I will make a pitch for one to the Minister at another time. We also have some superb cycling and walking locally across the north Pennines, in the beautiful area of outstanding natural beauty. We have some great gyms that provide a huge local services, and many other things.
Covid has knocked so many of those facilities and sports clubs for six. I appreciate some of the support that the Minister has given, but they are essential to people’s mental health and wellbeing, so I really encourage him if at all possible to put that sort of activity right at the forefront of reopening. The truth is that many of those community clubs might get a few crumbs from the council’s table, but they are not really getting a look in when it comes to proper capital support.
People in North West Durham feel left behind not just in leisure, but in cultural spending. For the county as a whole, the closure of the Durham Light Infantry Museum was a real hammer blow. There is some support from the council, which runs the Empire theatre in Consett—currently closed not due to the pandemic, but because it needs massive repair work—and some excellent investment is going in, but we need to ensure that this cultural hub can drive the town centre regeneration that so many of us want to see.
Central government and the lottery have stepped up during the pandemic. The heritage emergency fund has supported Ushaw College, the Durham Wildlife Trust, and the Weardale museum. Unusually for me, I will praise the national lottery rather than call it into question, because it did provide some excellent support for those community organisations. The cultural recovery fund has delivered over £1 million for our local music education hub, our local cultural entertainment centre based at Stanhope and, again, Ushaw College, which I visited just a few weeks ago to see its fantastic light display.
Again, culture is driven and sustained largely by local groups and local people. I visited Jack Drum Arts with Baroness Barran, and it does get some council support, but compared with what is going to other parts of the county, particularly the City of Durham and some of the projects the council see as the flagships, it really is pennies on the dollar.
Over in Leadgate we have some really good community projects, such as the Roxy. I have already written to the Secretary of State about it, and I urge the Minister to visit as well. Some fantastic work is going on there to turn things around and bring it to public view though the community investment company. It is a superb facility, which David has basically been working on by himself and raising money for locally, and I would really like some extra support. I had a recent meeting about it with one of the Minister’s colleagues, but what is happening on the ground needs to be seen to get a feeling for it because, again, it is not really getting support from the council. Down at Crook, a local group is trying to revive the Empire Electric Palace, but the council is not stepping up to support it. The open-air swimming pool in Stanhope, which has faced real difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic, is another local institution that I will be fighting for over the coming years.
I have some asks of the Minister. When central Government cash is being distributed, wherever possible please put it in the hands of local communities and local organisations rather than in the hands of the council. The cultural recovery fund has been excellent in my area, but I urge the Minister to consider extending it if possible. The fantastic Weardale Adventure Centre is probably the largest local employer at the top end of Weardale, but it cannot currently apply for cultural recovery fund money and it would really benefit from support—the team there is fantastic, and I have visited several times. Anything that the Minister could do to ensure that support can be accessed by more institutions would be really appreciated. I would love a visit from the Secretary of State or from the Minister just to see some of the great local community work that is going on both in local community sports and in the local community groups that are trying to revive the local area.
For too long, North West Durham has been left out on a limb. If the county council is spending £50 million on a new county hall with a roof terrace and £63 million on local leisure with none of it coming to my area, we have to look elsewhere for support, and that is what I am calling for today. Please ensure that funding goes straight through to local community groups in the towns and villages of North West Durham.
Finally, my constituents are a proud people who are fizzing with creativity, which can be seen in some of the great work of the Glass & Art Gallery on Medomsley Road in Consett, which is just up the road from my office. The lady there has worked on stained glass windows for churches across the globe. Some great young artists are doing fantastic outdoor painting and works, including on some of the shopfronts and at the Duke of Wellington pub, which is just down the road the other way from my office. There is real local enthusiasm, and local champions are pushing things from kids’ sports and activities all the way through to the Weardale museum.
It is clear that the sectors of leisure and culture have been hit by covid, but it is those sectors that, crucially for communities such as mine, will really help to drive us out of it, particularly for the hospitality sector, which relies on the footfall from those people. Minister, please hear our pleas. Please ensure that that funding goes straight through wherever possible, and do not allow us to be constantly hamstrung by a county council more interested in itself than in local people.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I have already made my apologies, via the hon. Gentleman, to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for the fact that my physical participation this evening has prevented him from contributing virtually. Yes, I absolutely agree: obviously, I believe that Fife and St Andrews are top of any golfer’s bucket list, but clearly all parts of the UK are. We are a worldwide leader in the sport.
Golf tourism’s particular reliance on international tourism—and particularly on American tourists, who were subject to quarantine restrictions—meant that in effect the 2020 season was sadly over before it began. That has had a particular impact on inbound tour operators, many of which operate in my constituency. Last year, I organised a roundtable with the Scottish Incoming Golf Tour Operators Association—SIGTOA—and a number of local operators, and they told me of the difficulties they had faced over the previous months.
One tour operator said to me,
“as of yesterday and today, I have received two separate cancellations from Australian groups who had rescheduled from this year to 2021…Yet again this is a prime example that Golf Tourism and our businesses are being crippled, and will continue to be crippled, not just for 6 months but what is likely to be 18-24 months.”
Another Fife-based company told me:
“With nearly 40 years in package tourism, we have experienced a number of challenges as the business was affected by various national and international events. We simply battened down the hatches and worked through it all, using our own resources and never a penny piece of public money.
Our company (as with those of our fellow operators) has proved very resilient—but Covid is stress-testing that resilience to breaking point.”
The picture for them is pretty bleak.
It is worth mentioning that, under the current restrictions in Scotland, people can play golf, with very strict limitations. When the all-party parliamentary group on golf, of which I am a vice-chair, shared information on this debate on social media, many people got in touch regarding the current restrictions in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, which exclude golf from the sports currently permitted. I hope the Minister will be able to indicate what plans the Government have for golf’s reopening.
Part of the difficulty is that financial support is not getting to where it needs to—and this applies not just to tour operators but across the sector. For instance, the furlough has been less useful in an industry in which there is much seasonal employment and self-employment, as I have said previously in Parliament. In some respects, clubs themselves have had the best of it, particularly those whose business models are weighted towards membership, as subscriptions can be utilised to retain staff and maintain the facilities. Clearly, though, there will be pressures on subscriptions going forward, and many clubs have a mixed business model in which visitor income plays a significant part. Crail Golfing Society was founded in 1786 and is the seventh oldest club in the world; it lost £600,000 in visitor revenue in 2020.
Scottish Government support has not always hit the mark either. Back in May, I met golf clubs from across Fife, and they explained that many of them were ineligible for business grants because their rateable values were too high as a result of the land taken up by the courses. They needed support but were sadly excluded.
I was contacted by one constituent who runs a golf tourism business in St Andrews. Some 95% of his customers are from America. He provides travel services, but because his business is vehicles, he does not have premises or pay rates, which means he is not classed as part of the tourism and hospitality sector. He has found himself excluded from support. He told me:
“My business is highly reliant on”—
“being open and available as I am part of the tourist supply chain for some major hotels and premises in St Andrews...my business has had no clients at all in 2020.”
It is clear that there are huge challenges.
I welcomed the Scottish Government’s December announcement of further support for tourism and hospitality, including a specific fund for inbound tour operators, but that money was initially promised on 9 December and the fund opened for offers of interest only last week. January is a challenging month at the best of times, and I doubt that any operator will receive money until February—that is two months after the first announcement.
At least support for Scottish operators is on its way. The UK Government are yet to provide specific funding for inbound tour operators, so I encourage the Minister to engage with UKinbound’s proposals for a £45 million resilience fund. That surely is an investment worth making, given that normally, international visitors contribute £28 billion to the UK economy every year and support half a million jobs directly. That would have an impact on my constituency too, because lots of UK-wide operators run tours that incorporate England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland.
The need for support has only increased following today’s announcement about tightening border restrictions. Back in the autumn, the whole focus for clubs, operators and businesses was, “Let’s make it through to the 2021 season.” March and April 2021 promised a potential return to viability. That expectation only increased following the incredibly positive news in November about the development and approval of covid-19 vaccines. Now, as we administer hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses a day, the prospect of relaxing restrictions when the warmer weather is here looks more possible.
The sector had been positive. Operators’ assessment of the situation has been that the demand for international customers is very much there if people can find a safe and direct way to travel. Operators previously hoped that that would be secured by a combination of the vaccine roll-out and increased testing. Clearly, it is much more challenging now. Quite simply, if the 2021 season is also cancelled due to travel restrictions, as seems increasingly likely, then unless further support is given, many of the businesses I have mentioned will have to close.
That is true not just for tour operators but for many of those businesses that rely on the income generated by those tourists. Let me give another example. I was contacted by a very small tourism business operating in St Andrews and all over Scotland. My constituent and her husband drive golfers and tourists about, and they work for three different tour operators. They are currently on universal credit and previously received a self-employment support grant. She told me:
“I see that foreign travel may not happen til 2022. Being as our business depends on foreign travel there is no way without adequate funding we can make it til 2022. So it’s about time we heard some facts so people can decide about their business as we are just getting into untold debt and don’t know what to do.”
Yesterday, in the urgent question on border restrictions, I told the Home Secretary that what business operators and the public needed was clarity, certainty and notice. Given the expectation that the Scottish Government are considering more stringent travel restrictions, coupled with the Home Secretary’s subsequent statement today, I am concerned that we have none of those things.
Uncertainty is corrosive to these businesses, and it is a huge source of stress and anxiety to small business owners across the country. As we marked the tragic threshold of 100,000 deaths in the UK yesterday, I appreciate how fine the margins of such decisions are and the ongoing need to ensure public health, but I hope that the Minister can set out the likely considerations for a return to international tourism.
With the new travel restrictions, clubs and businesses that rely on international tourism face an increasingly bleak picture for summer 2021. With the prospect of domestic restrictions being lifted as the population is vaccinated, the Government must commit to supporting the golf industry, which relies so much on inbound international tourism. We cannot on the one hand start opening up the economy domestically this summer, while on the other failing to provide support to those businesses that rely on inbound tourism. It would be a disaster for so many of them and would potentially devastate the domestic market too.
That means listening to the businesses. One problem that I am aware of is with deposits. Many customers were initially happy to roll over their 2020 bookings into 2021. They have spent money on deposits to secure tickets, bookings, hotel accommodation—all manner of things—for trips this summer. The businesses do not currently have or hold that money. If customers start to cancel, the Government will need to support inbound tourism businesses that are struggling to return those deposits. They will also need to support the golf clubs that were relying on the prospect of inbound tourism this summer.
There is a real opportunity here. If these businesses survive until summer 2022, we will hopefully see the Open return to St Andrews for its 150th edition. That will be a huge opportunity for celebration, but if we are going to get there, the Government need to take those steps on clarity, support and listening to the concerns and needs of businesses in the sector. If the Government can do that, we can make sure that the fantastic, vibrant golf businesses of the home of golf and elsewhere across the UK make it through their biggest challenge yet. I urge the Government to listen and to take those steps, and I hope that the Minister will be able to meet me and businesses in my constituency to discuss what further steps might be taken.
I am following closely the serious points that the Minister is making. In order to assist golf courses and, indeed, people and their wellbeing at the present time, and while he is on that holy ground of golf tonight, may I tell him that people do not yet appreciate why they can walk around supermarkets and be in close contact with many people, yet they cannot walk out in the fresh air and golf in a socially distanced, safe way that would keep their local course open? Can he explain that and help us to get out of this pandemic?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the impact of this for businesses is not just financial—although how important that is—but emotional and mental. However, hope is on the horizon with the rollout of the vaccine. I place on record my thanks to all those who are working so hard to get this vaccine into the arms of people up and down the country. We can now see light at the end of the tunnel. We know that this pandemic will come to an end in the coming months.
It is vital that we ensure that all those businesses in the tourism sector can not only reopen, but be in a position to make the most of the coming months, because there is huge pent-up demand for holidays and for days and nights out. It is not just about the economic recovery; it is about the social, emotional and mental recovery of our country as well—being able to do all those things that we have missed for the last year.
The tourism sector will be vital in helping our country achieve that because, as much as we want to see the travel industry also recovering, and people taking overseas holidays, the reality is that it will probably be some time before that happens. UK residents may be nervous of booking overseas trips. I also think it will take a while for that part of the industry to recover, so the opportunity for staycation holidays next summer will be huge. It is very important that our businesses can make the most of that.
The challenge that many of those businesses are facing is working capital. Although they may be able to open, unless they have the working capital to invest, buy stock, take on staff and make themselves ready to take advantage of the coming months, they will not be able to lead our recovery in the way we would like. There are a few things that it will be very important for us to look at doing to ensure that those businesses can open their doors and be in a place to make the most of the coming months.
First, we should look to extend the business rates holiday, which has been hugely welcome. If we expect those businesses to start to pay full business rates in April, just as they will possibly be able to start to reopen, it will put a huge strain on their cash flow and their working capital. There is a very good case to be made for extending the business rates holiday for the next year, or at least another six months, to enable those businesses to build up some working capital.
The VAT cut has also been hugely welcomed by the sector. Again, if we expect businesses to start paying VAT just as they are looking to reopen, it will limit their ability to make the most of the months ahead. I would like to see VAT on tourism and hospitality cut permanently, but at the very least there is a case for extending the VAT cut for another six months to enable those businesses to build up the working capital they will need to make the most of the opportunities this year.
Thirdly, we should looking at extending the repayment terms for the loans that the Government have backed. Many business people took them out months ago, in May or June, and they will have to start repaying them just when they need that cash to invest in enabling their businesses to reopen.
We need to look at extending those three things to ensure that businesses do not just survive through the coming weeks, but are then able to make the very most of the opportunity that the coming months will present to them. As we do so, there is an opportunity to use this moment; I use the term advisedly, because one of the Labour Front Bench team used it in a slightly different way, but we should not waste this crisis.
This crisis has brought the tourism and hospitality industry more into focus. People are much more aware of its importance in our country, and that cannot be a bad thing. We need to look at what we can do to make the most of the recovery from this crisis, so that we have a thriving tourism industry—particularly domestic tourism—for many years to come.
There are a few things we should look at doing. First, I would like to see us make the very most of the tourism sector deal; it is very welcome, but it can be beefed up. There is more that can be done, and maybe as part of that deal we need to look at some sort of tourism recovery fund to invest in the sector. We need to come forward with the tourism zones, and I would like to make the case to the Minister that Cornwall, or at least the south-west, should be one of the first areas to get that recognition and the support that goes with it.
Secondly, we need to better market UK tourism, both internationally and within the UK market. There is a case for more support to invest in destination marketing organisations; they have had a really tough time, but they will be absolutely crucial to the future of the sector.
Thirdly, we must ensure that the sector has the workforce it needs; with our ending of the free movement of people, which I absolutely agree with and accept, we need to promote jobs within the sector as good career opportunities. I would make the case for bringing forward the T-level in catering and hospitality as soon as possible, to ensure that the sector has staff with the skills that they will need.
To sum up, there is no doubt that our domestic tourism industry has had a tough time and been hugely affected over the past year, but it is in a good position, with Government support, to recover quickly and to play a crucial role in helping our nation recover from this pandemic. I also believe it will be absolutely essential to the Government’s achieving their ambitions for their levelling-up agenda that our tourism sector recovers as quickly as possible. I ask the Government, through the Minister, to look again at what we can do to continue to support the sector through the coming months, to ensure that it is in the best possible place to lead our recovery.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has made that point, because there has been a concern that sometimes councils have been too rigid in using their discretion regarding these discretionary grants, and many businesses have not been able to access them. So, I join him in encouraging local authorities across the country to be flexible and to use the discretion that the Treasury has given them in applying those grants, to ensure that they are accessible to the businesses that really need them.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered squash and the Olympics.
It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms McVey. This is the second time that I have secured a debate about squash in the Olympics. The first was in July 2016, when I made the case for squash to be included on the Olympic games programme. The reason I am before the House again is that unfortunately squash did not make the list of sports included in the 2016 Rio Olympics, the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, or the Paris Olympics scheduled for 2024. Nothing has changed in that respect.
What has changed is that my dear friend the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) is not responding on behalf of the Government, as she did in the July 2016 debate. We share a passion for sport and I am sure that she is watching today, so will Members please join me in sending her our very best wishes? I am sure the Minister will do a great job today, but he has big shoes to fill—no pressure.
My love of sport began when I was a child. I was very shy and did not speak in my primary schools. I got beaten up by some teenage girls when I was walking home on my last day in my junior school, and my mother decided that I needed toughening up, so she sent me to judo classes. I found my voice—indeed, some would say that I have not stopped talking since—and I made many lifelong friends. I got my senior black belt first dan when I was 13 and my fourth dan in 1974. I won many Welsh and national titles. I was a member of the Great Britain youth squad that went to the Munich Olympics, and I retired from judo in 1975. In Cynffig Comprehensive School, I had the opportunity to play other sports and represented Wales schools in hockey, tennis and athletics. Sport gave me a focus and confidence and made me a team player. Some would say that I went to school only to play sport.
My love for squash began when I was supporting myself through university and had a job as a sports coach in the newly built Bridgend Recreation Centre near the village of Kenfig Hill in south Wales, where I was born and brought up. I was teaching sports in the main hall when I heard a thudding noise, so I went to investigate. I climbed some stairs up to a balcony and saw below me two men locked in a room with very strangely shaped rackets, hitting a little ball into submission. It was love at first sight—not the men, but the game—so I hired a racket, scrounged a squash ball and spent every spare minute on the squash court teaching myself to play.
The squash players at Bridgend Recreation Centre adopted me and I made the men’s team. I was invited by Squash Wales, the national governing body for squash in Wales, to the national trials for the Welsh ladies’ squad and got selected after playing squash for only six months. I went on to represent Wales more than 100 times, sometimes at No. 1 for the team. I won some national and international titles, including the Dutch Open, but my forte was losing in the final. I have lost count of how many times I have come second in national competitions.
Squash is a great game. It is dynamic, physically and mentally challenging, strategic, tactical—it is like chess on legs. It is a healthy sport for all ages. Squash shares some similarities with other racket sports, but it is the only racket sport where players share the same space. There are differences, too: for example, in common parlance “nick” means stealing, but in squash it is where the wall meets the floor. If someone hits the ball into the nick, it is irretrievable; it is the perfect shot. “Boast” usually means singing one’s own praises, but in squash it is a shot where someone hits the ball against the side wall on its way to the front wall, and that is a really deceptive shot.
A tin is usually something that holds baked beans, but in squash it is the line on the front wall of the court above which the ball must be hit. Tea is a drink, but in squash the T is a place in the centre of the court that players seek to dominate in order to control the rally. Performing squash movements without the ball is known as “ghosting”—I am doing it now, and with squash courts closed at present, I am doing a lot of ghosting in my living room.
Squash has given me so much: fun, fitness, lifelong friends and a job. When I retired in the early 1990s from international competition and had a squash sabbatical, I took up marathon running. In 2004, I called Squash Wales to try to track down an old friend. The director of coaching and development, Mike Workman, said, “Chris Rees, I haven’t heard from you for ten years. We need more women coaches, and there’s a coaching course tomorrow. I’ll put your name down.” I said to him, “Mike I am not a coach, I’m a player.” But I lost that argument, and every other argument, I think, when I went on to work for Mike at Squash Wales. I worked my way through the qualifications and am now a level 3 coach, tutor and assessor, and have become a Welsh national coach. I was honoured to receive the Sport Wales coach of the year award in 2008—the only racket sports coach to receive that award so far.
One of the best experiences of my life was pulling on the red shirt and playing for Wales, representing my country, but it is wonderful to coach a youngster from beginner to playing for Wales, helping them develop into a confident, skilful, respectful and well-rounded player. As part of the very successful Squash Wales junior development programme I encouraged children to take up squash, taking them through the squad system—if that was what they wanted—or simply helping them enjoy playing the game that I love. I am proud that two players, products of the Squash Wales junior development programme, are now international stars: Tesni Evans from Prestatyn, aged 28, and Joel Makin from Aberdare, aged 26, are both ranked number nine in the January 2021 world rankings. Children as young as age four take up squash, and there is a masters circuit for everyone aged over 35 to over 80. Competitions are held in many countries, and there are also the world and European championships. A few years ago, the Welsh team were the over-70’s world men’s champions. They were all skill, trickery and bandages, but not much movement on court. Sport is hard on the body’s joints, especially judo, marathon running and squash, and I have done all three. That is especially the case when there is a habit of over-training as I had and as I have now, and I thank my orthopaedic consultant Mr Chandratreya for looking after me and for keeping me going.
The Minister is aware, through his responsibility for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, that squash has been in the Commonwealth games since 1998, as well as the Asian Games since 1998, and the Pan-American Games since 1995. The British Open squash championships have been taking place since 1920, and the Welsh Open began way back in 1938. The International Squash Rackets Federation was formed in 1967 and is now called the World Squash Federation. It is recognised as the international federation for squash by the International Olympic Committee. We now have over 50,000 squash courts in over 185 nations from the Arctic circle to the bottom tips of South America and Australia. Squash is a genuinely global sport played by millions all over the world. Professional senior tour events have been hosted by 47 countries featuring players from 74 nations, and over 750 players from 69 countries compete on the men’s and women’s professional squash tours. The WSF world junior circuit has world, regional and national junior open events. We have world and European rankings for juniors, seniors and masters. Squash has full gender parity, and all major events offer gender-equal prize money. Squash is fully World Anti-Doping Agency compliant. We have highly qualified referees, led by the World Squash Officiating director, my good friend Roy Gingell from Maesteg—no one messes with Roy.
Squash is televised via state-of-the-art all-glass show courts, with glass floors and side door options. Squash is very cool. It is presented very differently on the professional tour from when I used to play. There is music, lighting and MCs. An old friend of mine from Cardiff, Robert Edwards, started the cool commentaries and is known as the voice of squash. We have super slow-mo replays, multi-camera angles, in-play stats, live web transmission and full match videos uploaded on demand. What other sport has had championships played in a stunning site next to the pyramids in Egypt, in New York’s Grand Central station, on the Bund in Shanghai and in many other innovative indoor and outdoor settings?
In 2005, London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic games. The sports for 2012 were announced and squash came top of the shortlisted sports to be included. At that time, James Willstrop and Nick Matthews of England were ranked world No. 1 and 2, so were potential gold and silver Olympic medallists. Jenny Duncalf and Laura Massaro of England were ranked world No. 2 and 3—potential silver and bronze medallists. I must admit that our Welsh players were not quite as highly ranked but, as I said, Tesni and Joel are making great progress up the world rankings.
It was not expected that any places would be available among the then 28 maximum sports to be included in the London Olympics, but baseball and softball were taken out, so we thought that squash, being top of the shortlisted sports, would replace baseball or softball, but that did not happen, and London ran with only 26 sports. When Rio won the host bid in 2009 for the 2016 Olympics, the two vacant spots were filled by rugby sevens and golf. They are great sports, especially rugby—being Welsh, I would say that—but do they really fulfil the International Olympic Committee mantra that the Olympic games should be the paramount event of a sport?
The IOC subsequently decided that one sport would be removed from the 28 sports selected for the 2016 games to make room for a new sport in the 2020 games. Wrestling was removed, but then added back into a shortlist of eight. The list was then reduced to three sports: wrestling, baseball and softball, which were combined into one sport, and squash. In 2013, wrestling—not a new sport—was voted back in, although squash was, in fact, the only new sport on the shortlist.
Tokyo won the hosting rights for 2020 and persuaded the IOC that, as host, it could add two new sports. Originally, they were squash and baseball and softball combined, because they were the two on the shortlist, but Tokyo opened it up to other sports to bid for a place and selected a shortlist of eight from the 25 sports that had applied. In August 2015, each sport gave a presentation to the IOC, and Tokyo selected five sports, not including squash. They were baseball and softball combined, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.
Paris will be the host city for the 2024 Olympic games. There are many excellent squash court venues in Paris that could be used, where glass show courts could be set up. Hon. Members can appreciate how devastated I was to discover that breakdancing, known as breaking, had been included by the IOC in the Paris games ahead of squash. The jury is still out on whether it is a sport or not, but including it in the Olympics ahead of our genuine sport is heartbreaking—do you get the pun there?
Since 1986, we have campaigned for squash to be in the Olympics and made some truly fantastic presentations, but the presentation for the Paris Olympics was the most ambitious ever. The WSF and the Professional Squash Association combined to launch “Squash Goes Gold”, a web and social media campaign. It was launched just before the 2018-19 PSA world championships, played inside Chicago’s Union Station. It built on the global growth of squash over the past decade and allowed players from all over the world to unite behind one common goal. France’s top-ranked woman player, Camille Serme, who has won the British and the US opens, took part in the bid. France has also had two recent men’s world No. 1 players, Thierry Lincou and current professional Grégory Gaultier. As hon. Members can imagine, the opportunity to compete in the Olympics in their home country and in Camille’s home city, and possibly win a medal, would have been the pinnacle of their careers.
When I watched the campaign film, it gave me goosebumps and reminded me of all the reasons why I am a squashoholic. My old friend Andrew Shelley, chief executive of the WSF from 2010 to 2019, has worked in squash for over 40 years and has been involved in all the Olympic bids. He says that he would not change one moment of his time working in squash, but that our non-selection for the Olympics is his greatest disappointment. Andrew was awarded the MBE for services to squash in the new year’s honours list. He is now creating a world squash library, and one day I hope there will be a special section in his library titled “Squash makes it to the Olympics.”
Jahangir Khan, who is the greatest player of all time—six world titles, 10 British open titles, unbeaten for five and a half years in the early 1980s—as well as the former WSF president and current emeritus WSF president, has said,
“We have been running bids for so many years and these sports”—
breaking, surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding—
“weren’t in the queue and now they are. It’s really hard to understand”.
Malaysian female star Nicol David has said that she would give up her eight world squash titles for one Olympic gold medal, which shows just how much taking part in the Olympics means to squash players. Many politicians play squash: it is a great stress-buster. I do not have time to name them all today, so I will just mention my good friend Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, who is a very enthusiastic and accomplished squash player.
Why is it so important to get squash into the Olympics? There are many practical reasons, including increased funding, but the opportunity to showcase squash on the biggest sporting stage in the world, so that our fantastic players can be seen, is the main reason why we will not give up. I do not have any specific asks of the Minister, because I know he does not have power over the IOC. He may be relieved to hear that, but if he could write to the IOC supporting squash’s bid to be in the next Olympics and increase funding for a sport that has to fight for every penny, I would be grateful. I am not sure what sports the Minister plays, but if he plays squash, I will be his coach. If he does not play squash and wants to take it up, I will teach him how to play. Any support we can have from the Minister to get squash into the Olympics, I would be really grateful for.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Local authorities cannot provide the financial support and grants that the Government can, but I will come to the point about the trading aspects of fairs and fairgrounds, which is hugely important, as he said.
I recently met representatives of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, and the stories that I heard were heartbreaking. As the Minister knows, and as we have shared during the debate, many of those family businesses, which underpin much of our cultural heritage, sit at the heart of communities and often raise huge amounts of money for charity and engage with social initiatives. During covid-19, many showpeople became key workers: many used their heavy goods vehicle licences to help to supply supermarkets across the country, while others delivered fresh produce to local people who were struggling in lockdown. Some even donated supplies to NHS staff and hospitals across the country.
Swathes of the hospitality sector have spent a great deal of time and resource refactoring their businesses to allow them to provide a safe environment for their patrons during the pandemic. Fairground businesses, as we know, are based outdoors in the open air, and are no different. People across the industry have gone to great lengths in that regard, but while businesses in other sectors have been given priority to operate, they have been stymied and blocked. The Government seem to have totally forgotten about the travelling fairgrounds, or are just passing on responsibility without sufficient guidance and support. Businesses are struggling without adequate support from Government, as the direct cash grants for closed businesses are worth—at most—half what they were during the first lockdown.
Meanwhile, the one-off additional restrictions grant for local areas is inadequate and fails to take into account the circumstances of various restrictions in different places. Operators alone have had access to piecemeal self-employment grants that completely overlook each fairground’s numerous additional workers. In my neighbouring constituency of Leeds Central, the Valentine’s fair employs more than 700 people. None has received any financial support or reassurance that they can return to work next year.
The industry has been denied access to the closed local restrictions support grant, and does not appear to be receiving funding from the open discretionary local restrictions support grant—in any case, those grants will be worth at most half. Fairgrounds also do not seem to be in receipt of support from the additional restrictions grant, which, again, is flawed in its design, failing to take into account the circumstances of various restrictions. Grants from those imperfect schemes would still be better than nothing to the fairground sector, which desperately wants to be able to protect jobs, protect the industry, and offer much needed support to both employers and employees, many of whom operate without rateable premises and often as sole traders. The winter months are a period of preparation for the new year in the fairground industry. With no clear plan for their return and no financial support, operators have been left mired in uncertainty. Many find themselves unable to even pay for services missed during peak times of operation.
The Government gave local authorities the power to close travelling fairgrounds while retaining power over theme parks, which are allowed to open while travelling fairgrounds are denied the same opportunity. The Government need to create a level playing field and take a stronger hand with local authorities, as the hon. Member for Gloucester intervened on me to say.
The fairground sector was already facing significant hurdles before the additional complications caused by covid-19. Travel ambiguity and rising costs, a direct result of Brexit, add additional unnecessary strain. Those factors, alongside the squeeze and the pandemic, have left many on the brink.
When I met the Showmen’s Guild, it noted that 40% of members have reported rising insurance fees. Last year alone, one ride saw an insurance cost rise from £177 to £532, which is another issue that the Minister needs to address. He also needs to consider the supply chain. Many manufacturing businesses with a unique set of skills, which the hon. Member for Glasgow Central raised, are worth £200 million to the national economy.
On support elsewhere in the UK, the Scottish Government have issued £1.5 million to Scottish showmen to compensate for their loss of income, which was mentioned by the hon. Members for Glasgow Central and for Glasgow East. The devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales are likewise offering specific tailored support. The industry is really struggling. The Minister knows that nearly a quarter of the cultural recovery fund is yet to be allocated, but travelling fairgrounds are currently excluded. Could they now be included, even at this late stage? I want to hear the Minister’s views on that.
Who could deny that fairs and fairgrounds are a part of our nation’s cultural heritage? Even Simon and Garfunkel knew of Scarborough fair, although it ceased to exist 200 years before they penned their classic song. I hope the Minister has urgent solutions, or it might be only in song that people know of our great fairs and travelling fairgrounds in future.
The Minister is making a good point. To be fair, I think that the money is there, but what would be very helpful is if he could team up with his MHCLG colleagues to send a clear message to council chief executives and leaders that they should give real consideration to the needs of the local showmen and, if need be, find a councillor in touch with them to co-ordinate a needing so that the needs are understood specifically.
One point made by several Members in the Chamber, including the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), but not addressed by the Minister is that the CRF funding is in his own Department. Will the criteria be extended to allow showpeople to apply for that funding?
I appreciate what the Minister says about not being able to comment on the red diesel point, but my understanding is that some European cities have plug-in points, so that funfair operators do not even need to use diesel in city centres and so on—they can use electronic charging points for their vehicles and rides. Could he support the development of that kind of thing?
It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Ms Rees. I pass on my thanks to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for chairing the first part of the debate. I wish him and you a merry Christmas. We have had an excellent debate. It was never my intention for it to be combative, so I am genuinely delighted with how it has gone and with some of the things that the Minister has said.
I will sum up some of what hon. Members said in what was an excellent debate. The hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) rightly paid tribute to his constituent Colleen Roper, who I have had dealings with for several months. She is tenacious in raising the issue, so he was right to put that on the record. He captured the history by talking about the royal charter established under Henry VIII for the King’s Lynn Mart. That is impressive and will not have been lost on the Minister.
In my experience, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) is not someone to be wrestled with often, as the Minister probably found several times. She rightly talked about the 3 million people who have been excluded, which is an indisputable fact. She quoted the ladies from Future 4 Fairgrounds, who said that it is not just a job for people, but a way of life. That is what I mean when I say that from my flat in Glasgow, I look into the yards where these people live, and I look at their caravans and equipment alongside them. It is a way of life for them and it is important for the Government to reflect on that.
I am jealous of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) as an honorary member of the Showmen’s Guild. He made an incredibly informed speech. I pay tribute to his work with the coalition Government on education. I was not unaware of that; I was looking at it only this week. I thank him for putting many of those points on the record. He spoke with a lot of authority on the issue.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), which should be, I believe, a city—we cannot get through a debate without putting that on the record—for his leadership of the APPG. It is probably quite frustrating when a young whippersnapper such as me comes along and starts prodding people to do lots of stuff, but he has a long track record of leading on these issues, and it is a pleasure to serve under his chairmanship of that group. There was a bit of a debate, in which I was certainly never going to get involved, between him and the hon. Member for South Shields. I think we can agree that the hon. Gentleman has the best seaside city resort and the hon. Lady has the best town. Perhaps we can leave it there without having a diplomatic incident.
For the purposes of Hansard, which I am sure will have got that wrong, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell) was not at all suggesting that the best funfairs were in South Shields; I am sure he meant Sedgefield. He was right to talk about the nine generations that have operated over 200 years. I made precisely that point in my earlier speech about people’s long historical connection.
As Glasgow politicians, there is always a bit of banter between me and my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). We might disagree about who has the best constituency, but we do not disagree that the Irn-Bru Carnival at the Scottish Event Campus is much missed this year. We look forward to it coming back. She is right to put on the record some of the issues relating to asset finance. I and several hon. Friends from Scotland wrote to the asset finance companies back in March, and some have been helpful, in terms of being a bit more flexible. She is also right to talk about the impact of the way the Showmen’s Guild was set up in regions, and to put on the record the concerns of showmen, particularly in the north of England, who are missing out on the funding and will be looking to their colleagues north of the border.
The shadow Minister was right to press the issue of the culture recovery fund. Earlier in the year, I was a bit concerned about the fact that when the taskforce was undertaken, the Showmen’s Guild was told that it could not be part of it and had to be represented by the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain. That is akin to asking the Brownies to represent the Scouts. That did not go down well with the guild, so is there any way of ensuring that the culture recovery fund can be looked at?
The Minister has been pretty candid today, which was welcome, in acknowledging that some people have been excluded. If there is that acknowledgement, the logical follow-through is to adapt ever so slightly—we are not talking about huge numbers of people—who is eligible for the culture recovery fund.
I thank the Minister, because I genuinely appreciate his tone and the contact that I had with his officials in the run-up to this debate, and I look forward to the meeting that is forthcoming following the question to the Prime Minister. The Government and particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not shy away from a photo opportunity. The Minister should tell Rishi that being pictured on the teacups is pretty good—it probably trumps that Nando’s shot. The Minister would be welcome to join us on the teacups as well, of course. Any support that the Treasury could look at providing, particularly as we head towards the Budget in March, would be appreciated.
I am very grateful to the Minister for putting on the record quite so strongly his expectation that local authorities should not be cancelling fairs. I expect that this edition of Hansard will be going to just about every council officer from the Showmen’s Guild, so I welcome that.
The final thing that I want to talk about is diesel. I appreciate that that is not a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but could a formal representation go from the Minister to the Treasury to say that he has heard those concerns?
The Minister is nodding ever so slightly, so he is acceding to that request. If a letter could go to the Treasury outlining that, as the consultation has closed, that would be very helpful.
I want to take the opportunity to wish you, Ms Rees, and all hon. Members here a very happy Christmas. I am sure we are all looking forward to going on the teacups with Rishi when he gets his wallet out.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the future of fairs and showgrounds.
I want to make it clear that the work that the National Trust has done around west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—Cornwall in particular—is hugely important and valued.
In April 2020 I set up, with a councillor from Cornwall Council, a tourism recovery group, and the National Trust took part as a representative of many different organisations, all charged with trying to find a safe way to open up tourist attractions for people to return, as they did on 4 July. This is about identifying some of the concerns that constituents have, in order to address them, so that we can return to the core values and be reminded of the fantastic work that the National Trust can deliver through a huge army of fantastic volunteers across the United Kingdom. However, it is of great concern if the National Trust’s approach to increasing yield is to make as much money as it can, rather than protect and enhance small farms and support the fresh blood introduced into the sector.
A constituent that I have been in correspondence with for some time writes:
“We wanted to put solar panels on an agricultural shed on the farm as a way of reducing costs and our carbon footprint. The National Trust objected and prevented us from doing this.
The National Trust threatened me with legal action after we placed a temporary or moveable hut in a field for the summer months to sell ice cream from our own dairy cows, which we make on the farm. It is normal farming practice for a farmer to sell his produce in whichever way he deems the most profitable. To contradict themselves, the National Trust have ice cream vendors selling ice cream at multiple…sites all around the country, many of them rural beauty spots.
The National Trust reinvent the interpretation of the covenant as it suits them, as our family have found out on many occasions. In short, if it was okay to remove a rock or plough a field when the covenant was granted then it still is now, as the covenant’s wording has not changed, nor will it.”
“This giant and powerful organisation is making uninformed, inaccurate and hugely detrimental decisions that are inconsistent.
Their interpretation is preventing small family farms from farming and could cause many of us to go out of business, as many farmers do not have the spare capital to litigate against such a huge organisation.”
Madam Deputy Speaker, if you wish to alter or extend your property, the local planning authority operates under strict rules and guidelines, the process is time-limited and the applicant has the opportunity to challenge the decision. If you happen to have a National Trust covenant on your property, sadly, the same transparency and accountability does not apply. The National Trust can determine whether the same improvements take place, with no clearly published process or procedure. There is no requirement for the National Trust to give reasons for its decision; it can take as long as it wants and there is no appeals process. For example, Cape Cornwall Club, a privately owned hospitality business that leases its 70-acre golf course from the National Trust, has taken 18 months to gain consent to pre-planning proposals to carry out much-needed improvements to the hospitality business—months and months waiting for responses to emails from architects, some of which were only obtained because my office intervened.
Now the club has got past that hurdle, the National Trust demands a new levy based on the improved value of the asset. No previous levy ever existed and no details can be found in the covenant. The owner wrote to me saying:
“The National Trust are trying to impose an undisclosed levy on any increase in the value of our freehold value once we have formal permission to complete the work and they also want us to pay for the surveyors’ valuation.”
In return, the National Trust said that
“as a condition of giving our consent, we require a monetary payment where our consent, substantially increases the open market value of the covenanted land. This increase is called ‘uplift’.”
The trust stated that its consent
“would add value to the property which you will benefit from when it is sold, in these circumstances it is only equitable that the Trust also benefits from this uplift having given permission for them”.
I really am not sure that that is appropriate or just, and I hope the Minister can look at that issue in particular. I would assume that it is for Government to apply taxes, not the National Trust.
Furthermore, other businesses have found the trust to be similarly unhelpful, despite the significant challenges, to which we have just referred, that businesses have faced this year. For example, the National Trust insisted on charging full rent on a hospitality business during lockdown and refused to negotiate any reduction whatsoever or even to negotiate a payment plan. The business was closed and had to return fees and charges that it had collected. The National Trust’s cold response in October this year was:
“As the restrictions were imposed by the Government, it is not for the National Trust as a landlord to be expected to credit valid rent/lease charges.”
The National Trust is not even prepared to discuss payment plan proposals. Instead, it has issued a final demand and intends to take legal action.
One of the earliest and most troubling examples of the National Trust’s approach to discharging its duties, which takes me right back to soon after I first became an MP, was the case of Levant mine. If anyone has the opportunity to go and see it, it is an amazing, historical, vitally important former tin mine, right at the far western end of my constituency. The National Trust’s approach in the case of Levant mine was to run roughshod over planning laws, local concerns and sensitivities in order to maximise income for the trust and in the name of health and safety.
The difficulty was that, as someone who learned some important skills about preservation and heritage while working on National Trust sites as an apprentice, I could see on visiting the site that the work carried out at Levant fell well short of anything that would previously have been accepted. The sad twist of this particular episode is that Levant mine saw the loss of 31 miners last century and many people, including descendants of those lost, hold a special place for Levant mine in their hearts. The National Trust’s approach to Levant mine resulted in many excellent, experienced local volunteers packing it in. Thankfully, much of the work has been rectified, but only after significant local objection, local expertise, which I was very grateful for, enforcement by Cornwall Council and intervention, including by my office.
The trust’s completely avoidable misdemeanours included installing unsightly signage and infrastructure on land that forms part of one of our most important areas of outstanding natural beauty. It sought to impose parking charges on land that does not belong to the trust. It intended to increase the car park in a way that was completely inappropriate, given its location in an AONB. It failed to secure building consent. It parked a coffee van adjacent to the place where the families go to remember the miners who died, and it erected poorly designed safety grilles and barriers of dubious build quality. Even today, I hear concerns about the lack of basic maintenance on this hugely important site.
During my brief time as a MP, I have found that the case load of National Trust-related issues is disproportionate to the many other issues that an MP’s office encounters. I accept that the National Trust has important responsibilities for huge parts of the Cornwall, and it does an important job for us. I have many more examples that I could give, but I will just mention one: Porthleven slipway. The beach is another beautiful place to visit if you are in the area, and it is owned by the National Trust. The only access to the beach is via a slipway that Land Registry records show the National Trust is responsible for. The National Trust does not accept that, and despite advice to rectify Land Registry records, it has decided not to. The slipway is dangerous and unmaintained. To me and many others, this is an abdication of duty by the trust.
As I say, there are plenty of examples, but instead I will turn to the Minister with four clear asks. Important comments have been made in the debate about the value of the National Trust, its service to our beautiful country and the opportunity it provides to attract visitors from overseas and to protect our beautiful natural environment. Given that, will the Minister look at the need to review whether the National Trust is acting in keeping and truly in line with its core principles and charitable aims? Will he consider the need for an ombudsman or similar pathway for people who believe that they have been treated wrongly or poorly by the National Trust to be heard and for the National Trust to be held to account? Will he investigate the practice of the National Trust in imposing charges and levies on landowners and businesses? Will he look at the need for an independent body or mediator to approve any proposed changes to existing covenants by the National Trust? Currently, landowners have no course of action other than to go through a legal route, and the cost of litigation is far too high, so they buckle under the pressure.
I am a fan of the National Trust. I learned important skills—ones that I may well need to fall back on at some stage in my life—by working on National Trust sites. I have huge admiration for the army of National Trust volunteers, who do incredible work across west Cornwall and around the country. I have enjoyed a good relationship with most of the National Trust—possibly not after this evening. I do not believe that the trust is rotten to the core, but there is certainly rot within the organisation. There is a need to review how it operates, to ensure that it can deliver on its primary purpose and charitable aims and continue to provide all the value added that it does to our country.
Will the Minister include in his praise the fact that the National Trust is setting itself a progressive agenda, telling a history that might not always be as traditional as some traditionalists would like and a story that is more inclusive and includes Black Lives Matter, as is the case in the excellent exhibition in Dyrham Park?
On that point, has not the National Trust become preoccupied by the political polemic and flirted with a number of ideological causes that are far from its core mission of preserving and promoting Britain’s heritage through the houses and land of which it is the custodian?
Break in Debate
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful; I was only trying to help the Minister as he replied to our right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes). May I put on record that I completely disagree with our right hon. Friend over what the National Trust has done with regard to Black Lives Matter issues and slavery? I congratulate the National Trust on having an interactive exhibition some years ago showing what it was doing, long before it became fashionable to look to see what the past included. It would be kind to the National Trust for us to recognise that there is a variety of views on the Conservative Benches, and I will speak up for that. I also suggest that the National Trust writes openly to those who have contributed to this debate with its answers to each of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), because I am sure that it can deal with them in a way which will make everyone happier.
I hope that the Minister will recognise that the National Trust has actually appointed someone to address the issue of “woke” within the organisation, and that is clearly a recognition within the trust that it has not got the balance right. As has been inferred by the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), a lot of work needs to be done, but we congratulate it on the steps that it is taking and look forward to working with it, hand in hand. I am looking forward to seeing how the Minister responds to the calls tonight for an ombudsman-type service into some of these issues, so that we can really ensure that the National Trust is the nation’s trust.
Order. I have to point out to the hon. Gentleman that I have allowed a lot of interventions. The Father of the House arrived one minute late for the debate, so I have given him the benefit of the doubt. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) was here at the beginning of the debate. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) arrived a minute and a half late. The hon. Gentleman came in 10 minutes after the beginning of the debate, so I do not really think he should be intervening, unless it is really serious for his constituency. I think he should do the decent thing and not intervene, when he came in 10 minutes after the beginning.
Before I call the Minister to make a statement, I am tempted to say that it is pleasing that he has found time in his busy schedule of media appointments to update the House. It really is for the benefit of the Minister himself, as well as Members, for the House to be informed first of policy changes. I hope that he and those within the Department who feel that this House should not hear it first will bear that in mind in the future. I have the greatest respect for the Minister, and I am sure he would agree that this is not the way that we want it to happen.
I thank the Minister for early sight of his statement. On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the main measures that the Government have announced today, and I certainly welcome the beginning of this process of review and reform. Many Members across the House and in the other place have worked very hard indeed to get us to this place. I will not mention individuals specifically, not least because I am sure they will speak for themselves shortly, but we owe them a debt for bringing this issue to the fore. I thank all of them, because when people work across the House and across party political barriers in pursuit of the public interest, it is Parliament at its best.
This is only the beginning of the process to get the reforms that we need on gambling, so it is disappointing that the Government have taken more than a year to launch this review, during which time we know there are still people who may be suffering. Gambling addiction is highly serious, and we know that we have not got the right support in place. So the delay has a cost, which is why we need to move forward together and swiftly now. What we need is fit-for-purpose regulation which can keep up with the changing nature of gambling online, both on the smartphones that we all carry and in the environment around us all the time. We believe that the law in this area should be approached from a public health perspective to protect the vulnerable and particularly children and young people—I think the Minister would accept that—but to allow others who choose to do so to gamble safely. The Minister mentioned that UK gambling legislation is some 15 years old and it is hard to quantify the technological change that we have all experienced during that time. If somebody had told me in 2005 precisely what the phone in my pocket would have the capacity to do by this point, even I would have been shocked. We need to bring the legislation up to date. There is not a moment to lose.
Millions of people enjoy gambling in a safe way, but, as I have said, given the speed of change, vulnerable people should be protected. Age verification must be taken seriously.
The pace of technological change has wider ramifications. Apps, games and online advertising within apps have shown the dangers when we are not able to future-proof legislation. Will the Minister confirm that the review will address not just problems that we know of now, but that we will use the opportunity to try to anticipate future changes? That will not always be possible, but we should at least attempt to do so.
In the review, we would like the Government to adopt the following approach, particularly in considering the legislation that we need. We know from the pandemic that public health must come first, and that is my first question to the Minister. Will he confirm that we will be taking a public health approach in the review?
Secondly, of course people are free to choose what they wish to do in a free country, but will the Minister confirm that the Government take their responsibility to protect people from harm seriously and that the review will attempt to quantify that harm so that we can target the right measures effectively to reduce it over time?
Thirdly, the legislation must be evidence-based. I do not think anyone in this House is any longer a sceptic of experts, but just to make sure, could the Minister confirm that public health experts will be able to contribute fully and transparently, so that people will be able to understand the evidence that the Government rest on?
Fourthly, all towns across the country should be able to enjoy the benefit of having a sports club at the heart of their community. Many rugby league clubs, football clubs and other sports have long-standing relationships with gambling companies. Will the Minister take those relationships into consideration? We are expecting another review—a fan-led review of football—and I do not think it makes a lot of sense to commence the gambling review without that football review alongside it. Where the issues interconnect, we can handle them both together. Will the Minister bring forward the fan-led review of football to start without further delay?
Finally, on consumer protection, companies operating for financial gain should not be able to exploit anybody, particularly the young and vulnerable, so will he make sure that consumers have better rights in this area? Will people have access to their own data—I am thinking of where people are targeted online with adverts and so on? Will the review also look at the unlicensed operators, who are one of the most worrying aspects in this area?
We welcome the review. We want to see it happen in a way that is collaborative across both sides of the House and among all stakeholders in the country, because that is the best way to make sure that it is a success. Many people in this country enjoy gambling. Everybody has the right to spend their own money enjoying themselves. However, where a harm is clear, the Government have a duty and responsibility to tackle it.
No longer is gambling a case of just nipping down the bookies. We now live in a world dominated online with sophisticated algorithms and increasing artificial intelligence. Will the Minister assure the House and me that the review will place at its centre the oversight of algorithms in push marketing and fairness in bet exchanges, and that that will dovetail with robust age verification on social media platforms? In addition, when will we see the legislation to curb the menace of loot boxes? As a side point, on the banning of national lottery sales online, why do we have to wait until April next year? Surely, that is something that could be actioned relatively quickly.
I thank the Minister for prior sight of the statement. I welcome the overall messages in it, as they touch on many of the issues that have blighted the industry and caused great harm to many people for far too long. There is a great deal to discuss, and I shall keep a beady eye on the process and progress of the review.
In the time allotted to me, may I thank the Minister for making it clear that the evidence-led inquiry will include those who have been harmed and the families of those who have lost someone to suicide as a result of gambling addiction? Lived experience is crucial to inform the review. However, I am concerned that the Minister has caveated his concerns about advertising with the financial difficulties faced by sports organisations and broadcasters. The reduction of harm must be front and centre in the review, and must not be undermined by the eye-watering financial demands of premier-league football teams.
On the national lottery, there is no excuse for delaying the enforcement of the increased age limitation offline for 10 months. May I ask that the timescale is revisited or at least justified? I did not read anything in the statement about the voluntary levy. We need a statutory levy that funds research, education and support. That money should be paid to the UK and devolved Parliaments before being channelled to the appropriate service providers. Research into gambling harm must not be funded by voluntary contributions from the industry that causes the harm.
Finally, many people, including members of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm, will scrutinise the outcome of the review. May I offer a friendly warning to the Minister? We will not be fobbed off with a partial review, and we will not accept second-best.
I thank my hon. Friend for his statement, which marks the beginning of a real sea change in our attitude towards the gambling abuses that have taken place. On that point, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), whose chairing of the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm has been phenomenal, and to the vice chair, the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan). We have worked very hard together to try to drive this moment. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we want all the evidence we have taken over the last couple of years to be part of the inquiry. I would also like the all-party parliamentary group to appear in front of it.
May I press my hon. Friend on one particular point? He knows about the abuse of VIP schemes and about the behaviour of the gambling companies, which have been appalling in the way they have used people. Is it not now time, instead of looking only at the powers of the Gambling Commission, to get rid of the Gambling Commission altogether and institute a body as powerful as, say, Ofcom or all the other bodies that monitor and regulate these industries? Now is the time to make bold moves, to make sure we get proper control and that the abuses and the addiction end.
The architects of the Gambling Act 2005 could never have anticipated that by 2020 technology would allow phones, tablets and computers to become 24/7 limitless gambling hubs. For far too many, this has led to devastation, demoralisation and, at worst, death. Can the Government assure the House that the voices of bereaved families, those with lived experience, campaign groups and colleagues and friends from right across the House will be given the same consideration when feeding into this review as the well-resourced, confrontational and relentless gambling lobby, whose sole motivation is profit, not people?
I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friends from the all-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm. I also thank the Minister for his statement. I know that he has done a lot of work in this area. It is good to hear that the review will be broad and wide. However, can he clarify that, when he mentioned parity between high street and online, he is not saying that high-street casino gambling will be the same as online casinos? Quite frankly, there should be one place where the highest-stakes gambling can take place, and that is not in people’s homes and bedrooms.
I also urge my hon. Friend to reflect on the Public Accounts Committee’s report around an ombudsman service. Some points that we raised were recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee, particularly around redress for people who have suffered real harm, and are really worth noting. I hope he will take note of those considerations.
I welcome the statement, but the Minister will understand that the online harms Bill, when we get it, will have a crucial role to play in this area. Big tech firms are allowing unregulated black market gambling companies to promote on their websites, and they are advertising to the under-18s. What does he think about that, and what is he going to do about it?
As with all Government reviews, sectors and people fear that Government do not take into account their concerns and often adopt a “do to” rather than a “do with” attitude. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with sporting bodies, particularly in horse-racing and football, on the financial implications that the review could have for their members?
I welcome this review, and there is clearly a need for robust action. The Minister will be aware that there have been claims from the online gambling industry that regulation should be moderated or it risks driving gamblers to the black market. Does the Minister agree with the Gambling Commission that there is absolutely no evidence for this? Does he also agree that if we want to prevent the growth of the black market, regulation to prevent harm is the solution, not the cause?
I welcome this review and the opportunity it presents to update our regulations in the gambling and gaming sector. I know from my time in the industry that some firms have gone above and beyond in developing tools to help to prevent and identify problem gambling. I hope that this review will be an opportunity to formalise and spread best practice. As the Minister said, over 100,000 people are employed in the sector, including nearly 4,000 in north Staffordshire, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent at my former employer, Bet365. Can my hon. Friend assure me, and them, that the review will look to strike a balance, acknowledging the enjoyment that millions of people from gambling in a responsible manner and how important it is that people are not driven to unlicensed operators where they would have neither basic consumer protection nor the regulatory supervision that we all want to see?
I understand that today there is perhaps a focus on some of the online gambling, but can I ask the Minister not to forget those communities, such as in Glasgow East, where digital exclusion is still a massive issue? In that vein, when are we going to confront the fact that many of these working-class communities where lottery ticket sales are higher do not actually see a lot of the funding follow through? In my experience, it tends to go to more middle class areas with professional fundraisers.
I welcome this review and also the Minister’s determination that it should be evidence-based, consistent and balanced, but can I join my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) in reminding him of the enormous contribution that betting companies make to horse-racing? It is to the tune of about £350 million a year, which is a very large amount to that sport, even in ordinary times. At the moment, like other sports, it is going through very difficult times, and without that contribution horse-racing would not survive.
Following my question in April, I welcome today’s news that the Government will extend the ban on under-18s gambling to the national lottery, but the Minister will be aware that the recent online ban on gambling with a credit card does not apply to the lottery. If a betting shop in Barnsley rightly does not accept gambling on a credit card, then why should it be allowed on the national lottery?
Given that the recent Public Accounts Committee report on gambling regulation declared that the Gambling Commission
“do not know what impact they are having on problem gambling, or what measures would demonstrate whether regulation is working”,
will the Minister use the opportunity of the review to assess whether the Gambling Commission itself is fit for purpose, or needs to be replaced by a new body to provide the real leadership needed on the issue of gambling regulation?
The Minister will be aware of some the work I do on social media, and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social media. One of the key areas where we are seeing huge increases in people taking up and partaking of gambling is through influencers. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) asked a question about the online harms Bill, so I would like to understand from the Minister what work he is doing now on tackling influencers who are able to target particularly children and young people and try to encourage them to gamble. That really does need to be addressed long before this review is concluded.
We know that too many people have a problematic relationship with gambling, which has a really bad effect on their wellbeing and mental health, even leading to suicidal thoughts and feelings. I welcome the recognition of that in the Minister’s statement. How will the review consider that issue in the next period?
It is estimated that 37 million people in the UK enjoy playing video games on a daily basis—this includes random content through loot boxes, which they use to enjoy their gameplay. Done right, free-to-play games with additional purchase elements can be a good model. So does the Minister agree with the Gambling Commission that where in-game items obtained via loot boxes are confined to those games and cannot be cashed out, they fall outside the Gambling Act 2005?
Every year, the gambling industry spends £1.5 billion on advertising to encourage us all to gamble more, which is 25 times more than we spend giving help to people with a problem with their gambling and 80 times more than it is required to give to the Gambling Commission, which is supposed to regulate it. The commission will never be able to regulate the industry properly when it relies for its funding on these tiny scraps that fall from the industry’s table. Will the Minister therefore agree to look seriously at having the Gambling Commission adequately and directly funded from the public purse, so that it is independent and, more importantly, can be seen to be independent of the industry it is attempting to regulate?
I am pleased to hear the Minister say that loot boxes fall within his remit of work at the moment, because they encourage people to spend more on in-game purchases than they otherwise would do if this were turned into a game of chance where there were no published odds. Will he also say something about social media targeted advertising by gambling companies? I am aware that social media companies are allowing online betting companies to target known problem gamblers with incentives to bet, which is completely unethical. It should be outside the rules and it should be part of the review.
Liberal Democrats welcome this review very much, as issues such as online gambling have needed to be addressed for some time. Given the impact of gambling and the damage it causes, and given that the work that needs to be done to rectify it stretches across a number of Departments, what consultations has the Minister had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Department of Health and Social Care and other Ministries about the review?
I thank the Minister for his statement about the review of the gambling industry, and I put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her leadership on the all-party group. Time is of the essence, so will the Minister assure the House that reform will happen quickly? Will reform happen outside the formal review, for example on loot boxes and the video games that others have referred to? Could such reforms be implemented with a faster time frame?
I fully welcome this review, which will surely protect my constituents in Redcar and Cleveland from gambling harm in the long term. However, the Minister will know—we have had a number of conversations about this—about the issues regarding the horse-race betting levy, and the urgent need for reform to support racecourses such as the one in Redcar. Will he update the House on any steps he has taken to fix that situation, so that Redcar can keep on racing?
I broadly welcome today’s announcement, but given this Government’s unforgivable delay to the online harms Bill, many questions are left unanswered. It is vital that young people are protected in their online space, so what considerations have the Government made to include age verification requirements for gambling providers as part of the online harms agenda? When will the Bill finally be brought to Parliament?
I am clear that online harms are increasing risks to our children, and I note that families have spent much of the past nine months in lockdown. As a parent, I am worried by addiction to games such as Fortnite, when our children could be outside playing. Will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department will consider an outright ban on gambling incentives such as loot boxes, as well as better educating parents, carers and teachers about the dangers of online gaming?
The bookies form a key part of our high streets and provide a supervised environment for responsible gambling. In contrast, the online gambling space is like the wild west. We have heard so much about black market operators that have caused extraordinary levels of harm, so it is right the Government are looking at this issue. However, that will only be effective alongside good online harms legislation, which we have been promised for three years now. When will we see it?
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s statement as a vital step in bringing up to date the provisions of the Gambling Act 2005, but may I ask him for some reassurance about how any test of balance will be weighted so that prevention of harm can rightly take centre stage, while we ensure at the same time that the millions of people who gamble responsibly are not in some way stigmatised, and, as others have said, that activities are not driven underground?
Last year, the vice president of EA described loot boxes as “ethical”, “fun” and akin to buying “Kinder eggs”. However, research has linked some loot boxes with problem gambling in older adolescents, so we clearly need to take action. I hear what the Minister is saying about the call for evidence just finishing and that that is part of a separate review, but how will that review feed into this wider review of the Gambling Act overall?
I warmly welcome this review and today’s announcement. As the Minister has said, the way that people gamble in 2020 is completely different from how the majority of gambling took place when the Gambling Act was passed in 2005. Does the Minister agree that, in line with these changes, the Government should be considering boosting the powers and resources of the Gambling Commission to ensure that it can keep pace with the licence sector and tackle the black market?
I thank the Minister for his statement and welcome the review. However, it is believed that, in the UK alone, members of the armed forces are eight times more likely to develop gambling addictions, especially if they have experienced past traumatic events. Given this distressing statistic, will the Minister confirm whether he has had any discussions with Defence Ministers about measures to prevent the spread of problem gambling among our armed forces personnel?
I fully appreciate that the focus of this review will be on the technological advances in recent years, but I still have major concerns about the number of gaming centres and venues for gambling in Peterborough, particularly in the Millfield area of my city, and the subsequent risk of gambling-related harm to some of the most vulnerable local people. I welcome this review, but will my hon. Friend consider giving local councils such as Peterborough City Council further powers to close problem high street gambling venues and restrict the number of venues in any one particular area?
I very much welcome this review. As the statement has exposed, a huge breadth of issues need to be considered. Will the Minister say something about the extent to which the amount of gambling that now takes place online creates opportunities to gain much better information about who is gambling and for ensuring that issues that are raised by the review are targeted at those who are problem gamblers? Will he ensure that that information is more widely available?
In my experience, in the past the gambling industry has been able to exert a great deal of influence over the Minister’s Department. I welcome his commitment to an evidence-based review, but if the review is to be effective, it will need access to data from the industry and to up-to-date research. Will he commit to ensuring that this wealthy industry pays for fully independent research to be carried out, which we are all going to need if we are going to carry out this review effectively?
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. Clearly, having consumer protection at the heart of any new regulation is key, so will he describe what sort of action my constituents in Dudley North can take if they believe that an operator is in breach of social responsibility requirements?
If I may, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to take my first opportunity in the Chamber to pay tribute to one of my predecessors, Maria Fyfe, who served in this place as Member for Glasgow Maryhill between 1987 and 2001 and who sadly passed away on Friday. She was hugely respected during her time in this House and in the constituency, and our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and comrades at this time.
One of Maria Fyfe’s enduring legacies is the Community Central Hall on Maryhill Road, which is an incredibly important focal point, providing a wide range of services for local residents. Over the years—many years—it has benefited from lottery funding. What steps will the Minister take to ensure, especially in these difficult times and in the context of the announcement that he has made today, that such organisations are able to continue to get the funding they need, whether through the lottery or perhaps other, more sustainable sources?
May I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and the Minister, Nigel Huddleston, for their kind words about the late Maria Fyfe? She was a popular Member, who was well respected in all parts of the House and remained active in her local party after leaving this place. She will be missed by her family and all who knew her in Parliament and beyond. One of the best features of this place is how hon. Members appreciate and acknowledge the qualities and achievements of their predecessors, irrespective and regardless of party.
I hope the review will recognise the important role that high street gambling venues play in employing local people, and the Minister will recognise that it would be rather strange if the review had the damaging impact of moving gamblers from the relatively safe, supervised gambling premises on the high streets into the unregulated, unsupervised online world. I hope the review will look to bolster gambling on the high street, rather than on the internet.
We all know that the gambling industry got it very wrong on the campaign on fixed-odds betting terminals. Does the Minister agree that this review is an opportunity for the British gambling industry to get it right and produce an outcome that maximises the fun for people who want to gamble, but minimises the harm? We all know that prohibition does not work; what we need is effective reform.
Thank you for battling to the end of the call list, Mr Deputy Speaker; I appreciate it. I warmly welcome this statement. A few months ago, I met Furness Gamblers Anonymous, which does incredible work to support those who suffer most from addiction. I welcome the fact that such organisations will be able to feed into this review—that is right and proper—but what consideration has my hon. Friend given to the fact that many of those who have the most powerful stories might want to feed in anonymously?
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue, and to speak in this debate alongside so many expert Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who secured it. When I first entered the House in 2010, my football club, the champions Liverpool, were experiencing turbulence with their ownership, and my hon. Friend gave me expert advice. I was a new and, probably, naïve Member, but I have always listened to everything he says about football, particularly on the subject under discussion, not least because he, as my predecessor as the shadow sports Minister, wrote all of our policies in 2015, and they remain our policies. There is no better person in this House—[Interruption.] It would have been nice if we had won an election, but that is another story.
It would have been good, as the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) said, if action had been taken on some of the policies when the cross-party coalition was formed all those years ago, but that did not happen. As the years have gone by, there has been no improvement in the regulation of football, despite that very clear cross-party coalition, which is represented in this debate. I think that we are now on the same page.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham also mentioned the importance of regulation in the women’s game and in disability and LGBT+ football, and I think that has cross-party support, too. We are on the same page now. All parties are calling for it and every manifesto in the December election mentioned it. Labour and Conservative Members are as one in wanting it to happen.
I will briefly summarise the arguments made by colleagues across the House, but before doing so I want to flag to the Minister the very important question the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) asked about the return of supporters to stadiums. This is a crucial moment for football supporters, for clubs and, indeed, for players, most of whom I think are desperate to have fans back in stadiums. We all understand the public health situation. I want to flag to the Minister—he will be thrilled to hear this—that I have sent him a letter with a number of questions. He cannot answer them now because he has not seen the letter, but I am sure we will discuss the issue in the coming days, as it is a very high priority.
We cannot talk about this subject without discussing the serious, detrimental impact that the covid-19 pandemic has had on football. Nobody looking at the current situation would conclude that we do not have a crisis on our hands. I repeat the point made by Members across the Chamber that football is not a business like any other. There are some in our country who still want to think that it is a business like any other, but they are not to be found here today and I do not think they would be found anywhere in the House of Commons. If we look at what has happened during the pandemic, we know that that is not the case. Football has a public purpose. We have seen that in the commitment that football and its community trusts have shown in their dedication to their local communities.
I think it was the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) who said that if a football club goes bust, it is not like any other shop. People do not just go and support another one. It is part of an individual’s identity—part of who they are. So many people in the country know that.
I have seen the vital work that football clubs do in my own borough of Wirral. All our grassroots clubs are amazing. They are led by our very own Tranmere Rovers, which is phenomenal. It was up and running with a food delivery service before anyone else had got their boots on, when we were all worried about people who were sheltering. I take great pride in all the work that it does and I know that everybody in the Wirral feels the same, but we are not alone. Everybody in our political world and our community would acknowledge the role that football clubs play in building that sense of identity and community spirit, and we have to make sure that these vital community hubs survive the crisis.
The other thing that covid has done to our national game is to reveal, if we did not know it already, the deep financial problems at the heart of the game’s structure. It has exposed the vacuum of constructive leadership across the game. We need to sort that out in the public interest, for the fans that the game serves. They deserve it. They put a lot of time and effort into supporting football and they deserve action from us.
I am worried that if we do not get on with that task quickly, the process will be kicked into the long grass and that would not be to the benefit of fans. The covid pandemic makes the fan-led review more urgent, not less. There is no point coming up with a temporary fix solution and then for all of us to be back here—no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham will be bringing another debate—next year and the year after that and in five years’ time, and still be saying, “We have a problem at the heart of the finance and the governance of the national game.” Now is the right time to bring this forward and I would like to see the Government prioritise it now.
Hon. Members have mentioned all the clubs that have seen challenges. I know that you, Ms Fovargue, will no doubt be full of anxiety for the future of Wigan Athletic. It is an important and historic footballing institution in our region in the north-west of England. That situation has really made the case.
Other Members have talked about Bury. I visited Bury in December, for reasons that will be obvious. I was struck then at the absolute devastation at the idea of football not returning to Gigg Lane. There is, of course, the other side to the Bury story—AFC Bury—which shows how capable football fans are, given the chance.
We are now in a situation where clubs are losing between £30,000 to £100,000 per game on gate revenue in the lower leagues. As the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe pointed out, they owe some £77 million in unpaid taxes, so the Government absolutely have skin in the game and need to sort this out. It has been reported that nearly 10 clubs are in danger of not being able to pay their staff on an ongoing basis.
We need a radical overhaul. Only a fan-led review can do it with the right people at its heart. I really think that the fans are capable of doing such a review and should be given a leading role.
The other reason why the fans and the public need a leading role is that if we think that this situation will be sorted out from within football, we would be engaging in a collective fantasy. It is not going to happen, partly for the reason that was discussed in response to the hon. Member for Bury North, who is no longer in his place. He said that the EFL or whoever the regulator is needs to sort it out, but as the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe pointed out, most football is run by the owners of the clubs, many of whom are not unrelated to the problem that we are trying to deal with.
This is not a unique situation. Football is not the only industry in our country we have ever had that has had such structural problems. In 2008, many people said that the problems within the banks were very complicated, which they were, that our banking sector is part of a global industry, which it is, and that it would be very challenging for the UK to deal with the re-regulation of the banking industry—but we did it. We took global institutions that had lost track of their local community purpose, and we put new regulations in place to make them much more stable. The question is this: for football, who is the Bank of England, and what is the counter-cyclical buffer that we need to require of clubs to stabilise them? Honestly, I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of the UK Government to do that.
This pandemic has profoundly shocked all aspects of our country—football as much as any other part—and we will all be judged on how we facilitate and encourage recovery. We have said that Members have been at this for a decade. For nearly 10 years we have been unable to resolve it. Finally, we are all on the same page and have the real possibility of absolute cross-party agreement. I believe it is incumbent upon us to just get on with it.
There are plans developed and written, not least by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which has done an excellent job of work. We just need to pick them up and run with them. We need political will for that, and I believe that between us the Minister and I could show that political will. In such debates, it is customary for the shadow Minister to give the Minister a long list of detailed questions. I do not have a long list of questions about this; I have just one. Conservative MPs promised the electorate a fan-led review of football in their 2019 manifesto. Where is it?
Although I welcome the announcement on tiers 1 and 2, areas such as mine are anticipating going into tier 3, with further easements planned for household bubbles over Christmas. Will the Minister ensure that football can come home for Christmas, and make sure that the good, long-standing tradition of a Boxing Day derby can continue?
I think we are all pleased to hear the Government say that there are conditions under which fans can come back, but does the Minister agree that it could be unfair for clubs that do not have their fans in the background to compete against those that do, particularly when those clubs are in a very distressed financial position? What financial compensation will be available to clubs that may play most of the season without any fans in their grounds at all?
In the review that the Minister talks about, where does the strategic review that has been announced by the Premier League sit? It said that it is going to be drafted by its executive and voted on by the 20 member clubs. Has the Minister seen the terms of reference for that review, and does it cut across these discussions?