Nigel Huddleston debates involving the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

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)

Spring 2021 Covid-19 Road Map

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Monday 22nd March 2021

(4 weeks, 1 day ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab) [V]
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for bringing this debate on a range of important subjects that cross multiple Government Departments. I really appreciated the way he eloquently articulated the concerns of the petitioners, as well as those of his constituents. Each petition has been signed by at least 100,000 people—some by many more—which speaks volumes about the importance of these industries and sectors to people right across the country, and it is therefore an honour to respond.

These petitions have been grouped but, as I said, they cover multiple Government Departments. Although I am representing DCMS here today, I assure hon. Members that Ministers and officials in other Departments are listening too. It is also worth noting at the outset that, since these petitions were initiated, the Prime Minister has announced a road map that will lead us out of the current lockdown in England—subject, of course, to the latest data and scientific advice. I mention that because the road map is relevant to each of these petitions. It seeks to balance our key social and economic priorities while preserving the health and safety of the country. It gives us a prudent and pragmatic pathway out of national restrictions, and it also supersedes the tier system to which some of the petitions debated this evening refer. May I also say that I appreciate the tone of today’s debate? I think that our constituents appreciate it when we take the party politics out of things. There is a great deal of agreement across parties on the issues raised, and I think we all share similar goals in these matters.

The first petition calls for the repeal of the Coronavirus Act 2020. It is no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the lives of everyone in the UK. The Act, passed in March 2020, is vital because it provides the legislative framework for managing the pandemic. It also introduced emergency powers to support individuals and businesses and enabled critical public services to function during the pandemic. For example, the Act successfully removed unnecessary barriers to allow suitably experienced people, such as recently retired NHS staff and social workers, to rejoin the workforce during the pandemic. It also provided financial support to individuals and businesses, and it enabled essential public services to function.

The Government made a commitment that powers will be in place only as long as is necessary and proportionate for managing the current pandemic. Where measures have been put in place, they are often subject to additional checks and balances, such as sunset clauses or fixed review points. Petitioners will be interested to know that debates will take place in both Houses of Parliament this week, on 25 March, on the non-devolved aspects of the Coronavirus Act, and votes will be taken on their renewal.

I turn now to the second e-petition, which calls for all nurseries and early years settings to be shut during lockdown. It was with great reluctance that we restricted attendance at early years settings during the first national lockdown in March last year. However, the restrictions put in place as part of the most recent national lockdown enable us to continue to prioritise keeping nurseries and childminders open, supporting parents and delivering the crucial care and education needed for our children. Early years settings have therefore been open to all children since 1 June 2020, and there is no evidence that the early years sector has contributed to a significant rise in virus cases within the community. Current evidence suggests that pre-school children are less susceptible to infection and unlikely to be playing a driving role in transmission.

The petition specifically raises concerns about the risk to nursery and early years staff. The Department for Education has worked extremely closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, and with Public Health England, to develop guidance, including a system of controls, for early years settings to follow. This aims to create an environment for children and staff where the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced.

The guidance includes, for example, enhanced cleaning, regular hand-washing, staff wearing face coverings in communal areas, minimising mixing within settings, and the isolation of the close contacts of positive cases. Rapid testing is also a key part of the controls, and all years staff can now access lateral flow home testing. We continue to listen carefully to the latest scientific and medical advice, and we keep our guidance under review to make sure the right controls are in place.

I turn to the three remaining petitions, which dominated today’s debate and are more relevant to my role as sport Minister. The first calls for golf to be allowed under appropriate safety measures, the second calls for gyms to reopen now and the third calls for a work out to help out scheme.

The importance of sport and physical activity to the nation’s physical and mental health has never been more apparent. That was mentioned in the speeches given today by the hon. Members for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), by my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (Greg Smith) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore), and by all the Opposition spokespeople, so everybody recognises it.

Sport and physical activity are a powerful defence against the covid-19 pandemic, and that has been reflected in the Government’s approach in each of the lockdowns, with the importance of regular exercise being recognised and highlighted. Grassroots sport has been prioritised in the Prime Minister’s road map above the return of every other part of the economy, as was recognised by my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham and for Keighley. Our national life is going to come back stronger and healthier as a result of this focus.

The road map introduces a step approach to the return of outdoor and indoor sports areas across England, including the reopening of golf courses, gyms and exercise studios. Most immediately, and subject to the latest data, sport returns from 29 March, which is when outdoor sports facilities can reopen. That will broaden the options for outdoor exercise and recreation for us all. I know that all who signed the petition to allow golf to reopen will be pleased to know that they can take to the greens and fairways again in England in a week’s time—including in four-balls.

The SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), spoke about the importance of sport in helping with our physical and mental health, and he mentioned the economic importance of sport, including golf. We had a similar debate recently in Westminster Hall, highlighting the hundreds of millions of pounds that sport brings into the economy. Golf tourism alone is worth well over £400 million, and I assure hon. Members that in my combined role as Minister for sport and tourism, I am very aware of that.

Formally organised outdoor sports for all ages can also restart from 29 March, including team sports, individual sports and organised sports participation events. These will not be subject to the gathering limits, but should be compliant with guidance issued by national governing bodies. We appreciate the work that national governing bodies have conducted over the last year to create that guidance, while working very closely with Government.

Step 2 will commence no earlier than 12 April, when we will see the reopening of some sections of our indoor economy, including gyms and fitness centres for individual use. Exercise classes will be able to resume as part of step 3 of the road map, no earlier than 17 May. Unfortunately, we cannot open everything at once, although I hear the appeals of hon. Members who wish exercise classes to reopen as soon as possible. I believe this is a reasonable step forward. Of course, the intention of all in Government is to try and get as much open as possible as soon as possible, but in a safe way.

On that note, I would also like to express my appreciation for and applaud the work done by the gyms and leisure sector, as mentioned by many hon. Members today. The sector has put considerable time, effort and expense into making sure that facilities are safe, and that is hugely important in building members’ confidence as well as showing that it wishes to protect staff. I welcome the return, in a secure manner, of the many hundreds of thousands of people who are absolutely passionate about going back to their gyms. I cannot wish to compete with the hon. Member for Ilford South in his bench pressing, but I think we all share his passion to see gyms open again as soon as possible.

I understand why so many have supported the petition to introduce a work out to help out scheme—in a similar vein to the Chancellor’s eat out to help out scheme, which was launched last summer—to support the fitness and leisure sectors through this time. People are, understandably, very keen to do their bit to help struggling gyms and fitness centres, as well as keeping fit themselves. I understand the sentiments behind the proposal, but the Government have provided support in other ways, including through tax reliefs, cash grants, employee wage support and loans, to ensure that these facilities survive and can open again as part of step 2 of the road map.

Hon. Members have suggested other measures, and we have had conversations with ukactive and others about whether the current VAT cut for tourism and hospitality could be extended to the leisure sector. I could never make commitments or promises on behalf of the Treasury, as you well know, Mr Mundell, but I can say that conversations are taking place. Such things are, of course, always subject to Treasury decisions. This is a challenging area, but I hear the appeals made today by hon. Members, ukactive and others, as I am sure do the Treasury.

The Government have provided more than £100 million to support 266 local authority leisure centres, and Sport England has provided more than £220 million to community sports clubs to promote them and ensure that these facilities can open. The Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who I have a great deal of respect for, raised several questions about priority. We have seen throughout the last few weeks the Government’s emphasis on sport and physical activity. I assure her that that is a focus of mine, too, as would be expected of a sport Minister.

The hon. Member was right to mention the work of Sport England, the arm’s length body for grassroots sport, which promotes sport and activity levels across the country. Sport England plays a pivotal role in the Government’s sport and activity strategy, and it will continue to do so. It has articulated its 10-year plan, which we completely support, and the Government will be articulating their strategy. Today, for example, I spoke to a Minister in the Department for Education about the importance of sport and physical activity at school. We will also be refreshing the school sport and activity action plan. There will be lots of work and focus from Government, across Departments, as we continue to focus on the importance of physical and mental health and the benefits of sport and physical activity.

I am delighted that sport and recreation are at the forefront of hon. Members’ minds as we begin to open up our society and economy after the devastation and destruction of coronavirus, which has impacted all our lives. The pandemic has also been an opportunity to reflect on the sort of country that we want to build in the future—the sort of Britain that we wish to rebuild. As sport Minister, I will work hard to make us as healthy and fit a nation as possible so that we come back stronger than ever. I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the Chamber to achieve just that.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher [V]
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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.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions 313310, 557167, 563904, 566718 and 567492, relating to the Government’s Spring 2021 Covid-19 roadmap.

Oral Answers to Questions

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to support the return of elite sport as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (913596)

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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The continuation of elite sport was an early priority for the Government during the pandemic. Behind-closed-doors matches have enabled vital broadcast revenue to continue to flow into elite sport, as well as to bring joy to millions of fans at a time when it is sorely needed. Travel exemptions have allowed international elite sports competitions to continue safely during the pandemic. We also provided a £300 million winter sport survival package, giving lifelines to sports organisations impacted by restrictions on spectators. Of course, a further £300 million was announced recently by the Chancellor to continue this support to elite sports while restrictions remain in place.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is a worthy champion of football, and in particular of Burnley FC. In fact, I do not think I have ever had a conversation with him without the words “Burnley FC” featuring very strongly, so I am sure his constituents are very grateful for that. I know he shares my view that sport is not the same without fans in stadiums. Officials from the Department will have heard his offer. He will understand I cannot give him a guarantee today, but I do appreciate his lobbying today.

It is of course vital that we again get fans back in stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so. The events research programme will be used to provide key scientific data as to how small and large events could be permitted to reopen safely in line with the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown. Government Departments are working very closely together on a range of options to support commercially viable ways to reopen businesses and leisure venues, and further details will be released in due course.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to support the reopening of the culture and entertainment industries as covid-19 restrictions are eased. (913598)

Draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust order 2021

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Tuesday 16th March 2021

(1 month ago)

General Committees

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Michael Tomlinson Portrait The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Michael Tomlinson)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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I thank you, Sir Christopher, and my colleague from the Front Bench for helping out at the start of the sitting. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

The order is required so that the Government may continue to provide funding for the Churches Conservation Trust. The trust takes into its care some of the most magnificent examples of our churches that are no longer required for regular worship. All these churches are listed; they are mostly grade I and grade II*, and some are also scheduled ancient monuments. Historic places of worship are a valuable and vital part of the nation’s heritage. About 45% of all grade I listed buildings are Church of England churches or cathedrals. They are some of the finest examples of our historic buildings and showcase the most accomplished design and workmanship.

The Churches Conservation Trust currently cares for more than 350 churches in towns, villages and cities across England. They range from small hidden treasures to grand Victorian buildings. The churches that the trust has saved are some of the finest examples of architecture and craftsmanship, spanning over 1,000 years of our history. The trust keeps these buildings open to the public and does not charge an entry fee, believing that historic churches are buildings that belong to everybody and to their local communities.

The Churches Conservation Trust is a charity and was established by ecclesiastical legislation in 1969 as the Redundant Churches Fund, aimed at protecting an essential part of our heritage. It demonstrates a successful partnership between the Church, Government and community. In 2019-20, the Government made up 31% of the trust’s overall funding; the figure was down from 35% in 2017-18. The CCT raised the rest of its income from other sources.

The trust’s recent strategy has been to invest in staff to create an infrastructure to support local communities to use and love their historic church buildings. This infrastructure provides community support, learning, fundraising, conservation and maintenance expertise, and major project support, as well as funding.

The trust has increasingly made use of its statutory grant to raise new income from other sources, such as donations, legacies and grant-giving foundations. Among its many initiatives, champing—church camping, Sir Christopher; that was a new one on me as well—is a scheme offering overnight stays in historic places of worship. This is extremely popular. The scheme began in 2015 and has continued to thrive, even in the 2020 season, as there is now greater emphasis on UK breaks. Champing is a successful social distancing holiday option. It has so far proved to be a good income stream and will be again, I am sure, when restrictions allow.

Filming has also been an important contributor to the diversification of the CCT’s income streams. It offers another creative route to supporting and conserving the estate. In the last year, the organisation has facilitated film and TV productions from the BBC, Sky, HBO and Netflix across its sites. While the country continues to recover from the impact of covid-19, there remains the potential to attract more film and TV production to the CCT estate.

Over the last three years, the trust has earned an income of about £1.4 million from consultancy, champing and the maintenance business. The trust’s people are award-winning experts in conservation when it comes to regenerating historic churches for new uses. The organisation has an international reputation for innovation in the field of historic church buildings. Consultancy work is a positive income stream for the trust, working on projects with dioceses, churches and community groups, as well as a new maintenance business initiative.

The impact of covid-19 has meant that the Churches Conservation Trust has been unable to open its buildings at the very time of year when most of its activity takes place. Therefore, in common with many other parts of the sector, the trust has experienced a considerable loss of income throughout the lockdowns. Although the trust has been able to manage pared-down, basic care of its buildings, we need to ensure that it can continue to thrive and to protect them. During the pandemic, membership of the trust has grown, predominantly through the Thursday lunchtime lecture series, which has attracted more than 200,000 viewers to date. It has also created an online community of interest in the work of the CCT.

Sadly, the trust has been affected in other ways during the pandemic. An illegal rave, for example, took place in All Saints’ in East Horndon in Essex, causing damage to the grade II* listed 15th-century church. However, after a public appeal was made to raise £2,000 to clean and repair the damage, the community far and wide raised an incredible £22,000, which is testimony to the support the trust has from the wider public.

The trust has saved nine additional churches of exceptional merit for the nation since 2016, with more in the pipeline. The trust’s primary objective and the greatest call on its funds is the conservation of its churches, particularly upon initial vesting when buildings may have been out of use for a number of years. I am pleased to say that the trust has an excellent reputation for quality in its conservation work. In 2015, the CCT won one of the European Heritage Awards/Europa Nostra Awards in recognition of its role in protecting the architectural significance of historic places of worship and their essential function as centres of community life. The work, and also the expense, does not end there.

With an estate of more than 350 buildings serving their communities, there is a rolling programme of repairs and new facilities across the estate. Between 2019 and 2020, 1.74 million people visited a Churches Conservation Trust church. The trust’s churches are run by 1,800 volunteers and I offer my sincere thanks to those people without whom the churches could not hold such diverse events. The trust has shown that it is excellent at partnership working and at the forefront of saving buildings by looking well beyond the traditional heritage solutions. I am aware, also, that the trust is lending its expertise in the development and delivery of workshops on caring for historic places of worship as part of the £1.8 million Taylor pilot scheme, set up and funded by the Government to help build a sustainable future for listed places of worship. I take this opportunity to thank the trust for that support.

I am extremely fortunate to have three Churches Conservation Trust churches in my constituency: All Saints’ Church in Spetchley, St Michael’s Church in Churchill and St Lawrence’s Church in Evesham. That means I have more than my fair share of CCT churches. These historic buildings remind us of communities of old. They anchor us to our history in a way that we should never take for granted and, indeed, which other countries rightly envy. To close, I hope the Committee shares my enthusiasm for the work of the trust and the key role that it plays in preserving and promoting a vital aspect of our nation’s heritage, and that it will consent to approve the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2021, as the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), proposed.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op)
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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.

Andrew Selous Portrait The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Andrew Selous)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank all hon. Members for their contributions and their positive words about the work of the trust. In particular, I thank the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). We go back quite a long way, to an election in Luton South back in the general election in 2010, which I can assure hon. Members is an experience I will never forget. I thank him in particular for his role as Second Church Estates Commissioner, a role which he fulfils incredibly gracefully and effectively. I thank him for all the work that he does.

I also thank my opposite number, the hon. Member for Leeds North West. We share a great deal of passion for all things culture and heritage. I take the comments he made on board very seriously. He probably does recognise and acknowledge that we are trying to do what we can to support the heritage sector. In recent difficult times, the culture recovery fund has been hugely beneficial and much needed for the sector. I mentioned the Taylor review in my speech as well; he also mentioned several other issues, including the importance of skills, as indeed did my hon. Friend the Second Church Estates Commissioner. It is important that we do not just save the buildings, but also the jobs and the skills that go with them—skills that we could all too easily lose if we do not focus on that.

The hon. Member for Leeds North West also asked how effectively the money is spent. I assure him that I and my officials hold regular meetings with the CCT, both independently and jointly with the Church Commissioners who fund the CCT, to discuss its strategy, the maintenance of buildings, new acquisitions and so on. In addition, the CCT presents its annual report and accounts to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, where they are examined before being laid each year before the House. The Secretary of State also holds the CCT to account through a funding agreement, which sets out his priorities, along with the indicators that are used to measure the performance. We have mechanisms in place that ensure that the money is spent effectively, but with consensus and agreement.

I extend my grateful thanks to the trustees under the leadership of Peter Ainsworth, to the staff and to the many volunteers who ensure that the churches are open and welcoming. I have highlighted some of the programmes put in place by the Churches Conservation Trust to generate independent income from philanthropic endeavours and appropriate commercial use of buildings. We fully support those endeavours, which increase the use of the buildings in a way that anchors them even more firmly in the local communities that love them and use them. They increase access, increase use and reduce their dependence on public funds. That is the future for how these historic buildings will continue to thrive: through the commitment and dedication of the people involved and the communities that love and use them.

Question put and agreed to.

Concussion in Sport

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Thursday 11th March 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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I thank the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for securing this important debate. I know—he has just illustrated this—how deeply he is concerned about the welfare of sportspeople and this issue. I greatly appreciate the care and commitment he has shown in regard to concussion and brain injury in the sporting sector and beyond over many, many years. He has spoken eloquently yet again today, showing great empathy and emotion. I have indeed interacted with many people he has interacted with over a much longer period than I have, and the stories I hear are absolutely heart-rending.

The fact that this debate is taking place is testament to the hon. Gentleman’s energy in chairing the all- party parliamentary group for acquired brain injury. The subject is getting increasing attention across the House and beyond, and I genuinely give him and the APPG credit for highlighting it.

Sports national governing bodies are rightly responsible for the regulation of their sports, and for ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to protect participants from serious injuries. We look to individual sports to take primary responsibility for the safety of their participants, but the hon. Gentleman is right to point out that it must go beyond that, and that the Government have a responsibility too.

I am pleased to acknowledge that positive progress has been made in recent years on this issue, and I am sure it will continue to be made. The Rugby Football Union has been researching head injury in the UK for the last 20 years. Its extensive Headcase education programme, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, has helped increase understanding of concussion prevention and management. The British Horseracing Authority has also made extensive efforts to improve its concussion management protocols.

In football, although there is clearly more to do, I welcome the Football Association’s introduction of two concussion substitutes per FA cup match earlier this year. I am also glad to see that the Premier League started trailing the use of concussion substitutes last month, as the hon. Gentleman also highlighted—we should have shared a speech. Indeed, England is one of only five out of more than 200 countries to trial the new International Football Association Board concussion protocols. I am hopeful that far more countries will follow our lead. We can be proud that we are leading, but there are clearly many more countries to follow.

The FA also issued guidelines last year to help prevent children aged 11 and under from being taught to head footballs during training in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is not just national governing bodies contributing to improvements in player safety. Last November, the Professional Footballers’ Association announced that it would set up a dedicated taskforce to investigate further the issue of brain injury diseases in football, and two independently led research studies supported by the FA are currently examining former professional players for early signs of deteriorating cognitive function. Those are demonstrably good steps across sports, but there is clearly more to do. That will be a familiar theme.

Concussions are notoriously difficult to identify. It is important to note that about 10%—but only about 10%—of reported concussions involve a loss of consciousness, so they are not always readily apparent and the player’s injuries may be far more serious than they appear at the time. Player safety is the No. 1 concern for sport. Much more work is needed to ensure that robust measures are in place to reduce risk and improve the diagnosis and management of sport-related concussion at all levels of sport.

That is why the Secretary of State and I hosted two roundtables on concussion in sport last month. I am grateful to the current and former sportspeople who attended the first roundtable. There were many heartfelt contributions to the discussion, which gave valuable insight into the experience of those who have suffered the consequences of brain injury directly or via loved ones. Attendees acknowledged that sports were now taking concussion far more seriously and players were now more likely to admit to being concussed, but there are still concerns about culture, promoting safety for children, differences between the amateur and professional levels and levels of education among players, whether that is advanced education or education and awareness on the pitch when an injury happens and, indeed, all the way to A&E and so on. There are many areas to investigate.

The second roundtable we had involved mainly national governing bodies and academics who focus on this area. The Secretary of State and I wanted to further understand what work is under way, what research is being undertaken and what more can be done. Chief executives and medical officers from various contact sports attended, along with academics. We also had in attendance representatives from the Department for Education and NHS England, and I am grateful again for those contributions.

We are in the early stages of these discussions, and it is clear that the Government have an important convening role to play here, and perhaps more. Collaboration on best practice, research and concussion protocols must be a priority for sports governing bodies, because one of the things that struck me is that while a lot of work is being done and a lot of research is being undertaken, I was not necessarily convinced there was a lot of sharing of that information and research. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, collaboration is key to moving forward here. We must also ensure that players are not in a position to overrule doctors on medical issues.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of my anxieties is that some sports are nervous about sharing because they think that there are legal cases coming, and they do not want to reveal their hand. We need to create a space in which they can do that with safe harbour.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment. He may well be right. Of course, as soon as we get into the area of litigation, I am not really able to say much more. But on the principle of encouraging the sharing of information and data wherever possible, he is absolutely right, and we will look at what role we can play in encouraging that. That is a really important point.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the fact that there is lots of research on men but very little on women. We brought that up in the roundtable. We were proactively saying, “Do you have any research? Is there anything more on women?” I think there was a recognition that there is far more work to be done there, but, of course, women suffer injuries as much as men do. In fact, the physiology is perhaps not as well understood, and I therefore appeal to all stakeholders to particularly focus on that area.

We are currently reflecting on the ways that we can move forward on the issues raised in these discussions, and we plan further work and further discussions. The hon. Gentleman is right to sound slightly frustrated—there are lots of discussions, but we do intend to act. I do not know what the conclusions of the work we are doing will be, but I do want to see action. I do not want this to just be a talking shop and ongoing discussions. I also welcome, as he did, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry, which I hope will add valuable evidence to this debate.

I know that sports want to make progress in this area. It is in their best interests to improve safety for players and, indeed, everybody involved in sport as much as possible. As I said, we want tangible actions. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the further work that is happening across Government on the issue of brain injury. I was delighted to attend a meeting convened by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Minister for Care. We will continue that work across Government, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be involved. I invite ongoing discussions with him; in fact, I am due to meet him and the APPG shortly.

Last week I met a non-governmental organisation, Podium Analytics, which is starting to carry out more important research in this area, particularly focused on under-18s, alongside work and collaboration with the Department for Education. That is important, and that work will continue. Collaboration between sports, player associations, NGOs and others is clearly important, and we want to ensure that it continues and progresses.

The importance of sport has come even more into focus in the last year. We want to redouble our efforts to ensure that progress is made, and I am determined to play my part. I firmly believe that we need to continue to work together in driving forward research and continuing to improve player safety and welfare at all levels of sport. Everyone involved has a love for their sport, and good work has already been done, but there is more to do. We will do everything we can to ensure that all reasonable steps are being taken on safety and to protect British sport from concerns both now and in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Wednesday 10th March 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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It is a pleasure to respond on the Government’s behalf to this important debate, which comes at the end of a hugely challenging year for all the sectors mentioned today.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) for securing the debate, and pay tribute to him and the members of the Select Committee, from all parties, for conducting the review that forms the basis of the debate and provides such informed evidence and recommendations. I appreciate, even if I do not completely agree with, the comments made by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), with whom I spent many years on the Select Committee. I have many fond memories of that, and I absolutely understand the passion Committee members have for these sectors, which is shared across the House. We have seen that today.

The passion shown today is a demonstration of how important the digital, culture, media and sports sectors are, not just for our economy and our heritage, but for our wellbeing as a nation. At a time of incredible hardship for many, so often a book, music, a sports game or a TV programme has provided some welcome respite from the destruction and disruption caused by the pandemic. We have heard passionate speeches today from hon. Members on both sides of the House highlighting what we already know: that as well as making a huge economic contribution, DCMS sectors enrich our lives and make them more fulfilling. In many ways, they make life worth living, and we should never forget that.

Many Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Clacton (Giles Watling) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter), have highlighted the vast contribution DCMS sectors make to the economy, with £116 billion from the creative industries, £75 billion from tourism and £151 billion from digital, and the millions of jobs sustained by those sectors. Before I discuss the sector-specific support, I will touch on the pan-economic and multi-sector schemes that have illustrated the Government’s resolve to do whatever it takes to see organisations and businesses through the pandemic.

As many hon. Members have highlighted, the Chancellor, in his Budget speech last week, announced the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of September, which is hugely welcomed across our DCMS sectors and will help to not only secure jobs but enable planning and reopening. Our sectors have many self-employed people and freelancers, as many hon. Members have mentioned today. I am keenly aware of the financial need in which many have found themselves. The Chancellor extended the self-employment income support scheme, and an additional 600,000 people can now access this support, on top of the 67% of the self-employed who have already received assistance. More than 70,000 freelancers in the arts and entertainment sector have received money via this scheme. In addition, Arts Council England has awarded £51 million to thousands of individuals needing support.

Let me turn to other measures. There is obviously the new recovery loan scheme to replace the existing schemes, and the Budget included an enhanced support package for leisure and hospitality businesses that must remain closed until step 3, with restart grants worth up to £18,000 per premises. The Chancellor also announced that the business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England has been extended by an additional three months, and the Government have extended the temporary 5% reduced rate of VAT on hospitality and tourism. This VAT cut alone is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be worth about £4.7 billion for hospitality, tourism and visitor attractions.

Many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), and many others, have mentioned tourism. The tourism sector has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. It has therefore, quite rightly, particularly benefited from the pan-economy measures such as the furlough scheme and loan scheme, as well as being targeted for grant support, business rates relief, VAT reduction and so on—and justifiably so, as tourism is a major UK industry.

Inbound tourism is one of our biggest export earners, contributing over £75 billion in GVA to the economy and sustaining millions of jobs. Over the last year, we estimate that over £25 billion has been spent on supporting tourism, hospitality and leisure through a combination of grants, loans and tax breaks. This level of investment demonstrates the huge value that these sectors provide—not only to our economy, but to our quality of life.

As Tourism Minister, I am keenly aware just how much people are looking forward to taking a holiday and visiting some of our world-class and world-famous visitor attractions—including myself. By “including myself”, I mean that I look forward to visiting the attractions, rather than that I am a world-class visitor attraction, as much as I would appreciate that! In the spring, we will go further by publishing a tourism recovery plan that sets out our ambitious vision for the sector. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire, and we will work with colleagues across the House.

In have spoken about the £65 billion of measures announced on top of the £353 billion announced last week. Let me now focus on some sector-specific measures. Many hon. Members have mentioned the culture recovery fund, and I appreciate that many Opposition Members have welcomed that. Over £1 billion of culture recovery fund money has already been allocated to over 3,800 arts, heritage and cultural organisations up and down the country, helping to support 75,000 jobs. That is important.

We have heard a little bit of a tone today that it is all about protecting buildings; far from it. The money is being spent to sustain jobs and to help, in many areas, quite niche skills that are otherwise in danger of disappearing. My hon. Friends the Members for Clacton, for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) and others have highlighted this. For example, £170 million has been awarded to over 690 music organisations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South mentioned, more than 200 independent cinemas have received money, from Penrith to Penzance. Many museums have also received money.

Although the exact scope for the CRF extension is yet to be announced, as with the original fund, the money will go to heritage and cultural organisations that require support to transition back to operating fully. It is absolutely the intention that entities that perhaps have not received money so far should and could be eligible for further CRF money.

Many hon. Members have mentioned film and TV. As a result of Government support—most notably, the £500 million film and tv restart scheme—this sector has bounced back, with a production spend this quarter of £2.8 billion, which is the second highest on record. The Chancellor announced an extension of this scheme to 31 December 2021.

Many hon. Members also mentioned visiting a museum, watching a play, listening to live music and, indeed, going to a live event, which we are all looking forward to doing again. With regard to the events industry, including the music events industry, we are in regular dialogue with the sector and all stakeholders. We are looking to resume these events as part of step 4 of the road map. As set out in the road map, the events research programme will explore when and how music festivals and other events can return without social distancing and restrictive capacity capped. Subject to the outcome of that work, and other reviews, we hope to set out how festivals and other large events can safely go ahead with appropriate mitigations in place. I know that this is a particular passion of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and many others.

A related issue was then raised by many hon. Members about insurance. We are very aware of the concerns that have been raised about the challenges of securing indemnity cover for live events, and my officials have been working closely with the affected sectors to understand all barriers to reopening, including, of course, challenges around indemnity cover and insurance. The bar for considering Government intervention is extremely high, especially in the light of other support measures, including the extension of the furlough scheme and other business support. None the less, I certainly hear what hon. Members are saying today and so do others.

Sport was mentioned by many hon. Members, including, as always, my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (James Daly), for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins). We know that sport and physical activity are crucial to our mental and physical health. That is why we have continued to make sure that people can exercise throughout the national restrictions and that grassroots and children’s sport are absolutely at the front of the queue when easing begins later this month. As well as ensuring that restrictions allow for people to take regular exercise, central to our efforts to help sport has been the £300 million sports winter survival package, which was extended in an additional announcement just last week. That is on top of £220 million funding provided by Sport England, which, again, has been widely distributed.

Hon. Members mentioned many more topics today, but I am afraid that time does not permit me to answer all of them, much as I would love to. None the less, I really appreciate the volume and variety of comments today. Broadband was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Chris Loder), for Eddisbury and others. I can assure Members of this House that they are, indeed, doughty campaigners for their constituents who constantly lobby not only the knight in shining armour, as I think the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) was called, but many others. The Government want to become a world leader in connectivity and increase the UK’s productivity and competitiveness by doing so. We have set ambitious targets for gigabit-capable broadband, and, of course, we will continue with other measures.

Superfast broadband coverage has already reached 97%—one of the highest numbers in Europe. By the end of 2021, we expect that more than half the country will be connected to gigabit-capable networks. By 2025, the Government are targeting a minimum of 85% gigabit-capable coverage, but will seek to accelerate that further and get as close to 100% as possible.

Touring was mentioned by many colleagues. It is important to say that British artists can still tour and perform in the EU, but we pushed for more ambitious arrangements for artists to be able to work across Europe. Our proposals would have allowed artists to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily without needing work permits, but these were developed in consultation with the UK’s creative industries and were rejected by the EU. We are now working urgently across Government and in collaboration with the creative industries, including through a new working group, to help address these issues so that touring in Europe can resume as soon as possible.

In conclusion, I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that I cannot wait to have our theatres, our sports, our events, our festivals—quite frankly, life as we knew it—back; as soon as possible. As the Chancellor told the House last week, the Government stand ready to do whatever it takes to help the country and our economy to recover from the disruption of coronavirus.

The Select Committee’s report was a welcome and constructive contribution to that debate. Indeed, this debate has also been extremely constructive. We will continue to use the data and information provided by stakeholders and many of us to shape our approach to providing assistance to the hugely important DCMS sectors and to help them plan for reopening as soon as it is safe to do so, which, thankfully, will be very soon.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight [V]
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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).

Oral Answers to Questions

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Thursday 4th February 2021

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con)
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What progress his Department has made on delivering support for the culture and heritage sector through the culture recovery fund. (911823)

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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Over £1 billion-worth of funding from the culture recovery fund has already been allocated across all four nations of the UK. The funding is supporting over 3,000 arts and heritage organisations in England alone and more than 75,000 jobs.

Giles Watling Portrait Giles Watling [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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First, I thank my hon. Friend for banging the table so well for the culture sector over so many years. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture has previously said, the door always remains open should our European friends wish to reconsider our mutually beneficial proposals, which would have allowed UK touring professionals to tour more easily, but they rejected them. In the meantime, where visas apply, our agreement with the EU contains measures designed to make the necessary processes as smooth as possible. A working group has been set up by the Secretary of State to look at any obstacles that might face British performers seeking to tour. We will continue to seek to co-operate with our European friends on this important issue.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend for his deep interest in the heritage and cultural sector, which we have talked about on many occasions. He is absolutely right that the culture recovery fund has been a lifeline for heritage and cultural organisations. These grants are intended to help organisations with essential costs associated with operating, reopening, mothballing and recovery. I can assure him that the culture recovery fund money is awarded by our arm’s length bodies according to a strict set of criteria, and the funding goes to organisations in need of serious financial support, not for ideological projects. In addition, any grant award above £1 million is reviewed by the independent Culture Recovery Board to add additional assurance that funding is going where it is most needed.

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Latham [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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May I first take the opportunity to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday?

The Government have supported self-employed persons in the performing arts sector through a number of pan-economic schemes, including the self-employment income support scheme. According to the latest statistics, over two thirds of self-employed people have been eligible for this scheme. Tens of thousands have been eligible within the culture sector, and they have claimed during its first, second and third phases. In addition, Arts Council England has given over £47 million in awards to individuals through non-CRF funds in this financial year alone, and that is on top of the 75,000 jobs being sustained through the CRF directly.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Have a good day, Pauline, and enjoy the rest of your birthday.

Jack Lopresti Portrait Jack Lopresti [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I was very pleased that the excellent aerospace museum in my hon. Friend’s constituency received money from the culture recovery fund in the first round. It is a wonderful showcase of world-class British engineering, and I can confirm that organisations in receipt of grant funding from the first round of the CRF were eligible to apply to the second round. I am sure that the Aerospace Bristol museum will get a fair hearing as he requests, but it is important to say that all decisions on CRF grants are made by our independent arm’s length bodies, which are committed to a transparent and robust decision-making process.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab) [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Lady. To clarify, I said that over two thirds of people who are self-employed in the country have been eligible for self-employment income support. Within the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, more than 60,000 people applied for and have received SEIS funding in phase 3. Some 76,000 did so in phase 1, and 72,000 did so in phase 2. As I said, Arts Council England has given additional support to the tune of £47 million of awards to individuals through non-CRF funds already.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con) [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I take the opportunity to recognise what a champion he is for our country’s cultural and creative industries. Some £400 million of CRF funding was held back from the first round of funding as a contingency to support cultural organisations later on in the pandemic. That now forms the basis of the second round of grant funding, which is currently being processed. I can assure him that we will continue to work with organisations to support flexibility in their plans, should the wider context change following awards being made. We have already extended the time period over which some of the original funds can be spent, and we are always in conversations with the Chancellor and the Treasury.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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What progress his Department has made in preparing for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games. (911815)

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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We remain on track to deliver a fantastic games on time and on budget. It will bring lasting benefits for Birmingham, the west midlands and the whole country. The west midlands region will benefit from a £778 million investment to stage the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham, including £594 million of funding from central Government. Along with our partners, we continue to work hard to deliver the games in what are obviously very challenging circumstances.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Birmingham 2022 will be largest sporting event ever held in the west midlands, delivering a wealth of excellent opportunities, including £350 million in procurement opportunities for local businesses, world-class sporting facilities, a comprehensive volunteering programme and a vibrant cultural programme. The organising committee has created a dedicated business portal called “FinditinBirmingham”, where any business can register to be informed about procurement opportunities. To date, more than 40 opportunities worth around £250 million have been listed on the portal. In addition, our excellent, top-calibre West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has championed a £24 million business and tourism programme to help maximise the considerable long-term opportunities for the games.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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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

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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What steps his Department has taken to support local leisure centres during the covid-19 outbreak. (911819)

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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Sport and physical activity are incredibly important for our physical and mental health and are a vital weapon against corona- virus. The Government recognise the integral role local leisure centres play in providing vital facilities within their communities, and last year the Government announced a £100 million national leisure recovery fund to support public sector leisure centres to reopen. Applications to the scheme have now closed, but I am pleased to say that over 99% of local authorities that were eligible for the scheme have applied, and funding decisions are currently being made and will be announced shortly.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the pivotal role played by Dalton community leisure centre, and indeed leisure centres up and down the country, in sustaining physical and mental health in their communities. That is precisely why we announced the fund. I cannot pre-empt the award that my hon. Friend will be getting locally at this moment in time, but of course we know it will make a real impact for the reasons he articulated. Also, as we have said before, reopening sports facilities overall will be an absolute priority when the time comes to begin easing some of the current restrictions.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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16. What recent steps he has taken to tackle the digital divide. (911821)

Cultural Centres and Sporting Facilities: North West Durham

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Monday 1st February 2021

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.”

Another said:

“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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for securing the debate. Sport and physical activity are more important than ever as we continue to fight against covid-19. I appreciate the passion with which he advocates for the provision of sport and leisure facilities in his constituency and, indeed, the broader issues that he raises about cultural investment in his constituency.

My hon. Friend’s constituents are lucky to have him championing their cause. We have spoken many times about the issues and, indeed, the opportunities within the remit of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in his constituency—from sport, to heritage, culture, tourism and, indeed, gambling. I would be delighted to take him up on his offer to visit his part of the world in the near future and see at first hand some of the entities, institutions and people he proudly mentioned.

As hon. Members will be aware, on 4 January the Prime Minister announced the third national lockdown and asked people to stay at home to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives. As a result, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including swimming pools and leisure centres, have unfortunately had to close. Sport and physical activity are crucial to our mental and physical health. They are a powerful defence against the covid-19 pandemic, and we will need to raise levels of fitness among the population as we prepare to return to our normal lives, now that the vaccination programme has begun. Our local authority leisure and sports facilities will play a key role in enhancing our national health.

My hon. Friend focused particularly on the provision of swimming facilities. Of course, swimming is a wonderful way to exercise and a popular choice for many people to be active, including of course in County Durham. In Parliament, we are fortunate to have a very active all-party parliamentary group on swimming, which I have had the pleasure to meet on several occasions since the pandemic began. Swimming has a wide variety of benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving health and wellbeing, building endurance and muscle strength, and improving cardiovascular fitness.

Furthermore, we all know that learning to swim saves lives, which differentiates it from many other sports, important as they are. Saving lives is a really important part of why swimming is so important. That is why swimming pools were one of the first sports facilities to be reopened following the initial lockdown, and were able to stay open in local tiers 1 to 3. The report “The Importance of Pools Post-lockdown”, published by Swim England back in May last year, highlighted how a 25-metre pool on its own can generate about £7 million of social value in the community and save the NHS and social care systems more than £1.2 million.

It is therefore no surprise that my hon. Friend is advocating for a swimming pool in his constituency. Before the lockdown, around 14 million adults in England went swimming each year, with more than 1 million children learning to swim outside of school through Swim England’s “Learn to Swim” programme, so it is a pleasure to hear him champion swimming in his constituency and, I understand, express disappointment in the current levels of provision there.

Support for sports facilities in north-west Durham has been taken up with Sport England directly. It is the arm’s length body with responsibility for activity levels and sport for DCMS, and I know that it would welcome further discussions with the council and my hon. Friend to develop a more robust assessment of the area’s strategic leisure needs. This will not be a standing start: since 2016, Sport England has invested over £425,000 of lottery and Exchequer funding in the North West Durham constituency, and since 1995, over £4 million. This includes £313,000 to Consett YMCA and over £80,000 to the Crook community leisure centre to support multi-sports facilities and to increase participation.

On the arts and culture side, which my hon. Friend also mentioned, through the £1.57 billion culture recovery fund there have been several awards to date in North West Durham—he mentioned some of them—totalling over £1 million in funding and including such entities as the Durham and Darlington music education hub, the Association for Cultural Enterprises, and the St Cuthbert’s Society. That funding goes directly, as he requested, rather than via the local authorities.

More broadly, to support the return of grassroots sports, including swimming pools, once restrictions can be reduced, the Government have provided unprecedented support for businesses through tax reliefs, cash grants, employee wage support and a whole variety of other measures. We developed a £100 million support fund for local authority leisure centres. This national leisure recovery fund seeks to support eligible public sector leisure centres to reopen to the public, giving the sport and physical activity sector the best chance of recovery to a position of sustainable operations over the medium term. A total of £100 million is available as a biddable fund to eligible local authorities in England, and it will be allocated in a single funding round. My officials are currently in the process of assessing bids for the fund, and funding decisions will be communicated shortly.

This is all on top of the funding that Sport England has provided, which has comprised over £220 million to directly support the sport and physical activity sector, with £35 million set aside as a community emergency fund for our very important sports clubs and exercise centres. On 26 January, Sport England published its 10-year strategy, “Uniting the Movement”, and it also committed an extra £50 million to help grassroots sports clubs and organisations affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government, both with direct grants and through their ALBs, are doing what they can to help local councils and institutions to sustain their sporting and cultural offerings. My hon. Friend makes a compelling case for his constituents to get their fair share—or fair cut of the cake, as he described it—of any local and central Government investment. I hope that his local council is listening to his pleas, because he seems to be expressing some frustrations with its resource allocation decisions of late—frustrations that some of his constituents apparently share.

In terms of sport provision, as Sports Minister, I hope that councils always endeavour to provide access to facilities for as many people in their area as possible. One of the key drivers of increasing activity levels is of course easy access to sport and leisure facilities, and we rely on councils for that. Indeed, I praise councils for prioritising leisure facility provision, but it is not just a matter of how much they spend on sport and leisure, but where they spend it. This is a debate to be had locally rather than for me to dictate here in the Chamber today. I hope that my hon. Friend can and will have constructive discussions with his local council. No doubt this will be a political issue in the upcoming local elections, where I am confident that the local Conservative team will have a particularly compelling manifesto for his constituents to consider.

The past year has been like no other, but I really appreciate the collaboration we have had with all DCMS stakeholders at national and local level. I am determined that the sports and cultural sectors emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and others in achieving just that.

Question put and agreed to.

Golf Tourism

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
- Hansard - - Excerpts

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”—

tourism—

“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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
- Hansard -

It is a pleasure to respond on the Government’s behalf to this debate on golf tourism, which fits neatly within my portfolio as the Minister for both sport and tourism, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on securing it. She spoke eloquently and with passion and knowledge about all dimensions of tourism and golf. She gave us a good history of golf, which I very much appreciated, and I particularly appreciated her highlighting the increasing importance of women’s golf and disability golf.

I make it clear from the outset that tourism and sport are devolved matters, meaning that the devolved Administrations are responsible for any targeted policy intervention in their respective nations, but, as the hon. Lady pointed out, a number of matters are also UK-wide, so I will talk broadly.

I will start by highlighting the valuable contribution of sport to the UK tourism sector before moving on to address the current pandemic’s impact on inbound tourism and the Government’s response. Turning to the second half of the debate, or perhaps I should say the back nine, I will summarise the Government’s work to help sports clubs through this period and reiterate our commitment to reopening golf courses and other sports facilities as soon as the broader health situation allows. That is absolutely our goal, which I know is shared by all hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The UK’s sporting calendar is recognised as one of our greatest tourism assets. In 2017, the last year for which we have detailed figures available, over 2 million visitors attended a live sporting event as part of their trip to the UK, accounting for 6% of all visits that year. In particular, 18,000 of these international visitors watched a live golf event during their stay, perhaps in the hon. Lady’s constituency, spending at least £30 million.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) will appreciate my saying that the Open championship, held in Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland in 2019, served as a major tourist draw, and he mentioned how important tourism and golf tourism are for Northern Ireland.

As well as attending prestigious events, international visitors also come here to get involved in the sporting action themselves. Over 350,000 inbound visitors played golf during a trip to the UK in 2017, spending about £418 million, which is an immense sum and hence the importance of this debate. Given the stunning scenery to be found right across the country, golf tourists are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing where to go for a round, although I am sure that many will have made the pilgrimage to St Andrews in the constituency of the hon. Member for North East Fife.

In England, the £45 million Discover England fund has helped businesses to tap into the lucrative golf tourism market. The Golf Tourism England project, in particular, helps businesses to create bookable itineraries aimed at international audiences, connecting visitors with destinations across the country.

Although I wish I could use this speech to point to an upward trend in golf tourism, we all know that the events of the past year have clearly overshadowed proceedings. Inbound tourism was one of the first industries to be hit by covid, with the effects on bookings and confidence felt even before we entered the first lockdown last March. The subsequent drop in international arrivals had a devastating impact on tourism businesses and suppliers—in this case, the tour operators, the coach drivers, the hotels and many other businesses that contribute to delivering the golf tourism experience, as the hon. Lady articulated.

The Government acted quickly to help businesses through lockdown with a comprehensive package of support, much of which the hon. Lady mentioned. When the sector reopened in July we took targeted fiscal action to aid the sector further, including cutting the rate of VAT on tourism and hospitality-related activities to 5% until the end of March this year.

Although summer may have gone well for some businesses with a domestic focus, many in this sector, particularly those highly dependent on international travel, continued to struggle and are still struggling. Last autumn, to help chart a path forward for these businesses, the Transport Secretary launched a global travel taskforce to consider what steps the Government could take to enable the safe and sustainable recovery of international travel.

In November, the taskforce published its report outlining 14 recommendations focused on ensuring clear public health measures, increasing demand safely and taking the lead on global standards. My Department, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, continues to work closely with the Department for Transport on progressing these recommendations, including the development of a tourism recovery plan, which we are currently working on, and, at the appropriate time, running a flagship overseas marketing campaign to promote the UK as an attractive and safe place to visit.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard -

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment. Of course, nobody wanted to close down golf courses. It is vital that we let people get out and exercise. The problem was that we would have had confusing messages. The fundamental clear message is to stay at home unless you have to leave for certain reasons or for a limited number of low-impact exercises, and there would have been confusing messages had we done anything else. As I say, the goal is to try to get golf and other sports open as soon as possible; that is absolutely the shared aim.

Before we can welcome back international visitors, we first need to help the tourism sector through the final stretch of the pandemic. At a UK-wide level, the Chancellor has implemented further support for businesses and individuals in the light of the winter’s heightened restrictions, including extending various Government-backed loans as well as extending the furlough and self-employed schemes. In England, the Chancellor has also announced one-off top-up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 per property, plus a further £594 million discretionary fund to support other impacted businesses. That builds on the £1.1 billion discretionary fund that local authorities in England have already received to help impacted businesses.

The guidance for these additional restrictions grants encourages local authorities to develop discretionary schemes to help those businesses that are perhaps not legally forced to close but are none the less severely impacted by the restrictions put in place to control the spread of covid. These could include, for example, businesses that supply the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors or businesses in the events sector. On this point, I have received a number of reports that some tourism-related businesses, which might not be ratepayers and are not explicitly mentioned in the guidance on these grant schemes, are being deemed ineligible by some local authorities. To be clear to those local authorities and those businesses, although the ultimate decision is at the local authority’s discretion, the fund can, and in my opinion certainly should, be used to provide grants to tour operators, coach operators, school travel companies, English language schools, event organisers and similar businesses, all of which serve as vital facilitators to the tourism industry even if they do not sell to consumers directly on a specific premise. I therefore encourage and expect local authorities to be sympathetic to applications from those businesses and others that have been impacted by covid-19 restrictions but are ineligible for the other grant schemes. We had a debate on a similar issue with funfairs and other sectors in Westminster Hall recently.

We also know that these remain incredibly challenging conditions for the golf clubs themselves. No Government would want to be in a position of needing to close sports facilities such as golf courses. Golf has great reach across society, as people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities can take part in the game. It brings people together to experience the outdoors and enjoy nature, and makes great contributions to mental health.

Golf courses were one of the first sports facilities to be reopened following the initial lockdown, and they were able to stay open in the local tiered restrictions, including and up to tier 4; however, the current spread of the virus risks the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed, which we cannot allow to happen. That is why the current national lockdown was introduced. I understand the frustrations of those who are desperate to get back on the course. As I said, we want to get them back on the courses as soon as possible and start lifting restrictions, and grassroots sports will be among the first to return.

To support the return of grassroots sport, including golf courses, the Government have supported businesses through unprecedented pan-economic measures, on top of the funding that Sport England has provided, which represents over £220 million in direct support for the sport and physical activity sector, with £35 million set aside as a community emergency fund. In addition, just yesterday Sport England published its strategy “Uniting the Movement”, as part of which it has committed an extra £50 million to help grassroots sports clubs and organisations affected by the pandemic. Further information on how to apply to those funds will be released shortly, and I am aware that similar funds are available in other parts of the country.

Golf tourism is a hugely valuable activity, which supports a whole chain of tourism businesses and jobs. We will continue to engage with tourism sector stakeholders as we look into how we can most effectively support the inbound sector through covid and beyond, and we hope to share our tourism recovery plan in due course. I would be delighted to have a meeting with the hon. Lady, as she requested, and I assure all hon. Members that the Government overall are listening and will continue to work with stakeholders on ideas further to support all strands of inbound tourism.

Question put and agreed to.

Domestic Tourism

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2021

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) on securing this debate. I know he works tirelessly on behalf of the tourism industry in Cornwall and, in his APPG role, of tourism right across the country, as well as of the broader hospitality sector, which was the subject of a debate here in Westminster Hall only yesterday, which he also participated in. I also thank other hon. Members who have contributed today; they are all consistent advocates for the tourism and hospitality industry, and I have had conversations with many of them previously.

Indeed, as my hon. Friend said, because of the advocacy for the sector in this place by the hon. Members who are present today and many more, the voice of the tourism sector has never been stronger in Parliament. That can only be a good thing, because today’s debate demonstrates the vital importance of the tourism industry to the UK economy and underlines just how strongly it is missed in these stretches of enforced covid closures.

I will start by echoing the contributions made by hon. Members about the economic contribution of the domestic tourism industry, and then talk in more general terms about what the Government are doing to support the sector. The tourism industry contributes well over £70 billion to the UK economy, and prior to this pandemic it employed 1.6 million people directly and more than 3 million—perhaps as many as 4 million—people indirectly.

In 2019, 41 million visitors travelled to the UK from overseas, creating many business opportunities and of course generating many jobs in every corner of the country in the process. And domestically, British residents took 99 million trips in England for leisure or business purposes, spending the best part of £20 billion. Indeed, buoyed by the positive momentum of previous years and Government interventions, including the tourism sector deal, the Discover England fund and other initiatives, we were looking forward to having a really booming domestic tourism industry as we entered 2020, but of course covid had different plans.

None the less, the Government acted quickly, straightaway from March last year onwards, and I appreciate the recognition of the Government interventions that has been expressed today. That action included introducing a variety of measures that particularly helped the sector; even though many of them were all-economy measures, they were particularly adopted by the tourism sector. They included the furlough scheme, the self-employed support scheme and a variety of loan schemes. Of course, on top of that there were the retail, hospitality and leisure grants, and the business rates holidays.

When the sector did open in July, we helped it further with a variety of initiatives, including tourism promotion campaigns and, of course, the VAT cut, as has been mentioned. And in the spirit of the “Enjoy Summer Safely” and the “Escape the Everyday” campaigns, I was delighted to be able to visit my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay in his constituency. In fact, I managed to get around all six constituencies in Cornwall, and I very much appreciated hearing from a number of local stakeholders and businesses who were very clear, honest and frank about what they needed; I always appreciate such communication from the sector. I visited some really iconic and truly global destinations, such as the Eden Project. Also, alongside all the marketing work, VisitBritain introduced a “We’re Good To Go” standard last year and over 41,000 businesses signed up for it, showcasing the hard work that venues put into reopening in a secure way.

However, although the summer may have gone well for some—I understand that particularly in the south-west there were good average daily rates and good occupancy rates—that was by no means consistent across the board. In particular, our city centres and other urban areas are still struggling with incredibly low occupancy rates.

So, covid forced us to adapt our approach in the late summer and autumn of last year, but unfortunately we had to introduce more restrictions later in the autumn. I know that those restrictions, which hampered domestic tourism considerably, have placed further strain on businesses.

However, the Government acted, and will continue to act, to help to mitigate those pressures. In response to November’s national lockdown and the local measures that were introduced at that time, the Chancellor provided further support for businesses and individuals, including extending various Government-backed loans, the furlough scheme and the self-employed scheme, and in particular the Government introduced new local restriction grants.

In light of the new national restrictions, last week the Chancellor announced one-off top-up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, which are worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring, plus a further £594 million discretionary fund to support other impacted businesses. My hon. Friend mentioned those entities, businesses and sub-sectors that have perhaps fallen through the cracks. I encourage all of them to apply for these discretionary funds. There was an existing discretionary grant fund, which has been topped up recently. I also encourage—indeed, I implore—local authorities to be particularly sympathetic to those sub-sectors within the hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors that hitherto have not been able to access such grants. Supporting them is precisely what these grants are for.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

Absolutely—I agree with my hon. Friend. As I say, the very clear message from myself and from this Chamber today to those local authorities is, “Please be very generous with those grants for those sectors that have not been able to access support.”

Of course, the details of the latest grant schemes will come out very shortly. There will be swathes of the hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors that will be clearly identified specifically for those grants; as I have said, they are for retail, hospitality and leisure. Large swathes should be covered. However, regarding those sectors and sub-sectors that are not covered already, I really hope that they will now be covered. I would like to see as many parts of the country covering those sectors as possible.

With the vaccination campaign under way, the Government will stand beside tourism through the pandemic’s finishing straight. Of course, we all know that now is the time to listen to the sector’s priorities for recovery, and to incorporate them into our thinking. I place on the record my deep thanks for the many stakeholders who have contributed, through the Tourism Industry Council and many others, and through their MPs, to help us develop the recovery plan for the sector.

In the short term, that means that we will allow businesses to reopen as soon as possible. We also want to ensure that where businesses are open, they can do so as profitably as possible, which also means stimulating consumer demand through marketing campaigns and removing pandemic-related barriers on travel as soon as it is safe to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay mentioned the important role of marketing both domestically and for inbound tourism, and that is exactly what we will be doing.

Further down the line, it is about making sure that we build back better. While we must first focus on assisting businesses through the immediate period, we have not lost sight of our long-term ambitions for the sector. We want to future-proof the tourism sector and are determined to play our part in developing a more sustainable, innovative and data-driven tourism industry. We will continue to engage with tourism stakeholders, including the all-important destination management organisations, which my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay Gentleman also mentioned; they play such an important role.

As we look forward to how we can effectively support the sector through covid and beyond, we will continue to develop the tourism recovery plan, which I mentioned, and we will be working across Government Departments in that. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay knows from yesterday’s debate that I work very closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), and the Department for Business, who oversee the pubs, bars and restaurants side of the hospitality sector. It is a good thing that we have multiple Ministers advocating this sector, it all helps in the discussions that we have with the Treasury, who, I am sure, are listening to today’s debate.

On that line, my hon. Friend the Member for and St Austell and Newquay and others have voiced certain requests, for which I certainly have a lot of sympathy. With the VAT proposals, of course, I understand the need there—we are in discussions with the Treasury, which has already extended the VAT scheme once. With the loan schemes, changes have already taken place. I think the fact that the loan schemes have changed once, and the fact that the VAT scheme has already been extended, show that the Treasury is listening, and that is why debates such as today’s are always so useful.

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Treasury is listening; we are in constant dialogue and I appreciate all the lobbying work that the sector is doing, putting forward strong evidence to argue the case as well, which is very much appreciated. The fact that the sector has been so open with providing information and data in realtime has really helped to inform the Government’s decision making over the last few months as we have been dealing with the covid crisis. In fact, they have been extremely open, often giving information that otherwise would perhaps be very confidential and sensitive, and we really appreciate that openness. It helps us to make realtime decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay also mentioned the importance of the longer-term programme for the issues of seasonality, the perennial issue of productivity and, indeed, concerns about the perception of the industry, which I know we all fight against. This industry is a fantastic sector. I have worked in it; he has worked in it for a long time. There are very fulfilling careers in this sector. We need to ensure that it is promoted and respected in the way that it should be.

I can assure hon. Members that the Government overall are listening. I believe the voice of the sector has never been louder and stronger, and I absolutely commit to continuing to work with all stakeholders and all colleagues to make sure that we further support our domestic tourism industry and put it on the pedestal that it deserves.

Question put and agreed to.

Squash: The Olympics

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2021

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I must first congratulate the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) on having secured this debate, and on the interesting speech she has made today, making the case for including squash as a future Olympic sport with great passion and conviction, and indeed a bit of humour and humility. I was relieved to hear her say that she would happily be my coach, rather than my competitor, at squash; it has been many years since I played squash, but perhaps that should be my new year’s resolution. I look forward to taking her up on that offer at some point.

One of the great joys of Westminster Hall debates is that they often allow us to find out a little bit more about the background of some of our colleagues, and it has been fascinating to hear about the hon. Lady’s background and to do some reading about her over the past few days. I am now aware of her great interest in squash and of the very valuable contribution that she has personally made to the sport, both as a top-class player and as a coach. I am also astounded that she excelled in other sports, including judo and marathon running.

As the hon. Lady is a previous recipient of Sport Wales’s female coach of the year award, I know how committed she is to sport in general and to squash in particular, and she deserves great praise for those efforts. As she said, squash is an exciting and dynamic sport that has a long and proud heritage in this country, having its origins, of course, in Harrow School. The national performance centre in Manchester is helping to build our world-class strength, with British women leading the way; there are currently three British women in the world’s top 20, which I am sure is also part of her legacy. Previous British world champions—such as Laura Massaro, Nick Matthew and others who she referred to—are indeed great role models, and of course the future inclusion of squash in the Olympics would be an excellent showcasing opportunity to help the sport to grow further.

However, it is right that the decision to add any new sport to the Olympic programme is a matter for the International Olympic Committee to consider. The hon. Lady outlined the process very well. It would not be appropriate for me or the British Government, or indeed any national Government, to become involved in that process, or to lobby for any particular sport to be included. But please do not interpret, or misinterpret, that comment as a lack of enthusiasm or interest. It is a statement of fact because, according to the Olympic charter, every national Olympic committee must be free from Government interference. Hence, it would not be appropriate or helpful for me to comment further on the inclusion process. As I say, please do not interpret that as a lack of enthusiasm; should squash be included in the Olympics, I would embrace that decision and be very happy indeed.

Of course, it is open to the relevant national governing body of a sport to make a case for its inclusion, as indeed it has, along with the appropriate world governing body. I understand that squash may be under consideration for Olympic games beyond Paris 2024, so we might see it in Los Angeles. Therefore, the appropriate bodies to lobby would be the British Olympic Association or the World Squash Federation. However, I know that they are in discussions about squash, as the hon. Lady outlined, and have been for many years. Many sports quite rightly aspire to being included in the Olympic programme; there is a strong incentive for them to be included. We are now just six months away from the rescheduled Tokyo games, which I am sure will be a wonderful spectacle for athletes and fans alike as we emerge from the pandemic.

Although competition in Tokyo will undoubtedly be extremely strong, I know that our athletes are ready to give it their all and make our country proud, so I can well understand why globally renowned sports such as squash would wish to be included in this wonderful festival of sport, reaching a global audience of billions and inspiring audiences at home and abroad.

Squash has embraced innovation in recent years, as the hon. Lady outlined in detail, to make it a more televisual sport and also to put it in the lead in terms of gender parity, along with many other racket sports, such as tennis. I am very proud to say that my daughter is a great and avid fan of squash as well.

I know that the forthcoming Commonwealth games in Birmingham in 2022 will provide a fantastic opportunity to showcase squash on the global stage for millions of people, because, of course, squash is included in the Commonwealth games and the Commonwealth games being held in the UK again in 2022 gives us a wonderful chance to promote the sport domestically, while showcasing once again the UK’s ability to host major international sporting events.

Increased participation is vital to the lifeblood of any sport, helping to feed the elite level and to build healthy grassroots. That is why the Government’s strategy, “Sporting Future”, puts increased participation at the heart of the long-term direction of sport in this country. The cross-departmental strategy focuses on using sport to improve and measure the physical and mental wellbeing of people, as well as individual, social, community and economic development. Although UK Sport does not currently fund squash, it supports the sport domestically and in the field of international relations—for example, in bidding for major events such as the world championships.

The home nations’ governing bodies continue to invest substantially in squash at a grassroots level to encourage participation and foster talent. Since the hon. Lady and I were first elected on the same day in 2015, Sport England has invested more than £8 million directly in English squash. I understand that other sporting bodies have as well. That significant funding contributes to a wider financial package that totals about £49 million, in which squash is cited as one of the benefiting activities.

The pandemic presents great challenges for sporting organisations at an elite and grassroots level, but with our vaccination programme ramping up, I am confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that sport will be able to return again very soon. There is certainly a strong case to be made for such an innovative and exciting sport as squash, as the hon. Lady outlined incredibly well in her speech. It could grace the world’s biggest sporting stages. As always, a great chance for Britain to win medals is welcome news for any Sports Minister. I am sure that my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), to whom the hon. Lady sent her best wishes, which I repeat, would agree.

Of course, there are right and proper procedures that must be followed to secure a global platform for squash at the Olympics, as we outlined. I encourage the hon. Lady to continue to lobby and highlight that case, as she has done so well today. Squash certainly has a strong case to make to the IOC should it so choose. More widely, I reassure her that the sport remains healthy in this country. I expect that health to continue to improve and to deliver not only world-class performance internationally, but more opportunities in this country to enjoy playing the wonderful sport.

Question put and agreed to.

Fairs and Showgrounds

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Thursday 17th December 2020

(4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to respond on behalf of the Government to this important debate, which comes at the end of a hugely challenging year for the fairground and showmen’s sector. I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this debate. I know he has spoken regularly on behalf of the sector throughout this period. I thank all Members from across the House for their contributions today and for their involvement in the APPG. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) called for more Members to join.

[Christina Rees in the Chair]

Many Members have sent me written questions and so on over the past few weeks, and I appreciate their doing so. The interest in the issue in this Chamber is a clear demonstration of how important fairs and showground events are both to the UK economy and to our cultural heritage. It is an indication of the importance of the community of showmen, their identity and their contribution to life in the UK. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East mentioned, their contribution, for example, to charities and to their local communities during this crisis has not gone without notice.

Although the tourism and cultural issues are generally devolved matters—the devolved Administrations are responsible for any targeted financial support in their respective nations—I am on good terms and consult frequently with my devolved counterparts. I meet them regularly and will continue to do so. We learn from each other.

Outdoor events, broadly defined, make a huge and valuable contribution to our tourism industry. According to the Events Industry Forum, they generate £30 billion a year and employ directly over 500,000 people in the UK, with people having made around 140 million visits to our outdoor events of all kinds in 2018. As was mentioned, and as the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain itself suggests, the fairground industry specifically generates more than £100 million in gross value added per year. That cannot be sniffed at.

The absence of such events for much of this year has shown how funfairs and showgrounds support many of our social celebrations, be they summer or winter festivals, or longstanding and much-loved local events, as was mentioned. The past nine months of the covid-19 pandemic have been an extreme challenge for all sectors and businesses. Showmen are no exception to that. We recognise the widespread impact that covid-19 has had not only on the successful operation of those businesses, but on the whole community and families who keep funfairs and fairgrounds going.

I would like to set out some of the support offered by the Government to date and then look to the future. In March, the first lockdown hit the visitor economy hard. It wiped out our usually bustling outdoor events calendar, marking a period of immense hardship for many events businesses and their families. However, the Government acted quickly to help businesses through that period with an unprecedented package of support, including self-employment schemes, as well as a variety of grants and loan schemes, as was acknowledged by colleagues today, although I recognise that not everyone in every sector is always eligible for all of them.

Where specific issues were identified, we acted by securing additional money to be spent by local authorities aimed at helping many tourism and events businesses, including some that were outside the business rates system. Although I know there have been points where eligibility has not been possible, showmen have seen some success in applying for bounce-back loans, small business rate grants, local council discretionary grants and the self-employment support scheme. As I said, I recognise that that financial assistance has often been offered to operators and that the nature of the sector means that there remains a significant financial impact on the wider showmen community across all sectors, which has not received all the support. I urge showmen and fairground operators to continue to apply for all the available support, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) pointed out. I encourage them to apply for those grants that are available.

Throughout the summer, when restrictions were gradually eased, we helped fairs to make the most of the season. We cut the VAT rate on tourism, hospitality and leisure-related activities, including admissions to fairs, from 20% to 5%. We launched a variety of campaigns to try to encourage people to be out and about, including the Enjoy Summer Safely and the Escape the Everyday campaigns. We worked with the sector to develop detailed guidelines to make outdoor events covid-secure. As many hon. Members mentioned, becoming covid-compliant to provide security to visitors and workers in this sector has not come without significant cost and effort; I recognise that. VisitBritain introduced the “We’re Good to Go” standard, which over 40,000 businesses have signed up for, including many funfairs.

As hon. Members know, covid-19 forced us to adapt our approach in the autumn and strengthen social restrictions once again. I know that these restrictions have placed further strain on fairs and showground operators. However, I want to point out the measures introduced by the Government to mitigate some of those pressures. In response to November’s national lockdown and ongoing local measures, the Chancellor implemented further support for businesses and individuals, including extending various Government-backed loans, extending the furlough and self-employment schemes and introducing new grants.

I want to draw attention to those grants, which may be relevant to several businesses—not all, I recognise—in the fairground and showground sector and its supply chains. First, businesses that were legally required to close due to the restrictions, as was the case for funfairs during November, can receive up to £3,000 for the month. Secondly, many eligible businesses in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sectors that were not required to close but suffered reduced demand could receive grants of up to £2,100. While the Government have set suggested criteria for the funding that states that we expect it to be

“targeted at hospitality and leisure businesses”,

local authorities will determine local needs for supporting the recovery, and they will determine exactly which businesses to support through the grants. However, I strongly encourage them to consider applications from the fair and showground sector sympathetically. That clear message, repeated by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, is the one we need to send today.

Finally, we have given local authorities £1.1 billion through the additional restrictions grants to help business more broadly. Again, they can determine how much funding to provide to businesses through the scheme and which businesses to target. Guidance for ARG funding again encourages local authorities to

“develop discretionary grant schemes to help those businesses which—while not legally forced to close—are nonetheless severely impacted by the restrictions put in place”.

That includes

“businesses which supply the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, or businesses in the events sector”.

While decisions are at the discretion of local authorities, I encourage them to make funding available to the fairs and showgrounds sector and I encourage showmen to apply for the funding—again, that has been the consistent message from the debate. We will continue to work with the Showmen’s Guild to understand covid’s impact on travelling showmen and closely monitor the fairground industry’s access to these grant schemes.

It is important to keep in mind that any further support will need to be considered in the wider context of existing support for the wider tourism and events industry and the effectiveness of measures already in place. Of course, with the exception of periods of national lockdown, funfairs and fairgrounds have been permitted to operate since July and, far from ignoring the fairground and outdoors events sector, we prioritised it for reopening. Local authorities are responsible for permitting events in their local areas.

The Government have set out a broad framework in which funfairs and fairgrounds can go ahead if they follow covid-secure guidance, adhere to all the legal requirements and put in place every mitigation to ensure that their events do not pose a public health risk. My Department has produced advice for local authorities encouraging them to work closely with event organisers on a case-by-case basis to permit events to go ahead safely. It is also important to stress that we recognise the important role of local authorities. Even if an event has taken place in the past, it is not necessarily appropriate for it to take place at the same location currently or in the future—there may be pinch points, for example. A directive from the Government saying that such events must go ahead would therefore be inappropriate, because we must recognise the local authority’s role in identifying the particular local circumstances. As I said, pinch points or other perfectly reasonable considerations may mean that events should not go ahead.

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

I notice that the Minister is coming to the end of his comments. He said he recognises that not everybody can get support, so the crux of the debate is: what will he do to ensure that those who cannot get support do get it?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I will come to a couple of points. As I have said, the most important thing is that discretionary grants are available and that local authorities should look at this sector sympathetically.

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

If that is the case, will he ensure that local authorities get more money? I know a lot of local authorities are running out of the money that the Government have already given them.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady will know that, for example, the discretionary grant fund is £1.1 billion, and it was specifically suggested that that money should go to events and locations and businesses that perhaps have not been paying business rates—particularly those who do not have a permanent location—and again specifically to the hospitality, leisure and events sector. That is clear guidance to local authorities. As I have said, other guidance is available.

The guild has shown that where entities have been able to apply for grants, they have had success. I do recognise that that is not across the board, but it is simply not true to say there has been no support. There has been significant support. I encourage all entities to apply and I encourage those disbursing the money, and those at local authority level in particular, to look sympathetically at those applications.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for his practical comments. I am happy to write again to MHCLG. The message is clear in the guidance. As far as I am concerned, those are exactly the kind of entities that should be receiving support and what the programme was designed for. I am happy to write again, but there is a record of where some have received the money. That in itself shows that they can and should be eligible.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I shall be coming on to that in a moment.

Where events have been permitted, there are numerous examples of safe, successful events going ahead, such as Blackheath’s August bank holiday funfair, the Tuckers fair at Birstall, near Leeds, the Charles Cole fair in Southampton and the Winter Festivals at Lakeside, Bluewater and Brent Cross. In my constituency, the local authorities have allowed fairs and other events, and have worked with organisers to ensure that those events are safe. I have seen a good relationship at first hand.

I therefore encourage and expect local authorities to allow fairs and other events to go ahead unless there are health risks that cannot be mitigated. I will repeat that, because this is a really important message: I encourage and expect local authorities to allow fairs and other events to go ahead unless there are health risks that cannot be mitigated. As well as providing vital income for showmen, such events have of course given local communities a much-needed sense of normality while putting in place appropriate mitigations to keep visitors safe.

With regard to the point that the hon. Member for Glasgow East made about local authorities cancelling 2021 fairs, we cannot guarantee what next year will hold, or exactly when covid restrictions will be lifted, but I share his belief that 2021 offers us all at least a glimmer of hope for a return to normality. Decisions about permitting local events are at the discretion of local authorities.

As set out in our guidance, I urge local authorities around the country to consider applications from outdoor event organisers on a case-by-case basis, according to the health situation in the area at the time, and not to issue blanket bans on future events without due regard for the safety measures that we know that such events can implement and put in place. My Department and the MHCLG will continue to engage with Public Health England, local authorities and fairgrounds themselves as part of the continuing reopening process.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of the red diesel duty. At Budget 2020, the Chancellor announced that the Government will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture, fishing, farming, rail and non-commercial heating, including domestic heating. The Government recognise that that will be a significant change. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Treasury, which had a consultation, as has been recognised. That consultation, I believe, has now closed and the Treasury will set out the next steps in due course once it has considered the responses to the consultation in detail. I am afraid I cannot say much more at this moment in time.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

We are always open to good and creative ideas. We can look at what our friends in Europe propose to see whether we can mirror or copy anything.

With regard to the culture recovery fund, as with any fund, there are always eligibility criteria and a restriction on it. One thing we have been trying to do—I repeat this—is to get fairs and the outdoor events sector open as soon as possible. In fact, we prioritised it. Therefore, they are able to be open, although I recognise—as we have all said today—that there are restrictions on that. The classification of what is eligible, particularly for the part of the cultural recovery fund overseen by Arts Council England, included certain sub-genres. For example, circuses are a sub-genre of theatres in the Arts Council England classification. They were included, as well as areas where there is more of a live entertainment element and more often seating than in other areas.

There was a set of criteria. Most entities that received money from the CRF were unable to open when other entities were, so there had to be a broad set of criteria and eligibility in place. I recognise that not every entity that would like to apply is eligible or able to do so, but as I said, financial support and schemes are available. Although not everybody is eligible, I encourage everybody in the sector to apply if they think they may be, rather than discount themselves by not applying.

We will continue to engage with the funfairs and outdoors events stakeholders as we look into how to support them most effectively as they recover, including through the development of a tourism recovery plan, which I and my Department are overseeing. We know that there is plenty of work ahead of us, both in terms of reopening and the overall recovery, and I am grateful for all the constructive ideas that hon. Members have put forward today. I assure hon. Members that the Government are listening, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders on ideas to further support the fairs and showground industry.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

indicated assent.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the future of fairs and showgrounds.

National Trust: 125th Anniversary

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.”

She continues:

“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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this Adjournment debate and on highlighting issues that touch on his constituency and the wider powers of the National Trust. The trust is celebrating its 125th anniversary, and he is right to note its achievements, as have others, including the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). Having visited my hon. Friend’s constituency earlier in the year, I know that his part of the world is, indeed, blessed with beautiful landscapes, fantastic scenery and an amazing coastline. It has more than its fair share of heritage sites, including a world heritage site, so I recognise his interest in the overall heritage agenda and the National Trust in particular.

Before turning to the specific matters raised by my hon. Friend, I would like to join him in acknowledging the tremendous work that the National Trust has done over the last 125 years. When it focuses on its core function, which is managing the collection of historic houses, gardens and landscapes for the pleasure and benefit of the public, the work of the National Trust is often unsurpassed and brings enjoyment to millions of visitors and members. I include myself in that number, as I am a proud National Trust member, and I have spent many weekends visiting attractions in and around my constituency and the country in my capacity as heritage Minister.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Indeed; the National Trust, like many heritage institutions, has a responsibility to explain, but also to not lecture. That is a difficult balance that some organisations are facing at this moment in time.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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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

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here longer than anybody else. He knows that the Minister has to finish responding to the first intervention before he can take a second.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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It is nice to see even the Father of the House making procedural errors; it gives us all a bit of confidence.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) knows, we had a debate about this issue in Westminster Hall not so long ago. I think it would be unfair to characterise the National Trust as being preoccupied by some of the matters that he mentioned. The trust knows that some of the issues that it has talked about are a matter of public debate, and it is very important that it listens to its members, to Members of Parliament and to our constituents’ concerns. When the National Trust focuses on its core role, it does an excellent job, but it is sensitive and aware that it has —unintentionally, perhaps—caused offence to Members of this House and our constituents with some of the comments that it has made recently.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The Father of the House is right that there is a diversity of opinions on this issue and others. As I said, I have had many conversations with the National Trust. Where it has caused offence—and it recognises that it has caused offence and upset—I genuinely believe that that has been unintentional. It focuses very much on its core role. On my hon. Friend’s other comments about responding to our hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, that will indeed be one of the requests later in my speech.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the National Trust endeavours to work with all stakeholders, who hold a variety of opinions, as we do in balancing the opinions of our constituents. I appreciate the comments that he made earlier praising the National Trust, as well as, quite fairly and reasonably, expressing concerns about its practices.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I would be happy to engage with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) after this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives set out his concerns about how the National Trust is run, so it might be helpful if I speak to its governance arrangements before coming on to some of the specific concerns he raised. The National Trust’s vision is to protect and care for places so that people and nature can thrive. To deliver this ambition, it is governed by a board of independent trustees chaired since 2014 by Tim Parker. The chair is supported by a team of trustees who bring expertise to the running of the trust and who are collectively responsible for everything that happens and for ensuring that the trust meets its statutory purpose. The trust is also a registered charity, regulated therefore by the Charity Commission, so the board has to ensure that its activities do not contravene its charitable purpose. The role of the Charity Commission is to ensure that charities further their charitable purposes for the public benefit, comply with their legal responsibilities and duties, and ensure that there is no misconduct or mismanagement.

Charities are independent entities, and provided that they act within the law and the terms of their governing documents, charity trustees have broad discretion to further the charity’s purpose in a way that they consider most appropriate. If they do so, the Charity Commission has no reason to intervene. Where charities are making decisions that impact on local communities, they must, as a matter of good practice, engage with those communities and listen to their concerns and the strength of local feeling to ensure that they are properly informed before making their decision. That area is, as we have heard, potentially an area of weakness for the trust, and it must consider the comments made today.

I set out these governance arrangements to emphasise the point that the National Trust is an independent body. It is independent of the Government. It does not receive any ongoing public funding for its work, and its activities are overseen by the board and the Charity Commission as regulator. This means that while I can debate with my hon. Friend where the trust can do better, I cannot direct or order such change. He suggests that an ombudsman might be better placed to oversee the trust. Ultimately, that is not for me to decide, but I can say that the issues he raises have been brought to the attention of the Charity Commission, which is considering them carefully. It will need to determine whether the trustees have acted in line with their legal duties and responsibilities. He will know that the Charity Commission itself is answerable to Parliament and can be called on to give evidence on its work before, for example, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

With regard to some of the specific issues raised by my hon. Friend, he expressed concerns about mismanagement, poor decision making and a lack of responsiveness by the National Trust in Cornwall, including its oversight of the world heritage site known as the Tin Coast, which includes the historic Levant mine. He says that some of his constituents have waited for as long as two and a half years for a decision on an issue. This is very troubling given the custodian role of the National Trust—the role it plays in many of our communities up and down the country. The National Trust owns significant amounts of land and properties in and around his constituency, and trying to find an appropriate balance of the needs of local residents, businesses, the economy and the maintenance of the historic environment can be fraught with difficulty. However, I agree that a good balance must be struck between those competing pressures, and that this balance must be established in conjunction with the local community.

My hon. Friend spoke about covenants, or conservation covenants as they are often known, and asked whether there could be an independent regulator to mediate disputes over these. Covenants have a long-standing history over hundreds of years of English common law, and it will be no surprise to him if I suggest that wholesale reform, if it is indeed needed, is perhaps a debate for another day. But in general terms, when a landowner wants to make changes on their land—for example, to construct a new building or to change the purpose of their land—they may need to ask for consent from the covenant holder. Obtaining this consent is separate from any planning, listed building or scheduled ancient monument consent that may also be required. The National Trust holds an astounding 1,760 covenants across 36,000 hectares of land, and many of these arose as a result of approaches by landowners offering covenants so that should their family dispose of the property at any time in the future, they would have the comfort of knowing that the trust would be able to protect certain aspects that they held dear about the land or property in question. They therefore play an important role in aiding the trust in its duties to conserve.

However, as my hon. Friend set out, covenants also give the trust a high degree of control over changes on covenanted land, and it is sometimes the case that the wishes of the occupants conflict with how the trust views its responsibility of conservation, as covenant holder. With this control and authority over land come different responsibilities, additional to conservation, such as listening to different views, understanding local concerns and explaining the decisions the trust makes, especially when these are complex and difficult.

It would not be appropriate for me to adjudicate or judge the merits of the case that my hon. Friend has described. The Charity Commission is the most appropriate and expert body in this regard and I do not want to pre-empt any decision it has yet to arrive at. However, allegations that the National Trust is not explaining its decisions or taking into account a wide spread of views are, unfortunately, familiar things that will resonate with many Members of this House—we have heard that this evening—as will the concern that correspondence is sent but replies are not always forthcoming, or, at least, not in a timely manner.

This way of working does not build the confidence of Members, who are rightly trying to represent their constituents, as is my hon. Friend. The trust must understand that, given the power it holds, it has a significant responsibility to work with local communities while conserving the land it is entrusted with. I assure him that I will raise that responsibility directly with the director general of the National Trust. But in the interest of balance, I should also point out, as have other Members, that I also hear of circumstances and occasions where the National Trust has very positive experiences with Members.

I know that the National Trust executive team will be alarmed and concerned to hear that they are not seen to be as responsive as they could be to some MPs and their constituents. But it is important to remember, on its 125th anniversary, that, overall, the National Trust is a conservation and heritage success story that we can all be proud of. In 125 years, it has grown from being a project pioneered by three visionaries who owned one building in Suffolk to being the largest member-based heritage organisation in Europe. We should celebrate that success, without ignoring where the trust needs to do better. It has the responsibility to listen and to explain its decisions to its tenants and neighbours. My hon. Friend has made his arguments powerfully and I am sure the trust will be paying close attention. I, too, look forward to hearing its response to his concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Gambling and Lotteries

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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Mr Speaker, I hope you will accept my apologies for any offence caused by some of the information already being out there. I can assure you that the full details and the call for evidence document are only just now being released and made available on the gov.uk website, precisely to coincide with this statement, but I understand and accept what you said.

The Gambling Act has been the basis of virtually all gambling regulation in the UK since 2005, but a huge amount has changed since then. The internet and the prevalence of smartphones have transformed the way we work, play, shop and gamble. We can now gamble anywhere at any time. It is time to take stock of the significant changes of the last 15 years and to pull our legal and regulatory framework into the digital age, so today, we are launching the first part of our comprehensive review of the Gambling Act. It will be a wide-ranging and evidence-led look at the industry, and it will consider the many issues that have been raised by parliamentarians and many other stakeholders. We want to listen, gather the evidence and think deeply about what we need for the next decade and beyond.

Nearly half the adult population gambles each month and, for the majority of people, gambling is a fun and carefree leisure activity. It is also a sector that supports 100,000 jobs and pays nearly £3 billion a year in taxes. However, we know that, in some cases, gambling can cause significant damage to people’s lives, including mental health problems, relationship breakdown, debt and, in extreme cases, suicide. We must ensure that our regulatory and legislative framework delivers on a core aim of the 2005 Act: the protection of children and vulnerable people in a fair, open and crime-free gambling economy.

This review will seek to strike a careful balance between giving individuals the freedom to choose how they spend their own money, while protecting vulnerable people and their families from gambling-related harm. We will look at whether we should introduce new protections on online products and consumer accounts, including stake and prize limits, and how we can ensure that children and young people are protected. We will also consider gambling advertising, including sports sponsorship, while taking into account the extremely difficult financial situation that many sports organisations and broadcasters find themselves in as a result of covid. We will look at redress arrangements for consumers where, for example, an operator has failed to step in to help a problem gambler. We will consider barriers to effective research on the causes and impact of problem gambling, and we will consider whether the Gambling Commission is keeping pace with the licensed sector and can effectively deal with unlicensed operators. We will also ensure that we have a fair playing field for online and offline gambling.

Many of those areas were highlighted in a thought-provoking report by the House of Lords Select Committee. That report and others have helped to inform our thinking and our desire to ensure that the review is wide in scope, and we are publishing our response to the Lords report alongside the review. I also know that Members across the House have seen evidence from their constituents about the harm that gambling can do to individuals and their families. We want to hear from the people whose lives have been affected by gambling, as well as from academics and the gambling industry, so that we have the evidence to deliver real and lasting change. We are therefore starting the review with a call for evidence, which will run for 16 weeks and is now available on the gov.uk website.

While this review is an opportunity to consider changes for the future, we are also taking action now to protect people from gambling harm. The Gambling Commission will continue to build on recent progress to strengthen protections as the industry regulator. Our ban on gambling with credit cards came into force in April, and new tighter rules on VIP schemes were implemented at the end of October. Further work is also in progress on the design of online slot games, as well as on how operators identify and intervene to protect customers who may be at risk, including through affordability checks. We have also just closed a call for evidence on loot boxes, and the Department of Health and Social Care will keep working to improve and expand treatment for problem gambling.

A key priority is ensuring that we have the right protections for children and young people and, again, that cannot wait. To that end, we are also today publishing a response to the consultation on the minimum age to play national lottery games. Since its launch in 1994, the national lottery has been a tremendous success, raising more than £42 billion for good causes. Since 1994, its games portfolio has evolved significantly, while consumers have shifted towards online play and instant win games such as scratchcards. While evidence shows that most 16 and 17-year-olds do not experience gambling-related harm from playing the national lottery, some recent studies point to a possible correlation between national lottery play at 16 and 17 and problem gambling in later life. Moreover, few other countries allow 16 and 17-year-olds to purchase their national lottery products.

Protecting young people from the risk of gambling-related harm is of paramount importance. We have therefore decided to increase the minimum age of the sale of all national lottery games to the age of 18. We are keen to make this change at pace while being acutely aware of the need to give retailers and the operator time to ensure a smooth transition. The legislative change will therefore come into force in October 2021, but we have asked that, where it can be done sooner, it is—for example, online. So under current plans, national lottery sales to 16 and 17-year-olds will stop online in April 2021.

The review we are starting today will be an opportunity to look at the wider rules on children and gambling, and to make sure they are suitably protected across all forms of gambling. I know many colleagues will welcome the launch of this review today and will be pleased to see us living up to our commitments in the 2019 manifesto. We intend to be broad, thorough and evidence led, so that we can ensure our gambling laws are fit for purpose in the 2020s and beyond. I commend this statement to the House.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Lady for the tone of her response and for welcoming the review. She is absolutely right that the measures in the review and the scope of the review have been supported by hon. Members on both sides of this Chamber and many individuals have campaigned on these issues for a long period of time.

On timing, it is important to recognise that we do not wait for the periodic reviews. We are not waiting for necessary future legislation. We have acted and will continue to act as and when necessary. Just this year, for example, we banned the use of gambling with credit cards. We have made further restrictions on VIP schemes. There is the mandatory participation in GamStop, for example, and the announcement today about the changes with national lottery is testament to the fact that the Government are willing and able to take action. There was also action just last year on fixed-odds betting terminals.

In terms of future-proofing, no Government can guarantee to future proof, but certainly the intent is for the scope to be broad and wide, recognising, for example, changes in technology and what that could mean for using information intelligently to identify potential problem gamblers, as well as looking at the scope of the Gambling Commission itself.

In terms of evidence, we are looking for evidence from all sources, including all those that the hon. Lady suggested—from health and from academics. We welcome the participation of anybody willing and able to participate in this review with evidence.

The hon. Lady made an important point on sport. As sports Minister—we both cover sport—I know the challenges that the sporting sector faces, so we need to make sure that any changes are proportionate. Indeed, as she knows, we intend formally to kick off the football governance review as soon as possible. Informally, it has already begun. Other areas such as redress and the black market will absolutely form part of the review.

Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight (Solihull) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the Chair of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for, as always, valuable comments. On using technology intelligently, I absolutely agree with him—it is vital that we do so to identify problem gambling and issues of affordability, and that that forms part of the future-proofing of the sector.

The loot-box issue is being addressed. We have issued a call for evidence, which concluded on 22 November, and we will introduce recommendations shortly. On the lottery changes, as I say, we have had conversations with key stakeholders. We want to move as soon as possible. The target date of 1 October is the latest date for changes. We want to bring the online changes forward as soon as possible, but there are notifications, technology changes and logistical considerations, as well as training considerations. It is not the kind of thing that can occur overnight, but we have had productive conversations with the operators to make sure that we can implement the measures as soon as possible.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I can confirm that the experience of those with lived experience will form part of the review. In fact, the Secretary of State and I have met many victims and their families, and we will continue to do so. On sport, if there is evidence of harm from sponsorship and advertising, we will act. On the other considerations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I can assure him that if people have evidence, for example, that a levy is an alternative model, we would welcome those submissions in the review. I welcome the scrutiny that he and others will give to the review as it progresses.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my right hon. Friend for all his work in this important area, and the people he mentioned who have also campaigned for such a long time. We know that there have been problems with VIP schemes. We have acted on them already, but that does not mean that further action is not necessary. I am confident that the evidence-led review may reveal further options and avenues. I welcome his input into all areas under consideration. As I said, the Gambling Commission’s scope and resources are part of that review. I welcome his further comments.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her ongoing campaign in this important area. We have had many conversations on this, and I know her passion for change. I can confirm that those with lived experience and the families of those impacted will absolutely play a key role in the review. We welcome their evidence. As has already been suggested, some evidence has been brought forward in various other reviews and reports that we have seen in the House, and we welcome re-submissions of some of that data. The role of those people is vital. We all know, through experiences and interactions with our constituents, how devastating problem gambling can be. I think the whole House recognises the need for further action.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

As I said, the role and scope of the Gambling Commission and other areas will be under consideration. The point about the land-based system versus the online world is that, as many have mentioned, the world has changed considerably, and we want to ensure that there is an even playing field in gambling. We need to make sure that all forms of gambling are as safe as they possibly can be. The goal of this review is to tackle harms as much as possible, but also to make sure that the legitimate gambling industry is on a safe footing for a sustainable future.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman raises legitimate concerns about the black market—the unlicensed industry, which does exist. This will form part of the review. Part of it will include the scope, responsibilities, powers and resources of the Gambling Commission and regulatory bodies to deal with the black market. It is a very important issue.

Craig Whittaker Portrait Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con) [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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We have had very few discussions so far about the specifics of this review because we are only announcing its scope and the call for evidence today. We certainly intend to have conversations about the possible impact of some of the potential options on the sports sector. I encourage all stakeholders, including all sports bodies, to contribute to the review in the call for evidence that we are announcing. We will be happy to have further discussions about this with my hon. Friend and others.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman expresses some legitimate concerns. One of the great problems, of course, is that, by definition, it is almost impossible to assess the size, scope and scale of the black market, but where evidence does exist we will welcome it as part of this review. We do recognise the problem, and that is why we explicitly include the unlicensed market—the black market—in the review. We need more work and more information, and we need to decide what action needs to be taken to tackle it. It is a very serious issue.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is right to point out the dangers of the unlicensed market and to point out that gambling is a legitimate business in the UK, paying £3 billion in taxes and employing about 100,000 people. However, the industry itself acknowledges that harms can happen. It has played, and I expect it to continue to play, an important role in identifying harms and what we can do to minimise them. Its voice will be heard in this review, but we all have a shared goal of making sure that we do everything we can to minimise gambling harms.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Again, the review is very broad in scope for exactly this purpose. Comments, information, data and evidence can be brought in to raise all these issues, and they will be looked at carefully.

Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Indeed. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Horse-racing is of course a vital industry in the UK. I can confirm that the levy on horse-racing is not actually due for review till 2021; it is not explicitly part of this review. However, on the role that gambling has and the link with sport, we recognise that there are some challenges, but also many upsides, and we will consider those as part of this review.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the hon. Lady. I am well aware of her campaigning on this issue over a long period of time, and I thank her for that input. There is a difference between lottery-based games and other forms of gambling. There is evidence to suggest, for example, that the gambling harm is lower in the lottery than in other forms of gambling, and therefore there is a difference between the types. As I say, however, this move is an important one today, and I appreciate that she welcomes it.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am aware of the comments made in the Public Accounts Committee report. I appreciate the work that it and, indeed, many others have done in providing input on this issue for a long period. As I have said, I do not wish to pre-empt any of the conclusions of the review. This is a call for evidence at this stage, and therefore recommendations and suggestions for future regulation will be welcome.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government are considering action on the broader issue of online harms and the role that social media companies play in that. That work will be undertaken alongside this review, as well, and we will certainly work together. I will work with colleagues in the rest of the Department to make sure that we are very much aligned.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con) [V]
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Some 200,000 customers used an unlicensed gambling operator last year, resulting in an estimated £1.4 billion in turnover. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with online platforms to tackle this black market in gambling?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Like several other Members, my hon. Friend raises the important issue of the black market. As I have said, that will be considered as part of the review. We welcome evidence and suggestions from all stakeholders, in helping to scope not only the size and scale of the black market, but what further actions could be taken to tackle it.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Lady will be aware that we work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, which is working on clinics particularly relating to the treatment of gambling. Three are already up and running, and we have an ambition to open far more. The industry is contributing towards the financial costs of some of this treatment, as well as to research and education overall; we have a commitment over the next four years of £100 million. Of course, this review will be an opportunity to assess whether that model is appropriate or whether other alternatives should perhaps be considered.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend makes the important point that, without wishing to be pedantic, there is often a debate about whether loot boxes and games of chance, or those where there is not a financial benefit at the end, are actually “gambling” or “gambling-like behaviours”. However we wish to define them, we are taking action. That is why it was important that we had the call for evidence on loot boxes, which was completed recently, and further action will be taken, on recommendations, by the Government.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The Gambling Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority both currently have a role in reviewing advertising relating to gambling, and they have significant powers. However, many legitimate concerns have been raised on this issue, so both the advertising and the scope and resources of the Gambling Commission will be part of this review.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about this area as well, and I thank him for his comments. Let me be clear: the call for evidence relating to loot boxes is separate from this review; it is a separate activity being undertaken by the Department. I should also be clear that any advertising that is deliberately targeting children or vulnerable groups should not be happening, and therefore it is a major concern. The questions raised in this review and the call for evidence seek to ask how effective the current rules are, and those will be major considerations as part of the call for evidence.

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

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that DCMS constantly engages with the Treasury on a range of issues, and certainly the Department for Health and Social Care has a very strong interest. The Health Secretary—a former DCMS Secretary of State—is very knowledgeable about the gambling sector and the harms, and we are working closely on treatment. The Department of Health and Social Care is looking to expand the number of treatment centres, and we will continue that dialogue and work across the Departments.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have several leading casinos in my constituency, and they have worked hard to deal with problem gambling. Does my hon. Friend agree that casinos are important for our international tourist economy?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Casinos form an important part of the attractions. They are why many people come into the country, and they are important for in-bound tourism. I understand exactly what she is saying. Casinos play an important part, and the whole point of the review is to ensure a legitimate gambling industry that is on a sound footing for future growth. I look forward to working with the casino sector to ensure that that happens.

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

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Northern Ireland regulation on gambling is separate from that of Great Britain. He raises an important point, and we will work with the devolved Administrations. Loot boxes fall under a separate review. The call for evidence has just ended, and we wish to consider the feedback from that as soon as possible. The other aspects that he raised will form part of that review. We completely understand the need for action, and as I said in my statement, we have taken action where necessary, with legislative and non-legislative measures from loot boxes to changing the rules on credit card use, as well as today’s announcement on the national lottery. We are willing and able to move quickly.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I know what a horse-racing fan my hon. Friend is, and we have had many conversations about that issue. The horserace betting levy is not part of this review, but we are having ongoing conversations with the horse-racing industry. I look forward to further conversations with my hon. Friend.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The issues of age verification, product, and the way such things are marketed will be part of this review, and they are also ongoing considerations of the Gambling Commission. This will be a 16-week review. We recognise that in these challenging times of covid, responders may need a little more time to respond to the call for evidence, and therefore the review is slightly longer than normal. We will then produce a White Paper with Government recommendations. As I said, the review is deliberately broad, and the issues raised by the hon. Lady will be part of it.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The issues around loot boxes that my hon. Friend articulates are legitimate; hence the call for evidence on loot boxes. That call for evidence ended on 22 November. The Government are currently considering the evidence that has been brought forward, and we will respond in due course. My hon. Friend raises legitimate concerns that have been raised by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and many others over many years.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the online harms legislation was a commitment. It is absolutely a commitment. I know that it gets support on both sides of the Chamber, and we will be hearing more in due course.

Greg Smith Portrait Greg Smith (Buckingham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out the absolute necessity in this review for a balanced, evidence-led approach. I assure him that we will strike the right balance between giving individuals the freedom to choose how they spend their own money, and protecting vulnerable people and their families from gambling-related harm. It is a balancing act, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

Yes, I can confirm that the call for evidence has concluded, and we will be responding to that soon. Legal definitions were one of the reasons that it was a separate review from the one on gambling, but that should aid the process, rather than hinder it.

Mark Fletcher Portrait Mark Fletcher (Bolsover) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

Indeed; the scope, roles, responsibilities and resources of the Gambling Commission will form part of the review. It is right that we consider the structure of governance and regulation for the industry, and any recommendations and suggestions that my hon. Friend has would be welcome as part of the call for evidence.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is right to point out that certain demographics and roles are more susceptible to problem gambling than others. I have not had specific conversations with the Ministry of Defence yet, but we would welcome input on this issue as part of the evidence process. She raises the important point that different segments of the population are impacted and targeted differently, and the scope of this review includes looking at targeting and the prevalence of gambling among different demographics.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. There are already regulations and rules if there are problems, and social and behavioural challenges, in terms of the powers that local government has. He raises important points, though; as I said, in terms of responsible gambling across the board, we intend to ensure that this review is evidence-led and looks at a whole variety of issues, including the ones he raises.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. Just last year, for the first time, gross gambling yield was greater online than offline, so we have now reached that cusp where more gambling in the UK is online. We should therefore be able to use technology, and emerging technology, in a far more sophisticated way, as he suggests, to make sure that we identify problem gambling and potential problem gambling. I would expect information on that to be part of this review.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab) [V]
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the historically poor level of information, data and research in this sector. It is improving, and we hope that this evidence-led review will add to the base of information. His characterisation of the Department, though, is wrong, as evidenced by the obvious and significant changes we have made to gambling over the last few years, with FOBTs last year, the changes to credit cards, VIP schemes, mandatory participation in GAMSTOP and the changes that we are announcing to the national lottery today, as well as a whole host of other issues. This Government have shown that we are willing to act when necessary.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. He is absolutely right that legitimate concerns have been raised by many, including in this place, about redress in the gambling sector. That is why the call for evidence will specifically ask for information and evidence on potential future redress procedures, and all options are open at the moment.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Maria Fyfe on behalf of the whole House; I know I can do so because the shadow Minister and I had a conversation about Maria before we came into the Chamber. She is a great loss. I know she was an incredible champion for women’s rights in particular and made a great impact on the British political landscape.

In terms of the lottery and the changes we are announcing today, the estimate is that the impact of 16 and 17-year-olds’ not being able to play the lottery will likely be something in the region of a £6 million potential loss to good causes. That is out of a total distribution of around £1.8 billion, so it is a relatively small amount.

I would like to say thank you to all those who have played the lottery and continued to play the lottery this year. Lottery revenue, and therefore distributions to good causes, has stayed up remarkably well, partly because it has been made very clear that much of the money has gone to institutions, bodies and groups in desperate need during coronavirus. I encourage people to continue to play the lottery safely, in the full knowledge that the money is well spent and well targeted.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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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.

Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con) [V]
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that many gambling entities take their responsibilities for safe gambling incredibly seriously and do a very good job. It is important, therefore, that we strike the right balance between enabling people to gamble safely and protecting those who are at risk. There is nothing wrong with legitimate gambling that is well regulated and enacted in accordance with minimising harm.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Gentleman, who I know is well versed in the industry and is very knowledgeable, is absolutely right. We must get the right balance here, and we expect the stakeholders, the key gambling operators, to play a role in providing evidence in this review. They have contributed already and made some voluntary changes, but I think we would all like to see further changes. They can make those voluntarily; there is always the option of legal regulation at the end of this review, but we do not necessarily need to wait for legislation for the gambling industry to do the right thing. We have seen some positive moves in the right direction and I welcome that constructive contribution. If we need to regulate and implement laws we will, but I would also like to see further changes voluntarily conducted by the industry, as I am sure he would too.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Last but never least, Simon Fell.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend makes a really important point. I have a great deal of confidence that many of the charities and third-party organisations working in this sector—many of the key stakeholders—are very articulate and knowledgeable, and they have done a very good job of feeding in information already. We encourage them to do so, and I hope they will be able to provide further information, while recognising that some of this is extremely sensitive and therefore may need to be confidential. We recognise that information from all sources is valid, and I encourage all stakeholders to do what they can to get involved in the review.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I thank the Minister for his statement and for responding to 39 questions for exactly one hour. We will now suspend for a few minutes.

Football Governance

Nigel Huddleston Excerpts
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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25 Nov 2020, 3:21 p.m.

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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Nigel Huddleston)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. Hopefully, I got the pronunciation broadly correct—perhaps it is easier to say Madam Chairman. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford)—hopefully I got that correct as well—for introducing the debate, and for the contributions that he and other hon. Members have made on what is broadly a consensual, cross-party matter, as the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) just articulated. Of course, everybody today, as always in these debates, has spoken with great passion and great knowledge, reflecting how important this issue is right across the country to all of our constituents.

Football is of course our national game. It is a vital part of many of our lives, from playing the game in our local parks to watching our favourite teams on the terraces. However, it is not just on the pitch but off the pitch that football plays such an important role. The incredible work, as the hon. Lady and others mentioned, that football clubs have done during the pandemic has demonstrated that importance once again. From turning their car parks into NHS testing centres through to delivering food packages to the vulnerable, they hold a very special place in our local communities. It is vital that they are protected, as my hon. Friends the Members for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), for Bury North (James Daly) and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) mentioned. Indeed, everybody mentioned the importance of these clubs in our local communities.

Many football clubs have benefited from the Government’s support packages over the past few months in this incredibly difficult period. The Treasury estimates that around £1.5 billion of public funds has gone into sport since the beginning of the pandemic. As well as the £300 million sports winter survival package that we announced last week, over £200 million from Sport England has gone into grassroots sport, and additional money has gone into various other schemes, such as furlough, grants and reliefs over a period of many months.

However, I do not underestimate how many sports clubs, including football clubs—even some in the highest tiers—are still in incredibly tight financial circumstances. Of course, we have worked closely with football throughout the pandemic, getting it back behind closed doors and getting live premier league matches on the BBC for the first time. The premier league is, as the hon. Member for Eltham and others mentioned, one of our most important soft power assets. It is the most watched and supported football league in the world. English clubs have been some of the most successful in the game, and I hope that continues.

However, that success is built on the strength of the entire football pyramid. Just look at the 49 different clubs that have played in the premier league since its inception in 1992. Everybody will be aware, as has been mentioned several times, that the Premier League and the EFL are currently in discussions about a support package. I am pleased that the Premier League has made it clear that it will not let any EFL club fail due to the pandemic—something that I hope the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) particularly notes. I have had assurances, including just this morning, that significant progress is being made on an agreement for a financial support package for EFL clubs. While Premier League and EFL executives are in close and regular contact, ultimately it will be up to the individual clubs to approve any deal. I encourage and appeal to them to play their part, because ensuring that a support deal is in place is vital for English football.

A crucial step toward sports recovery is the return of fans, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South mentioned. I was therefore delighted that we were able to announce on Monday the return of spectators in tiers 1 and 2 from 2 December, with capacity limits and social distancing.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Everybody wants to make sure that football can come back in as many places as possible; my hon. Friend and others have made similar appeals. We are all waiting to find out the tiering system over the next few days, and the implications then for each of our regions, but the intent is to open as much as possible. I look forward to receiving another letter from the hon. Member for Wirral South, and I shall be happy to respond to her. We have regular correspondence, formally and informally, and I think it is good for sport that we have this open communication. I have no problem with her asking questions, and I will do my best to answer them as fully as I can.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but we do need to start taking these baby steps toward opening as much of the economy, and of course football and sport, as possible. Logic would dictate that if we cannot open everything everywhere, then we should not open at all. Of course, we need to open as much as possible where we can, and support measures were announced last week for the national league. Fans have been able to attend non-elite sport for some time; we have allowed fans in stadiums and that will continue. On the elite side, I think as much as possible is absolutely key.

The deal between the EFL and the Premier League will be an important part of the dynamics of financial support. Nobody knows exactly where will be open when, or to what extent it will help with the financial circumstances, but I hope and have confidence that those elements and considerations will be part of the support package determined by the EFL and the Premier League; it must have some element of dynamism in that.

Another vital step is the resumption of grassroots sport from 2 December across all tiers, including the highest risk areas with some mitigation. Grassroots sport will return, and this will benefit the health and wellbeing of people right across the country. Further guidance on this will be published shortly.

While the pandemic has exacerbated some of the issues within football, it has not created them. Several hon. Members have expressed frustration about the groundhog day element to the discussion we are having today. It is absolutely clear that reform is needed in the national game, and has been needed for some time. That is why the Government are committed to a fan-led review of football governance. I will come to the question asked by the hon. Member for Wirral South in a moment.

The pandemic has highlighted the problems of football governance and finance—I have said repeatedly that the two are intrinsically linked. We cannot divorce governance from the finances, and I can confirm that we will look into this relationship as part of the governance review. The Secretary of State and I started this conversation last week, when we hosted a roundtable of key football stakeholders to discuss the future of the game. That discussion was lively and constructive, and it raised a number of ideas. Informally, therefore, the review of governance has already started, and this debate is contributing to it. We will announce the formal governance review in due course, but we certainly have no intention of kicking it into the long grass.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern
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25 Nov 2020, 3:40 p.m.

Is the Minister therefore able to put the review’s terms of reference into the public domain?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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When we determine the terms of reference and the actual scope, we will obviously let the House know; it is vital that we do so. At this moment in time, we are considering all options and ideas. Many entities have come forward with suggestions that have good and bad elements and strengths and weaknesses, but it is important that we keep an open mind. I will certainly ensure that I am open to any constructive ideas as I go into the review. We will be working on the scoping, timing and remit of the review, and we will announce that in due course. I am well aware of the huge interest in it. As the hon. Lady said, all parties are keen to support it.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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25 Nov 2020, 3:42 p.m.

Of course, the strategic review of the Premier League, which is a separate private entity—it is not an arms-length body—is rightly and justifiably entirely down to it. Its ideas and suggestions, and whatever the outcome of that review is, will be of great interest to me and the Government, but it is separate from the grassroots review of governance that we committed to in our manifesto and that others support. It is down to it to determine the scope of the review. I understand that it will be consulting with the English Football League. I absolutely commit that our review will involve and engage the Premier League, the EFL and many other stakeholders. The precise scope of that review is entirely down to the Premier League, and it is right that it does that.

At the roundtable last week, I was particularly keen to hear the thoughts of the Football Supporters Association, with which I have had constructive conversations. It is crucial that any reforms to the game have the backing of the fans, who, after all, are the lifeblood of the sport. It is interesting that Project Big Picture did not have the support of the Football Supporters Association, although, as I said earlier, I recognise that any proposals coming forward will have strengths and weaknesses.

In 2016, the Government set up an expert working group on football supporter ownership and engagement, which led to some great improvements in club engagement with fans, and the Premier League and EFL now require clubs to meet supporters at least twice a year to discuss strategic issues, giving fans the opportunity to shape the direction of the club. I am well aware that this is a great passion of the hon. Member for Eltham. He has contributed to the debate over many years and campaigned for greater involvement and engagement of fans. Of course, there is still a lot more to do, and that will form an essential part of the governance review.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
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I appreciate that my hon. Friend says that the full terms and conditions of the review are yet to be agreed, but if the fan-led review recommends an independent regulator, will the Government give proper consideration to that recommendation?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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It is very important that I do not predetermine the outcome of the review, but all reasonable and sensible ideas are welcome, as I have said. I would not like to say that we will look favourably or unfavourably at any individual component part at the moment, because that would be pre-empting the outcomes of the review, and of course circumstances could change things.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will phrase it slightly differently. What I want to know is whether the idea of an independent regulator outside the scope of the fan-led review, or are fans free to submit ideas about that to which the Government will at some point respond?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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25 Nov 2020, 3:44 p.m.

My hon. Friend will forgive me for not pre-announcing, before we have it written anything down, the scope of the review or the outcome of it. What I can say is that I am personally very keen to make sure the scope of the review is broad. Any sensible, viable and reasonable ideas will be welcome. I know that is a somewhat obscure caveat, but we all know that some proposals can be unrealistic or bizarre. I suspect that any realistic and sensible proposal, looking at models that are deployed and adopted by other countries, for example, will form part of the review. I am coming into the review with a very open mind, as is the Secretary of State. I can assure my hon. Friend of that, but he will forgive me if I cannot really be pressed any further on the scope of the review before it is announced. I am well aware of the strength of feeling and the enthusiasm across the House to make sure that we get the scope determined as soon as possible.