Oral Answers to Questions

Oliver Dowden Excerpts
Thursday 18th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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David Johnston Portrait David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)
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What progress his Department has made on allocating further support to the culture and heritage sector through the Culture Recovery Fund.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Oliver Dowden)
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Over £1 billion from the culture recovery fund has been allocated, including £800 million supporting almost 4,000 organisations and sites across the whole of England. More than 80% of grants and 85% of loans awarded in the first round of the fund have now been paid. As Members will have seen, an additional £390 million for the fund was announced in the Budget, taking dedicated support for culture and heritage during the pandemic to almost £2 billion—an unprecedented sum.

David Johnston Portrait David Johnston [V]
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The culture recovery fund has provided a vital lifeline to many organisations in my constituency, from the Cholsey and Wallingford railway to the Oxford Philharmonic to the Didcot Railway Centre, which is a popular family attraction. Does my right hon. Friend agree that just as people have been very good at supporting their local shops during the pandemic, it would be great if, when restrictions lift, they can go and visit their local culture and heritage sites, even if they have been many times before, to help them get back on their feet?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I completely agree. The Government have been here for culture throughout the pandemic, and as we emerge from it, I know that the public will want to be there, too. As our cultural institutions reopen, we will encourage people to get out there and support them. That includes attractions in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as he referenced, such as the Didcot Railway Centre and the Cholsey and Wallingford railway, both of which have been supported through our culture recovery fund.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
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If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential merits of introducing a Government-backed insurance scheme for the live events sector.

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Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (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.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Oliver Dowden)
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The Government’s road map provides a step-by-step plan to safely reopen culture, entertainment and sport. This includes an events research programme, which will consider how restrictions can be lifted at step 4 through piloting major events such as the FA cup final and the world snooker championships. Funding announced at the Budget, including a further £390 million for culture and £300 million for sport, will support these industries as they reopen.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess [V]
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Southend is home to a number of brilliant local festivals, such as Leigh Folk festival, Village Green and the Leigh regatta. Sadly, it has been announced that Southend carnival has been cancelled for a second year in a row due to uncertainty surrounding any ongoing restrictions in the summer. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that events planned for later in the year will be given plenty of notice of whether they will be allowed to go ahead?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I share my hon. Friend’s regret that Southend carnival is not going ahead. The Government will of course give as much notice as we can, and we have already set out a clear plan that will allow events such as that to return quickly and safely. We are working closely with our stakeholders to give them as much notice as we can and to guide them through each step. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am committed to getting people back to doing the things that they love as soon as we possibly can.

Pauline Latham Portrait Mrs Latham [V]
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The past year has had a huge impact on our young people, and I know we all share the ambition to do as much as possible to support them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as restrictions are eased and many organisations reopen, it is vital that children’s sport is prioritised?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We all of course in this House know how important sport is for young people’s physical and mental health. That is why all outdoor sports can resume from 29 March, and I would note that that is the first significant easing after schools. In addition, the Education Secretary and I are working closely with sports’ national governing bodies and Sport England on an extensive offer of activities in schools over the summer period.

Chris Loder Portrait Chris Loder (West Dorset) (Con)
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What progress he has made on rolling out fibre spine infrastructure in West Dorset.

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Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab)
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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Oliver Dowden Portrait The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Oliver Dowden)
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This month’s Budget provided further support to sports, arts, tourism, heritage and creative industries, including an extra £700 million to help cultural and sports venues reopen their doors when restrictions ease, and an extension to our hugely successful film and TV production restart scheme. The Budget also included several measures to put tech and digital connectivity at the heart of our recovery, including half a billion pounds for the Help to Grow scheme, and last week I published our 10 tech priorities for the coming year.

As we move from rescue to recovery, we have announced a number of pilots to help get people back, including at the FA cup final. I met the events research programme again on Tuesday; as a first step, I look forward to the return of grassroots sports on 29 March.

Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne
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As highlighted earlier by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), the FA vase final between Hebburn Town and Consett AFC has been rescheduled to take place behind closed doors at Wembley stadium on 3 May. This is the biggest match in Hebburn Town FC’s history, so I want to add my support on this issue. Will the Secretary of State work with the FA to make the final a pilot event for allowing the safe return of spectators to such sporting events?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I share the hon. Lady’s desire to get sports fans back in stadiums as quickly as we can, as has been highlighted by my colleagues on the Government Benches. We have already set out a road map, and I think it is important to people that we stick to that road map, which would see fans returning socially distanced from 17 May.

We have already set out a pilot for the FA cup final. It is important to understand what these pilots are about. They are about testing fans coming into and out of stadiums; they are not windows to allow extra events to happen. We will of course keep this under review, and if there were a possibility, of course I would grab it.

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy  (Brigg and Goole) (Con) [V]
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Despite warm words from mobile phone operators and promises to Government, communities such as Broughton in my constituency are still waiting for companies such as O2 to make good on their promises to give us halfway decent mobile phone coverage. What more can the Government do to push the mobile phone companies to make sure that we get the service we are paying for up here?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend about the need for speed. As he will know, the shared rural network will see the Government and industry jointly investing over £1 billion to increase 4G coverage throughout the UK. On 5G, over 200 towns and cities already have 5G, and our ambition is for the vast majority to have it by 2027. In addition, as my hon. Friend has outlined, building on today’s welcome announcement from Ofcom, I will shortly be providing further details on our plans to make the UK giga-fit.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab)
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Over the last two weeks, we have seen an outpouring of grief over the death of Sarah Everard, and we have read and heard numerous accounts of women made to feel unsafe in their daily lives. The Secretary of State will know that words online often translate into actions offline. Last June, he said at the Dispatch Box that the online harms Bill, which was supposed to follow the White Paper published two years ago next month, would be introduced before the end of this parliamentary Session. We are still waiting. Does he accept that the continuing delay has left women and girls at risk for too long, and does he commit to measures to protect them online when he finally publishes the Bill?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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May I begin by welcoming the hon. Lady back to her rightful place in the Chamber? She is absolutely right to highlight the issue of online abuse of women. That is why our internet safety Bill will bring forward measures to help protect women online, including measures to enable them to better report abuse, and will also ensure that they should get appropriate responses from platforms. That could include, for example, the removal of harmful content, sanctions against offending users, or changes to processes and policies to support better protection. This is a real priority. We will bring forward the draft legislation at the beginning of the new parliamentary Session, and by the end of the year the full Bill will be before the House.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
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I thank the Secretary of State for his words. I know that he has a very well-publicised interest in the nation’s heritage, particularly in statues, telling museums and gallery experts how to do their jobs through the policy of “retain and explain”, so perhaps he can explain today what input his Department had into the Government’s legislation this week that provides for longer sentences for hitting statues than those that have been given for raping women.

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I really wish that Members in this House would take a more temperate approach towards this. The hon. Lady knows full well that the most serious violent and sexual offences, including grievous bodily harm with intent to rape, already carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The purpose of what we are introducing in respect of statues is to help protect statues that have tremendous emotional value—for example, the Cenotaph and others—but that may have quite low financial value.

If it is now the Labour party’s position to oppose “retain and explain”—that may be the case; I have heard from the Leader of the Opposition that he thinks that some statues may need to come down—perhaps she could explain which statues she thinks should be removed from this country’s glorious heritage.

Damien Moore Portrait Damien Moore (Southport) (Con) [V]
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What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to support the recovery of towns with large hospitality and tourism economies from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question; I know of his passionate concern about this. The Government have introduced a range of targeted measures to support hospitality and tourism through covid-19, including business rates relief and the new restart support grants, as well as the 5% VAT rate. He will know that his Southport constituency is receiving £37.5 million from the £1 billion towns fund, and that will support the development of new projects there, including a new waterfront conference centre.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD) [V]
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Yesterday, the Government announced that superfast broadband coverage was going to be 97%. That is great: well done, Her Majesty’s Government! In my constituency, the coverage is—can you believe it, Mr Speaker?—78% and yesterday Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister responsible, announced that we would not achieve the full figure until 2026, having already promised delivery by this year. My plea is very simple: please will Her Majesty’s Government step in and sort this out?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The UK Government have provided over £100 million to deliver broadband in Scotland and it really is deeply disappointing to see that the Scottish Government are still failing to deliver the R100 programme effectively. The Scottish National party, I believe, promised 100% superfast coverage by 2021—yet another broken promise. We have already announced that central Scotland will be the very first part of the UK to benefit from our £5 billion investment in Project Gigabit, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be a stronger role for the UK Government in delivering this programme going forward.

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris  (Newbury)  (Con)  [V]
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The Department has done great work in bringing superfast and gigabit broadband to much of my constituency, but there are still blackspots. Will my right hon. Friend consider asking Ofcom and Building Digital UK to reconsider their decision to exclude properties in the RG20 and RG17 postcodes from the gigabit batches?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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As my hon. Friend will know, we are on a national mission to transform our digital infrastructure, spanning the length and breadth of the UK, and our plans to invest £5 billion in connecting hard-to-reach communities include many rural properties in the RG17 and RG20 postcodes. We will shortly be announcing Project Gigabit, our plan to make the UK giga-fit, and I look forward to updating the House on details.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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The chair of the BBC has a responsibility to ensure the independence of the corporation and to uphold its values, so what was it about the CV of a multimillionaire Conservative party donor and close associate of the Chancellor, Richard Sharp, that first attracted the Government to appoint him as chair of the corporation? And do the Government consider the fact that he once managed a firm that funded a property company described by a Conservative MP as creating “modern ghettos for the vulnerable” to be consistent with the values that the corporation ought to be upholding?

Oliver Dowden Portrait Oliver Dowden
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I think that an excellent choice has been made in the choice of the new chair of the BBC. He is a person with considerable financial and commercial experience who is deeply committed to the BBC, and it would be better if the hon. Gentleman refrained from making such slurs against him.

The Attorney General was asked—