Topical Questions

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons on 20th May 2021.

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Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Earlier this week, I joined millions of people up and down the country in sharing the joy of seeing great sporting, cultural and tourism venues open again. I was delighted to reopen the National Gallery, and to visit Tate Modern and the English National Ballet. However, those institutions and others can only operate sustainably if we move to step 4 and remove the remaining restrictions. We set up the events research programme to examine safe ways of doing that. I can tell the House that we have had positive findings from the pilots at events such as the Brits, the FA cup final and at the Crucible, and this will inform our approach to reopening at stage 4.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

The proposal for the European super league was driven by a small number of clubs wanting greater financial power and control, which in some ways was exactly the reason that the Premier League itself was set up in the first place. I was somewhat disappointed by the Secretary of State’s answer to my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd, when he described the £4.8 billion deal that the Premier League has just done on TV rights—with only £100 million coming to the rest of football—as money flowing “through the…pyramid”. May I seek reassurance from the Secretary of State, therefore, that his support for the financial status quo will not in any way compromise the ability of Tracey Crouch to recommend in her review the radical changes to governance, regulation and the distribution of finance in football that the vast majority of fans want to see?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The short answer is yes, of course I will look at the outcome of the inquiry that I have commissioned. I have specifically asked my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch to look at football financing and the pyramid, because I know all the challenges with it. That is separate from the interim measures that will cover the next three years. That will ensure that money flows through the pyramid, because it is not just the additional £100 million; it is all the other payments to the English Football League that will be secured through that announcement, should it go ahead.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

The shared rural network is a fantastic initiative. What good news can we have for the notspots of Hampshire?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Yes, our £1 billion shared rural network is eliminating mobile coverage notspots across the country, including in East Hampshire. Operators have already announced the first 333 upgrades and 54 new sites in England. We will shortly be announcing the next stage of the programme. Although I cannot give full details now, I very much expect this to contain more good news for my right hon. Friend’s constituents.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

More than 3 million people participate in parkrun in England, and it plays a major role in the physical and mental wellbeing of participants. Parkrun has had legal permission to return since 29 March under the covid framework from the Government and Public Health England, but there is completely inconsistent decision making across authorities, and the situation is threatening parkrun’s future. As Great Britain Olympian Greg Rutherford has said:

“If we’re all allowed to go and pile into restaurants and pubs again why on earth would we not be allowed to run about outside?”

Will the Secretary of State give a clear, simple statement here today and say that local authorities and landowners need to recognise and accept the nationally approved framework and allow parkrun to start again?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Yes. I completely share the hon. Lady’s frustration that this is not happening. I have discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and he and I will shortly be sending a very clear message and signal in writing to local authorities about our expectation that those events should proceed.

Photo of Jo Stevens Jo Stevens Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am delighted with the Secretary of State’s response and grateful for it.

Singing also makes a positive difference to the health of over 2 million people who sing in amateur choirs. The go-ahead was given for indoor rehearsals from Monday of this week, following step 3 of the roadmap, but on Tuesday, literally as conductors were on their way to rehearsals, late guidance was issued by DCMS limiting indoor rehearsals to just six people in total. This news was devastating to choir members but also to their conductors and directors, who lose their income because of it. I am afraid that confusing and contradictory communication is the hallmark of this Government. Last year it was the Secretary of State encouraging rehearsals for pantos that were never going to happen; this year it is choral concerts with no rehearsals. What is going on? Why the late guidance? Will the Secretary of State publish the evidence that led to his decision? Thank goodness his Department is getting an experienced director of communications, because he needs one.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I share the frustration of many Members of this House that we have not been able to permit more people to participate in amateur choirs. I can tell the House and reassure Members that that decision was made on the basis of very clear public health guidance. Ultimately, the Prime Minister and I did not feel that we could contradict that public health guidance. Of course we published the guidance, and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies recommendations are regularly published. I very much hope and expect that by step 4 —all going well, we will proceed with that on 21 June—we will be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact and ease restrictions on large events and performances, including those that apply at step 3.

Photo of Cherilyn Mackrory Cherilyn Mackrory Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Next month Falmouth is welcoming the world’s media as part of the G7 summit and showing off the very best of Cornwall’s heritage and culture. As my right hon. Friend will know, Falmouth University produces some of the world’s best graduates in the creative arts industries. Will he meet me to discuss how best we can nurture this talent to potentially grow the film, TV and post-production elements in Falmouth in order to provide these quality industry careers here in Cornwall?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a great supporter of Cornish culture and heritage, and I know of the outstanding reputation of Falmouth University. We have done a huge amount to support this country’s film industry, which is currently probably stronger than it has ever been, notwithstanding covid. I or one of my ministerial colleagues would be delighted to meet her to discuss what more we can do to support the Cornish film industry.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

Last week the Culture Secretary boasted that his Government were defending heritage. If only that were so. Cuts have led to almost 800 library closures, the Whitehall Bell Foundry has been passed by Tory Ministers into the hands of commercial developers after 450 years of continuous existence, and we have heard nothing of what will replace Creative Europe culture funding. What is the Culture Secretary’s focus in telling museums what statues they can have and blocking trustees that he does not like? As one museum curator said, “arm’s length” Government interference is now becoming “knuckle length” interference. Should the Culture Secretary not be focusing on sorting out the Brexit visa mess rather than on petty culture wars and museum meddling?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

There were an awful lot of questions wrapped into one from the hon. Gentleman, but in terms of what I am doing and where my primary focus is, it is about returning the things that we love and ensuring that we move from stage 3 to stage 4 of the road map to enable heritage attractions, theatres and companies up and down the country to operate normally again. We have given £2 billion-worth of support—the single largest injection by any Government ever—but I make no apology whatever for standing up for this country’s heritage against a small and noisy minority that wants to tear down the things that we enjoy as a nation.