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BBC: Dyson Report
24th May 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
I welcome, in general, the tone that the Minister has adopted today in response to this. He said in his statement that

the need for public service broadcasting and trusted journalism has never been stronger.

He is absolutely right about that. That was also the conclusion of our Select Committee, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, when we recently reported on the future of public service broadcasting. This is an example of an era of journalism that was infected with a poisonous culture which unfortunately, in this case, spread to the BBC, which should have been displaying different kinds of values in its journalism. I just want to read a short quote from the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, which said in its statement:

It’s important for us to also reiterate that the BBC is not its management, past or present. The BBC and the values and principles of public service broadcasting it personifies is in fact our members, and all its staff, who do the work that makes the corporation an entity that is valued at home and throughout the world.

Does the Minister agree with that statement?

John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Minister of State

I do agree with that statement. There is no question but that the challenge posed by fake news and disinformation, which are circulating at a level we have never previously seen, makes it all the more important that there are trustworthy, reliable places where one can go without questioning the validity of what is being reported, and the BBC represents that above all else. I read with great interest the Select Committee report that the hon. Gentleman referred to, and in large part the Government completely agree with it, certainly, the importance of public service broadcasting —that has never been less, as was powerfully set out by His Royal Highness Prince William in his comments about this episode.

Arms Trade: Yemen
20th April 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I want to take this opportunity to remind colleagues of the human consequences that the arms trade and conflict in Yemen can have on people. Four years ago, in April 2017, my constituent Luke Symons was stopped at a Houthi checkpoint in Sana’a and detained. He has been held in prison ever since for no reason other than that he holds a British passport.

Luke’s is a very typical Cardiff story in many ways. The rapid growth of Cardiff as a coal exporting port in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought many Yemeni and Somali sailors to the city. Luke comes from one of those Cardiff Yemeni families who still have relations in the country. On a visit to Yemen in 2014, he met his future wife and settled there before the conflict broke out. They desperately tried to leave, but were unsuccessful before Luke was detained.

I appeal to the UK Government to redouble the efforts they have already made to secure Luke’s release and secure safe passage for him and his wife and child to the UK. I thank the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, James Cleverly, for their efforts so far.

I also appeal to Luke’s Houthi captors, during this holy month of Ramadan, to release him. His grandfather, Bob Cummings, who has a deep and abiding love for the people of Yemen and the middle east from his time as a merchant seaman, has campaigned tirelessly for Luke’s release. Luke’s grandmother, Sheila, who played a big part in his upbringing, is very ill and deeply worried about his welfare. It would be an act of mercy and compassion and would show the Houthi leadership in a good light if, after four years of this sad affair, that young man of 29 years, who is simply caught up in events and has committed no crime, could be reunited with his wife and child and wider family. That is the plea from the family to his Houthi captors, and I sincerely hope it will reach them and their hearts.

European Football Proposal
19th April 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

This super league proposal is the sporting equivalent of a billionaires’ gated community, with a football favela for everyone else on the other side of the fence. Could the very robust response that the Secretary of State says he wants from the Government include the Prime Minister ringing up, or perhaps even texting, the former No. 10 spin doctor Katie Perrior, who also worked on his mayoral campaign and whose public affairs agency is promoting the super league launch? Will the Prime Minister tell her that this is one occasion when insider connections will not win any traction with the Government, and that this betrayal of football fans and the ethos of fair competition in sport will be blocked by the UK Government using urgent legislation in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech?

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

I am very happy to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will take the robust action that is necessary. In fact, I think the best place to start—it is where I started—is speaking to the president of UEFA and the leadership of the Premier League and the FA. I hope that their actions can stop the proposal in its tracks, and I think we will see some very robust action from them. I have been clear, and I am happy to be clear again, that if that does not work, the Government stand ready to act. We will not wait for it not to work; we are working through the options for measures now and stand ready to take them at the appropriate juncture.

Business of the House
15th April 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
May we have a debate on the dangers to the taxpayer of incompetent capitalist government? Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre has pointed out that the Test and Trace system in England, which has been outsourced to private companies, cost twice as much as the system in Wales where local government has been used.

I had a very disturbing report from one of my constituents that he had received the test results of two children from England, despite the fact that he has lived in Cardiff for 35 years. When I contacted the Department of Health and Social Care, they told me that it was probably because the wrong mobile phone and email details had been entered, and that no process was in place to amend customer details. The Government have allocated £37 billion to cover the cost of the Test and Trace system over the next two years, and it cannot even amend incorrectly entered customer details!

The Leader of the House talked about the unacceptable face of capitalism earlier, about British Gas’s behaviour, but what about the incompetent face of capitalism?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I note that of the tests carried out in Wales, 64% have been provided by Her Majesty’s Government. Had we left it to the Welsh Government and the public sector in Wales, only 36% of tests would have been carried out. I think that shows the effectiveness of Her Majesty’s Government—the United Kingdom Government—at getting things done. What the hon. Gentleman is proposing is that things do not get done. I, for one, am in favour of action, not of dither and delay.

Business of the House
25th March 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

When we come back after Easter, can we have a statement on Yemen? I know the Leader of the House will understand how it must feel for the family of Luke Symons when they hear about incidents of detention centres being attacked in Sanaa and when they hear about the cut in aid to Yemen and the continuing supply of arms to Saudi Arabia, but most of all their and my concern is for the welfare of my constituent held captive in Sanaa by the Houthis.

If we cannot have that statement, will the Leader of the House encourage the Foreign Office at least to be a bit more active in providing me with briefings and updates on what is going on in relation to this matter? I have asked for one and not received one. He is always assiduous, so through his good offices, will he give them a nudge and seek to provide me with an updated report?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
I can absolutely give the second commitment that the hon. Gentleman asks for. The Government are working closely with our partners in the region to ensure that Mr Symons is released and reunited with his family as soon as possible. We obviously do not have direct representation there. It may be helpful if I tell hon. and right hon. Members that after this session every week, I write to relevant Ministers with any issues that have been brought up, and obviously I particularly emphasise ones of this kind, because I think hon. and right hon. Members have a right to be kept informed about their constituents and to make representations for them. It is our basic obligation as Members to seek redress of grievance for those we represent, and I will always do anything I can to help in that regard.

Live Events: Government-backed Insurance
23rd March 2021

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and it is also a pleasure to be part of this cross-party supergroup this morning, which has got together to work across party lines and to argue for proper insurance indemnity for events this year from the Government.

I thank the Minister for her attendance, although, as Steve Brine—who, like me, is on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee—has just said, we would really like to hear from the Treasury, because we would like to know what it has made of all the representations that have been made to it by the industries that we are talking about today. For fronting up for the Government time and again, the Minister deserves some kind of award, but we need to know the answers, and one wonders whether they are currently locked away in a vault somewhere across the road in the Treasury. We want to know what the Treasury really thinks.

As the hon. Member for Winchester did, I will focus today on festivals and live music events, but I will also say a little bit about theatre. I will not go through the whole set of statistics, as the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) and for Winchester have already done. Suffice it to say that one statistic for Cardiff is that across the river from my constituency, in the Principality Stadium, Ed Sheeran played four nights in a row in June 2018 to 60,000 people a night, which is nearly a quarter of a million people over the course of just a few nights. I do not need to spell out to hon. Members and to people watching this debate the economic impact of such events, and their importance to the economy of Cardiff and to the wider economy of south Wales.

In talking about festivals this morning, we want the Government to provide some clarity. If it is the case that it is not going to be possible for them to underwrite events and if it is going to be the case that they do not think that they will stick to their irreversible timetable and will probably have to impose further restrictions in the future, they should say so, because at the moment the sector is being led along on a string effectively and is unable to progress appropriately.

I have heard it said that the Government think that because festivals and live music events are selling tickets they do not need insurance, but of course normally—in a normal year—that ticket revenue would be used to do the build and provide the infrastructure to put on things such as festivals. However, this year is not a normal year, because festivals cannot get any cancellation insurance; they cannot get insurance against not being able to proceed, which would normally be available in the market, as the hon. Member for Winchester said. As a result, that money would have to be returned to ticket purchasers if the event was unable to go ahead and there would be a huge impact on those trying to put on festivals and also further down the supply chain.

That is why the hon. Gentleman—who, as I have said, is on the DCMS Committee, like me—was quite right to draw the attention of that Committee and of the Minister to the possibility of money being taken from people that will never be returned to them, and potentially fraudulent activity taking place around the festival scene this year without the kind of certainty that insurance provides. So we need either insurance to be underwritten for the sector to be able to restart or a clear indication that festivals will not be able to take place and financial support to allow the sector to survive into 2022.

Other countries are doing things about this situation.

Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)
The hon. Gentleman is making a splendid contribution to the debate, which I really appreciate. Does he agree that the longer we delay in getting these events up and running, the more danger there is of people losing momentum and even deskilling, in terms of performance and generating public enthusiasm?

Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have praised the investment in the culture recovery fund, which the Minister will mention in her remarks at the end of the debate—she has to do that; it is an important riff for her as the Minister. There are criticisms, however. In the 1980s, we had the concept of the neutron bomb, which was developed so that it would kill the enemy but not destroy the buildings all around. In a way, the culture recovery fund is a wonderful thing, but if it just saves the buildings and some infrastructure, but does not protect the people in the sector and the skills that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, that will be an additional cost. He is right to make that point.

I was going to mention what is happening in other countries. The Danish Government have announced an event cancellation fund of €67.2 million. The Dutch Government have just announced an insurance fund of €385 million. Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is working on a Government-backed insurance scheme for summer events, to be finalised by the end of the month. The Estonian Government have a scheme. The Germans have a similar fund, of €2.5 billion, to cover promoter risk. I could also mention schemes proposed by the Austrian, Belgian and Norwegian Governments. Such a scheme is not without precedent, because there is a precedent in the creative industries in this country, in the film and television sector. All that many people in the industry are asking for is a similar scheme. It is vital for live music events and festivals that action is taken.

I want to speak briefly about theatre. The theatre sector, and UK Theatre, have been lobbying Government hard for months. Many people involved in theatre production are also involved in film and television production, and they do not understand why the Treasury could provide an insurance indemnity scheme for the film and television industry, but could not provide an identical scheme for the theatre sector, as UK Theatre is asking for. Without a return to normal for theatre production, there will be a huge negative impact on the total economy, including loss of tax revenues and economic activity. That will be felt particularly badly in city centres and some towns.

The insurance market is not offering a scheme of this kind, and it is clear that it will not offer one for the foreseeable future—into 2022 at the very least. The risk exposure figures have been provided to Her Majesty’s Government by, for example, UK Theatre and the new umbrella body for the live sector. The Treasury has not publicly said what is wrong with those figures, and that is what we need to know—if it does not agree with what the sector is saying, it should say so.

We need to hear from the Minister not only about the culture recovery fund, although we understand how important it has been, but about the discussions between her and the Secretary of State and the Treasury. What have the discussions been like, and what is the Treasury saying? If it will not be possible to provide an underwriting insurance scheme, the Government should come clean with the creative industries, so that they can plan accordingly, and Ministers should offer support to help them through to the next stage of this dreadful pandemic.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
10th March 2021

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, Julian Knight. Although we are on different political sides, those of us who serve on the Committee are in complete agreement on these issues.

Last week, when we debated the cultural and entertainment sectors, I made a few points on which I thought the Government could act in the Budget. The first related to the plight of freelance musicians, artists and others who have been excluded from the Chancellor’s criteria for support. I pointed out that in Wales some funds have been set aside for support, but that what we really needed was cross-UK action from the Chancellor. The Chancellor has done the very minimum in his Budget, by simply recognising that it has been so long for some of the excluded—that is, the newer self-employed—that they have now become eligible for the self-employment income support scheme. He has done nothing to support those excluded by his arbitrary criteria. He has decided that they are to be treated as second-class citizens. It is deliberate and unjust, and it will not be forgotten by musicians, artists and others who have been snubbed.

My second point was on the need to help to restart the live music sector with, as the Select Committee Chair said, a Government-backed insurance scheme. Our Committee wrote to the Chancellor to call for such a scheme and the response from the Government was a classic example of blinkered Treasury thinking. The insurance market cannot provide the cover needed for festivals because of covid uncertainty. The Government say that they have an irreversible plan for reopening; were they to underwrite a scheme, that would show confidence in not only live music but their own pronouncements. If their own words turned out to be true, they would never have to pay out anything.

Other countries have taken similar action, with much lower vaccine roll-out rates, and of course it is being done for film and television. For the want of a tent peg, many festivals will have to be collapsed this summer. That is the Chancellor’s second failure of policy and action. As the Select Committee Chair pointed out, there are now opportunities for the scammers and outlaw companies such as Viagogo to take advantage by once again ripping off people who want to buy tickets for events that might never happen and might never exist.

Thirdly, the Chancellor should have announced a scheme to ensure that musicians and artists could resume touring in EU countries. I note the launch of the “Carry on Touring” campaign’s website today. On social media today I saw the case of someone called Ed Lyon, a classical musician who has just spent six weeks and £945 to obtain a work permit for Belgium. Previously, in normal times, he could have just hopped on a train. The Chancellor is utterly complacent about the loss of export earnings to UK that this continuing fiasco will bring. Lord Frost is now his Cabinet colleague. Why has he not been told to do the job that he so abjectly failed to do in December when he delivered a no-deal Brexit for artists, musicians and their ancillary support industries?

This Budget, despite some investment, did not do nearly enough to save jobs and support growth in the creative industries—the sectors with the fastest growth potential. It has left freelance workers out in the cold, it has thrown a summer of music into a muddy field of uncertainty and it has closed the gate on touring for our creative artists and musicians. Far from doing “whatever it takes”, it has taken away the opportunity to create.