Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker: Exceptionally, I shall take the point of order before the statement.
Mr Whittingdale: I am most grateful to you for making an exception in this case, Mr Speaker. As you are aware, Lord Triesman gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee as part of our inquiry into the 2018 world cup bid. During his evidence, under parliamentary privilege, Lord Triesman made specific accusations of corruption against four named members of FIFA’s executive committee. In the subsequent review conducted by the Football Association, Lord Triesman was careful to say in answer to questions from James Dingemans QC, who was conducting the review, that he invited him to rely on the evidence that he had given to the Select Committee, and that he did not wish to add to it. In January 2013, one of those accused, Mr Makudi, brought an action for defamation against Lord Triesman, which was struck out. However, in June this year the Court of Appeal granted leave to Mr Makudi to appeal.
This matter goes to the heart of the privilege afforded to Members of Parliament and to witnesses who give evidence to Parliament. If witnesses to Select Committees cannot be confident that their evidence is covered by absolute privilege, and that if they do not repeat the allegations outside Parliament they are fully protected against legal action, that will severely damage the ability of Select Committees to obtain the information that they require. I should therefore be grateful, Mr Speaker, if you would consider what action you, or Parliament, can take to defend the principle of parliamentary privilege, which is a fundamental right enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Committee with great skill, for his courtesy in giving me notice of his point of order.
I have followed these matters very closely, and the possible implications give me cause for grave concern. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter is awaiting determination by the Court of Appeal, so I will not of course comment on the substance of the case; but I will say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that I consider these matters to be of such importance for the House and for its Members, and to the protection of free speech in our proceedings, that written submissions have been made to the court on my behalf by Speaker’s Counsel. I shall of course be following developments closely, as, I know, will the hon. Gentleman. I am extremely grateful to him.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I begin by reminding the House of my entry in the register showing that I paid a visit to Gibraltar in September, at the invitation of the Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association, to discuss the provisions of the Bill?
Paul Farrelly: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
Mr Whittingdale: I am not sure that there is anything on that point, but I am happy to give way.
Paul Farrelly: Following the hon. Gentleman’s discussions over the summer with the Gibraltar-based companies, can he tell the House whether they are still minded to launch a last-minute legal action in Europe against these provisions? When he was there, did he discourage them from doing so?
Mr Whittingdale: The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Gibraltar gaming authorities whether they intend to launch legal action. They have certainly expressed concern as to whether the Bill’s provisions are legal, and it is obviously up to them whether they take legal action. I made it clear to the authorities and the gaming associations that I supported the Bill, and that therefore I would certainly discourage them from doing so. They did raise some concerns, which I shall discuss in the course of my remarks.
I wish to make it clear that my Select Committee supports the Bill’s general provisions, as do I. The Committee has spent some time examining gambling. We carried out post-legislative scrutiny in 2011-12 of the entire Gambling Act 2005. Although we examined online gaming, which is obviously the most rapidly increasing form of gambling, inevitably the main focus on the 2005 Act related to casinos, the previous Government’s abortive attempt to introduce regional casinos—super-casinos—in the UK and the provisions relating to fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops. I do not propose to explore the latter issue at great length today, although it remains one of some controversy.
Hon. Members may recall that when that Gambling Bill became an Act, the then Secretary of State declared that one of its purposes was to make the UK the world centre for online gaming and that that would be of great benefit to the UK economy. Unfortunately, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer holed the then Secretary of State amidships by setting the tax rate at a level that led to almost every operator moving offshore. There is a single exception, which I am sure the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), my friend from the Select Committee, will mention: bet365 remains the last operator headquartered in the UK. Almost all the others have moved to offshore jurisdictions such as Gibraltar, Alderney and some European Union member states.
Future of the BBC
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) on his success in obtaining this debate, which comes at a time when some serious questions need to be addressed. I do not want to detain the House for too long, because the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will take evidence tomorrow morning from the chairman of the BBC Trust and the director-general, so we will cover a lot of the issues in detail. We have also announced that we intend to hold a full inquiry into the future of the BBC, and that is likely to commence in the new year. That will provide an opportunity to examine these matters and I do not want to prejudge the inquiry. It is, however, worth spending a little time on the subject, because there have been some very difficult issues raised, and some very clear failures by, the BBC over the past year.
It is important not just to focus on criticisms, but to recognise that the BBC remains one of the finest broadcasters in the world and that, at its best, it is unequalled. That is not to say that one should just point at the successes. It is important that we look at the failures and see how they can be prevented from happening again.
Mr Nigel Evans: There was once a time when people said that only the BBC could do the arts and that it could not be done commercially. Does my hon. Friend agree that Sky Arts is now doing a tremendous job in providing arts to the masses, and that Classic FM on the radio provides classical music to a group of people who perhaps would never previously have listened to Radio 3? The onus is therefore on the BBC to keep raising the game. It does not have to chase the ratings, but it needs to ensure that it keeps providing high-quality programmes.
Mr Whittingdale: I am not in the least surprised to find that I agree completely with my hon. Friend, who was an excellent member of the Committee for a time. I will come on to this issue, but he is absolutely right that there has been a change in terms of the amount and diversity of content available. The advent of Classic FM, which is hugely successful, means that Radio 3 should no longer need to occupy the same space, but concentrate, as it does most of the time, on a little more challenging and difficult classical music than the more commercial Classic FM output. That applies equally in other areas.
UK Nuclear Energy Programme
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is the Government’s ambition that this should be the first of a series of investments in new nuclear generation? What are the Government doing to attract other potential investors who may be persuaded to look at designated sites, such as Bradwell-on-Sea in my constituency, which is already a model of successful decommissioning?
Mr Davey: Yes, we envisage a series of new nuclear power stations being built. I and other members of the Government have, on various trips, engaged in commercial diplomacy, meeting potential investors and nuclear companies in other countries, and there is huge interest in the nuclear market. When German companies RWE and E.ON put the Horizon consortium on the market everyone said, “This is a disaster. It shows that nuclear policy isn’t working.” Far from it. We had huge interest from around the world. Hitachi ended up paying nearly £700 million for the privilege of having the consortium, even before it had got its reactor design through the generic design assessment. That is the level of interest and the vote of confidence in our policy.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept the first principle set out in Lord Justice Leveson’s report that any solution must be perceived as credible and effective by the press and the public? Does she agree that it would be infinitely preferable to achieve a system of press regulation that delivers the objectives of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, but which also commands the support of as many of the newspapers as possible, rather than a system which commands the support of none of them?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the matter when he reminds the House of Lord Leveson’s statement that whatever we take forward, to be effective it must also be credible, and we must take the press and the public with us. It is vital that we do that. Nobody would thank us for putting in place a system that was ineffective, did not work and did not attempt to make sure that self-regulation of the press in this country is effective.
European Union (Referendum) Bill
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): May I first join Members on both sides in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on a magnificent speech introducing his Bill?
My first act of political campaigning was to take part in the 1979 referendum campaign. I was not old enough to vote, I hasten to add. However, I did go around putting leaflets through doors. I did so, first, because as a Conservative I strongly believed in the free trade opportunities that the European Economic Community represented. I thought it would be good for our economy and for business. I was also in favour because of the statements in the leaflets I was putting through the doors, such as “The case for staying in the EEC”, which said that we would gain, not lose, effective sovereignty over our destiny, and that in the last resort we would be able to veto any proposal put forward in Brussels if we considered it to be against our vital national interests.
There was also the leaflet paid for by the taxpayer that went through every single door in the country which stated:
“No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British government and British Parliament.”
Since that time, we have seen those assurances undermined time and again.
East of England Ambulance Service
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I agree with what my hon. Friend says about ambulance delays, but does she agree that this is a particularly severe problem in more rural areas, such as the Dengie peninsula, which I represent, where one survey of a patient group of a medical practice, the William Fisher medical centre, showed that patients had to wait for more than 40 minutes, and in some cases more than a hour, before the ambulance arrived?
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): My hon. Friend is right. Many hon. Members have experienced horrific delays, particularly across our rural constituencies. I know of delays in excess of two hours. That is unacceptable. Lives are put at risk.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Is the Home Secretary aware of the growing concern regarding the actions of the police in some instances and the inactions of the police in others? Can she comment on the reports at the weekend that the police have uncovered widespread use of private investigators to hack telephones not just by journalists, but by lawyers’ firms and other corporations? Can she say why it appears that the police thought it right to tell Lord Justice Leveson about that, but not pursue any action against those who committed criminal offences?
Mrs May: My hon. Friend will be well aware that decisions on whether the police investigate individuals and alleged offences are an operational matter for the police, and that it is for the police, with the Crown Prosecution Service, to decide whether those investigations lead to charges and prosecution. However, I recognise the degree of concern that he raises. Phone hacking by some aspects of the press has caused disquiet in this House for some time. Suggestions that it could have been more widespread are, of course, equally worrying.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): It is excellent news that visitor numbers and visitor spend rose last year to record levels, but my right hon. Friend will also be aware that the UK still slipped by one place, from seventh to eighth, in the list of top 10 destinations. Can she say what is being done to attract more visitors to the UK, particularly from China, many of whom are still being deterred by the cost and difficulty of obtaining visas?
Maria Miller: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we always need to be actively marketing Britain abroad. That is where our GREAT campaign, with £37 million already invested, comes into its own. It is a campaign that this country can be proud of. As for visas, we have made significant improvements to the situation that we inherited. We have now seen an increase of, I believe, around 30% in visas from that country.
Arts and Creative Industries
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I very much welcome this opportunity to debate the arts and creative industries. Although I of course support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the spirit of consensus that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport always tries to achieve, I have to say that I can find nothing in the motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition that I disagree with.
As a believer in free markets, I am not normally a supporter of public subsidy. However, I am convinced of the benefits of public subsidy in the case of the arts—not just the economic benefits, which the Secretary of State quite rightly spelt out in her speech. The arts are hugely important to people’s quality of life in this country, as the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) said, and many other benefits flow from that in education, health, community cohesion and so much more.
Under the previous Government, the arts enjoyed years of plenty; under this Government, we are facing lean years for the arts. That is absolutely inevitable. This Government have the higher priority of trying to clear up the enormous mountain of borrowing and debt that we inherited, and it would be wrong to exclude the arts from having to play a part in that. However, when we on the Select Committee looked at funding of the arts immediately after the election, we said that it would result in some difficult decisions and that some institutions would probably close as a result. I am delighted to hear from the Secretary of State that she has done well in her debate with colleagues in the Treasury for this year’s spending settlement, but I understand from what I have read and what she has said that we can anticipate still further reductions. That means that more institutions will probably have to close, which will be a tragedy.
Select Committee Powers
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware that my Committee—the Culture, Media and Sport Committee—has perhaps tested the boundaries of Select Committee powers more than most. The situation seems unsatisfactory in two areas. First, when we served warrants on Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks to appear before the Committee, it was not at all clear what the consequences would be had they failed to respond to that summons. Secondly, when we reported to this House that we believed we had been lied to by people who had given evidence to the Committee, it was, and remains, extremely unclear what the consequences of that are.
Sir Alan Beith: That is certainly true and I think it is one of the issues that will have to be examined by the Joint Committee, which is about to embark on this work. The problems are difficult to solve and affect only a few inquiries. They certainly affected the work of my hon. Friend’s Committee, which was notably successful in getting some potentially unwilling witnesses to appear before it. I congratulate him on what the Committee achieved.
It should be stressed that, for the vast majority of the time, Committees deal with willing witnesses who are very happy to come and be examined by us, even if, sometimes, they are critically examined. Most of the time, we are gaining information from willing witnesses. I will come in a moment to what happens when we deal with Government. So far as all other bodies and persons are concerned, the instances in which a draconian power might be required are very few. My hon. Friend is right that such powers as the House has in this area are not very easy to use, and we will have to further consider that issue.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): What steps he plans to take to reform the law on copyright; and if he will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Vince Cable): I am taking a number of steps to reform copyright law, in response to the Hargreaves review. Today, I am publishing the Government’s decision on changes to copyright exceptions, which I believe will achieve the right balance between creators, rights holders and users. The document, “Modernising Copyright: A modern, robust and flexible framework”, has been placed in the Library.
Mr Whittingdale: Does the Secretary of State agree that intellectual property rights and copyright underpin the success of our creative industries, which are so important to the economy? Is he concerned that many in those industries feel that the Government, on the back of the Hargreaves report, will dilute their intellectual property rights, not least in the area of exceptions to copyright law?
Vince Cable: The hon. Gentleman is right that the creative industries sector, which is crucial to the economy, depends heavily on intellectual property rights. However, we are dealing with a body of law that is extremely old—I believe that it goes back to Queen Anne. It certainly needs modification in the digital age. He is right that we need to move extremely carefully. That is why, over the last few weeks, we have been in discussions on some of the sensitive issues in relation to copying music and photography. When he studies the report in the Library, he will see that we have got the balance right between rights holders and liberalisation.
Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills which goods exported to North Korea were covered by UK Export Finance leading to North Korea's sovereign debt to UK Export Finance; when such exports took place; and whether the goods were supplied to the Government of North Korea or to private companies.
Michael Fallon: The debt has been outstanding since 1975 and relates to a contract dated 27 July 1972 for the supply of equipment and services for a petrochemical complex to the Korea Equipment Import Corporation.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I know that you would probably rather be in the body of the Chamber, since you, too, have many constituents affected by this very sad affair. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on his success in securing the debate—a number of us entered the ballot, but he was the one lucky enough to be selected. We have an opportunity for the many Members who represent people who have suffered as a result of what has occurred to speak. As others have done, I would like to single out my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who has led the campaign so well and ensured that it remains in the public eye. I must first apologise to my hon. Friends and other Members. I have to chair a Select Committee at 10.15 am, so I will be brief. I am grateful to be called early. I will not repeat the facts that were set out so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green and the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies).
The saga is fairly clear, but it is always important to bear in mind the real distress caused to individuals. I shall mention two. Mr McDonald of Danbury in my constituency was employed by Ford for 33 years and then spent four years working for Visteon. He believed the assurances given to him about the pay, conditions and pension entitlements, which would mirror those that he had enjoyed during his time at Ford, and he therefore agreed for his pension to be transferred. Another of my constituents, Mr Sharpe of Heybridge, was employed by Ford for 27 years and by Visteon for three months. Both those individuals have seen their pension reduced by 50%. They believed that the Pension Protection Fund would offer some protection, which I hope the Minister will say a little about in his reply. The PPF suggested that it would guarantee that such people would receive 90% of their pensions, but that has proved not to be the case, as a result of how the rules work and the cap that has been applied.
Leveson - to the Prime Minister
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now almost universal agreement that we must have a strong new regulator, that it must be seen to be independent and that it must be established as quickly as possible? I strongly welcome his statement, however, that the question of whether the regulator should have statutory underpinning is something that Parliament needs to consider carefully, perhaps through a regular assessment of its effectiveness by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and that we should proceed to legislate only if it becomes absolutely clear that it will not function properly without it.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He has probably spent more time looking at this issue than almost any other Member of the House of Commons. As he said, what matters is the enormous consensus about what independent regulation should consist of, including the powers that are necessary. We all know we need million-pound fines, proper investigations, editors held to account and prominent apologies. That is what victims deserve and what we must put in place, but he is right that we need to think carefully before we pass legislation in the House.
Over the past five years, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which I chair, has examined the issue of the standards and ethics of the press three times. Each time, what we have uncovered has caused us serious concern about the way in which the press operates in this country; we have revealed information that we all found truly shocking.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con):
It is important that we remember the people who have suffered at the hands of the press, including the McCann family, the Dowler family and Christopher Jefferies. However, it is also important to note that all in those cases suffered as a result of breaches of the law. Breaches of the Data Protection Act, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the contempt of court laws and the libel laws were all involved in the suffering of those people.
That is one of the reasons that I agree strongly with the earlier remarks of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). There are still big questions to be answered about how serial breaches of the law could take place in newsrooms and how the police appeared to do absolutely nothing about it, despite having the necessary evidence for a number of years. I very much hope that we will see the establishment of part 2 of the Leveson inquiry—whether it takes place under Lord Leveson or not is not the most important point—because we need answers to those questions once the criminal prosecutions have been exhausted.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con):
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate an issue that has so far received little attention, but one that will affect large numbers of people in this country quite soon. It is appropriate that we should be debating it today. This is the day on which 4G services have become widely available in a number of cities as a result of Everything Everywhere making use of the 1,800 MHz spectrum.
Understandably, the competitors to Everything Everywhere have been concerned that it should be given a lead and so have been pressing to be able to go ahead with the provision of their own 4G services, and to do that they require access to the 800 MHz band. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I am proud to chair, also shared the view that we needed to get on with the allocation of spectrum for 4G, because 4G carries real benefit to the economy, and we did not wish to get left behind.
I am pleased that Ofcom is now pressing ahead with the auction. However, the use of 800 MHz for mobile telephony will have consequences. It will result in interference with the provision of services currently using that band, particularly digital terrestrial television.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): We do not have a lot of time, and I do not want to detain the House unduly. However, although it is recognised that this matter forms only a small part of the Bill, the importance of the creative industries to our national economy, and the contribution that they are making to growth, is so essential that we need to look very carefully at anything that affects the livelihoods of those working there—and the creative industries rest on the protection of intellectual property rights.
On Second Reading, I suggested to the Secretary of State that clause 57—then clause 56—could be used to make substantial changes to copyright law through statutory instruments. I am grateful to him for meeting representatives of a wide range of creative industries to discuss those concerns. That has led, to some extent, to the amendment that the Government have tabled. As the Minister said, several representatives of the creative industries, such as UK Music, the British Copyright Council, the Publishers Association and the Premier League have said that they are now satisfied.
However, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) said, that is not a unanimous view across the industry. The Minister has assured us that this is about enforcing penalties but, despite the Government’s amendment, the clause does not mention penalties. I am therefore still not clear as to why the Government did not accept the suggestion that they make it absolutely explicit in the Bill that it is all about penalties. Instead, it talks about exceptions, and it still allows changes to be made to copyright law by statutory instrument. Following the Hargreaves report, there is still great suspicion on the part of many of those in the creative industries that there is an intention to try to dilute intellectual property rights. They fear that the clause could be used—perhaps not by this Government but by a future Government—to bring forward changes to copyright law.
Those fears have been expressed, as the hon. Member for Hartlepool said, by a wide range of organisations, including Associated Press, ITN, Getty Images, the Press Association, British Pathé, Agence France Presse and Deutsche Presse-Agentur. I will quote one sentence from the letter they have sent that sums up the problem that the Government face:
“It therefore remains our concern that…the true purpose of Clause 57…as drafted”
“it will be used as a vehicle to push through a number of changes to copyright exceptions recommended by the Hargreaves Review, which we discussed with you at our meeting because of the detrimental impact to business and the creative industries as well as…ultimately…to the UK’s future economic growth.”
I welcome the Minister’s assurance that that is not the Government’s intention, but it must be of concern that a number of organisations that are important to this country retain that suspicion. Anything that the Government can say or do now to allay that suspicion and make it clear that they do not intend to implement the Hargreaves recommendations in a bundle, via a statutory instrument, would be extremely welcome and would reinforce the point that the provision is not about that, but about criminal penalties.
Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): I echo what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The revelations of recent weeks raise serious questions, not just about the culture that existed in the BBC some years ago—and in other organisations—but about the way in which the BBC has handled the matter, and in particular the very damaging suggestion that the “Newsnight” investigation was suppressed. The director-general of the BBC has offered to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee next week, and I am sure that my colleagues will wish to take up that offer.
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I look forward to his Committee’s input, and the role that it will play in ensuring that these matters are handled transparently.
Mr Whittingdale: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of the likely effect on relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan of the release and repatriation of Ramil Safarov from prison in Hungary; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr Lidington: We welcome the statements of the right hon. Baroness Ashton of Upholland and Commissioner Fule, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs, with regard to the pardon of Ramil Safarov, following his return from Hungary, and share their concern about the impact this may have on prospects for stability and peace in the region. We regret any action that is contrary to ongoing efforts to reduce regional tensions and promote reconciliation.
Moving forward, it is important that both sides exercise restraint—in actions and public statements—to prevent any escalation of the situation. Together with our EU and OSCE partners, we will continue to follow the situation closely and we stand together with the international community in supporting the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs in their efforts to reduce tension and find a negotiated way forward to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.